Apple has launched the iPhone, which combines the technology of the iPod and mobile phone.
This device is a break through release and certainly starts of 2007 with a bang. While there is a lot of excitement about all the features in one little box and the technical community is all excited, we are a little more critical of the technology choices as outlined below:
1. Timing - the device isn't being slated for Asia (presumably including Australia until 2008). US in June 07. Europe late 07.
2. Network tie-up - they've elected to work exclusively with Cingular, one of the US networks. The device has been priced to be sold on a 2 year contract with Cingular. This likely involves a healthy revenue share with Apple and possibly Google and/or Yahoo, since these big players are offering the hardware, software and services which will drive data downloads and other tariff income for the carrier. This is a worrying trend for users - the service providers in cohorts with the network provider on an exclusive arrangement will likely reduce competition and sets the scene for cooperation to coax users into spending a fortune.
3. Platform - it is running OSX, the real operating system, and not something cut and trimmed, at least according to Apple. This will speed up application adoption for the platform, whereas smartphones in the past have suffered because they couldn't be upgraded, had highly evolving software within a vendor - Windows has gone from CE to Mobile 2003 to Mobile 5.0 in about 2 years - and outside of vendors, there is Java, Symbian, Blackberry and an assortment of others. If all OSX software runs on this thing, that will be a big deal.
4. Services - the phone is coming integrated with a few extras and impressive services, including live Google Maps, push email from Yahoo! and a video/screen voicemail feature that does require some changes on the carrier end to make happen (this partially legitimises the exclusive arrangement between Apple and Cingular). It is interesting that a new product, running an existing operating system, has such close tie-ins so far from launch; basically, Yahoo and Google have both produced custom applications and services to make this new device more compelling.
5. 2G Network + EDGE - interestingly, and probably tellingly given the porus state of cellular technology in the US, the handset will work only on 2G technology. Interestingly, however, the technology is GSM, the same service used more commonly in Europe, Asia and Australia than in the US, which has more support for CDMA for a range of historical reasons. EDGE, a compression and encoding extension on top of 2G allows for data throughput rates of round 200Kbps, allowing a maximum download rate of 25Kbytes/second. The NextG network offers around 180Kbytes/s as a comparison. The network choice is even more interesting, in my experience, because GSM coverage in Silicon Valley is woeful; it will be interesting to see if this deal compels Cingular to invest in the older GSM technology to support the device, or whether their choice of network platform actually nobles the iPhone in a practical sense for much of the US.
6. iPod double edged sword - the iPod component has been improved from a UI perspective thanks to the touchscreen and very high quality video resolution. While iPod and the iTunes tie-up continue their raging success, there are increasing stories of user revolt due to the "FairPlay" digital rights management framework and iPod software that stops people from accessing music already on their iPod. Stories of people having their computers stolen, only to find that the iPod won't let them get their tunes off it and back onto their machine are increasing; it will be interesting to see whether running the system off a full - and thus more hackable - operating system such as OSX will result in an easier break in this digital stranglehold.
There is extensive coverage at www.apple.com including video presentations and more. Interestingly, Apple also dropped "computer" from their name, becoming instead "Apple Inc". This signals their focus on entertainment and digital products aside from computers. Interestingly, Microsoft's moves into this space with Origami and Zune have been anything but successful.
Update: Cisco, which owns the Trademark (and has a real product in the marketplace already) for iPhone is suing Apple over trademark infringement. Two massive tech behemoths slogging it out for a name? Get the popcorn ready... it should be a good show.