So we’ve all heard by now of the new goodness that is Apple’s iPhone, right? Wow. The wait is going to be painful for this one, it will be at the back of my mind every time I reach for the old Treo. I have a short checklist of things I absolutely need from a phone, and it delivers. I have a much longer checklist of things I really want from a phone, and it delivers in spades. I think it’s safe to say that what Apple announced today far surpasses anyone’s wildest expectations.
I have no doubt the iPhone is going to be a huge kick in the mobile web pants. It doesn’t run a stripped-down mobile browser that delivers a sub-par experience, it runs Safari — a customized version with special UI tweaks, but that’s still WebKit under the hood. It will render your site the same way your desktop does. Multi-touch is an inspired new interaction method that makes using a mobile phone a less painful experience than what we’ve had thus far. And with an accelerometer built-in, the switch between viewing a web page in portrait or landscape mode couldn’t be easier. Just flip the thing over.
In fact, mobile web expert Brian Fling expects that if competition manages to catch up to it, this pretty much spells the beginning of the end for WAP 2.0. Provided using the web is a seamless experience on the iPhone, I have no doubt this will be the case. There will be no need to continue referring to a “mobile” web.
There are a few reasons why I could see this not quite going according to plan however. The device itself is brilliant, but the services that will support it are traditionally horrible. Somehow there has to be reconciliation between a bandwidth-hungry device like the iPhone promises to be, and the bandwidth-stingy mobile plans that many of us are stuck with. It doesn’t seem likely that buying an iPhone will make much sense without a relatively generous data plan to match.
Given that the new visual voicemail that requires special carrier integration that has resulted in a (currently, hopefully temporarily) exclusive partnership with Cingular in the US, it seems like Apple might be making inroads into changing business-as-usual. I’m hoping that carriers will start climbing over each other for a chance to offer it to their own customers, giving Apple leverage to dictate their own terms for supporting service plans.
However, for a customer to get the phone when it launches, they will need to sign a two year contract with Cingular. The price point revolves around that assumption. That it’s an exclusive to Cingular at the moment suggests that, at least at launch, the phone will be locked to one provider. This is typical for the mobile industry, but disappointing for those of us who’d prefer to buy an unlocked phone at cost and transport it to our network of choice, visual voicemail or not. (Which is particularly relevant when, say, you don’t live in the US…)
So I guess the question is, was the contract a method of offsetting the original price and driving up demand? There’s no way this phone was going to come cheaply at first. I suspect even an entry price of $499 seems high to many people, but this is certainly down from what an unlocked phone would cost. Or, is the contract a sign that Apple needed to make concessions to partner with existing service providers, and the telcos will end up calling the shots?
Time will tell. It’s comforting to have the precedent of Apple’s taming of the music industry, and their in-progress repeat with the film industry. If history is any indication of what they can pull off with mobile carriers, the mobile web is going to be a very big story indeed. Hey Cameron, does this mean a new chapter in the book?
: It looks like Canada might be getting it around Q4 2007 or Q1 2008, and both Rogers and Telus are making noise. (Thanks Paul) If Telus gets it, that means a CDMA version is forthcoming. Interesting.
It still remains to be seen whether anyone will offer a special iPhone service plan, or whether carriers will continue calling the shots. Non-Canadians really need to see Rogers data plans to understand why this is such a concern here (the rest are equally as bad).