Please tell you me you didn't rush out and buy an iPhone. Tell me you didn't wait in line, camp out, run over old ladies on their way to Lane Bryant, or buy the T-shirt. No wait, if you did buy the T-shirt, wear the T-shirt. Wear it all the time. Because I need to know who you are.
People. It's a phone. And an iPod. In fact, it's mostly an iPod, but it's just an iPod and a phone. I can't believe the world is going all Paris Hilton over the potential return on unsightly pocket bulge of about a quarter of an inch.
But it isn't that, is it? Somewhere along the way from Steve Jobs brain to the belt clip of every hipster (because let's face it, these aren't going to be hidden away in anyone's pocket for at least a couple months), the iPhone went from Apple's way-late entry into an already crowded market to The Device That Would Usher in The Age of Form Meets Function Which Is The Next Step to A World That Doesn't Have Poverty, Global Warming, Wars, or Karl Rove.
We all know the hype is at fever pitch, but how did it get there?
Let me first tell you why it's not the about the device.
And look. No sour grapes here. Kudos to Apple for the iPhone. It really looks like a decent little gadget.
But Shmudos to Jobs and the marketing machine that got him there. Don't forget to give Bono bunches of money because he started this whole thing with the word "fourteen."
The iPhone is actually the antithesis of the hammer-into-video-screen profession of freedom that Apple has chanted since 1984.
You fall for this little marketing ploy, and you're locked.
You're locked into AT&T as your provider because there's a five-year exclusivity contract. Five years is an eternity in the handset industry. In five years, your phone will start your car, find you a date, and pick up your dry cleaning. That little album flippy thing in the iPhone commercial will seem about as quaint as a phone without a video camera does today.
Oh, heads up, no video camera on the iPhone.
You're locked into AT&T's notoriously third rate EDGE data network. So while all that twisting and turning on the New York Times website seems really stellar, I can almost guarantee you that's being done with WiFi.
Yes, you get WiFi, and if you happen to be tethered (and there's a word you just don't want to see in the same sentence with "mobile") to a WiFi network, you'll do just fine on the Web. But be forewarned, this is not a smart phone, this is an iPod. There's a lot you can't do.
Like editing of common Microsoft documents, Java, Flash, any video other than QuickTime, any browser other than Safari.
In fact, like all Apple products before it, you're pretty much locked into the Apple universe. Never mind that this has been KILLING Apple since the release of the Mac with said hammer throw. They're doing it again.
You're locked into your battery. Like all iPods before it, the battery is not removable. I'm not sure that they spent enough consideration on this little flaw. If you have to send your iPod back to Apple for a new battery, meh, you're without your tunes for a week. You've got your computer, your stereo, your car stereo, your DVD player, your satellite radio, and a number of other options. Try living without your mobile for a week.
You're locked into your storage. Unlike almost every upscale handset released over the last two to three years, there is no external storage option for the iPhone. On the base model, you get 4GB, which is the equivalent of a little less than 1 DVD of storage.
For $25, I can slip a 2GB microSD card into my 3-year-old Motorola and get half the storage of the entry level iPhone. I can also use any headphones I want.
Yep. You're locked into iPod headphones unless you get an adapter. You're also locked into wired headphones and speakers unless you want mono output.
And let's jump back to pricing for a second. $500. For a handset. That's nuts. $600 for the 8GB model. That's slimy. At first glance it looks like you're only laying out 20% more cash for 100% more memory. But show me the device where an additional 4GB of memory costs $100?
Here's just a rough look at what $100 buys you on other devices.
External Hard Drive: About 200GB
Desktop: About 140GB
Laptop: About 160GB
iPod: 50GB (Ouch!)
And finally, here's where I crush your iPhone dreams by moving from slimy to evil. You're locked into a 2-year contract with AT&T even after purchasing the handset.
Most people don't know that you can go out and buy any handset you like, as long as it works with your carrier. Example. I'm on Verizon but I'm not under any contract. They hate that. I could go out tomorrow and buy a Razr (just an example) for $225 and start yammering away. But Verizon would rather I walk into their store, sign or re-up a 2-year contract, and they'll give me the Razr for $99. What this means is, I don't have to sign a contract with anyone unless I want a subsidized handset.
This is not happening with the iPhone. There is no subsidy to lure you into signing a contract. You're signing a contract. Or no iPhone.
How did the iPhone get to be the biggest thing since chocolate? And I mean real chocolate, not the LG Chocolate, which is a brick-sized piece of junk?
When you lay out the lack, you have to agree it's not the device. It's the marketing.
It's not just the flashy images or the folky-techie music, it's the fact that the viral and the press leakage were slick enough to fool us, the Generation Xish, into embracing 6.29.07 as some sort of coming-of-age event. We who were labeled supercyncial and embraced it. We who ditched prefab Milli Vanilli for grunge. We who shunned the summer blockbuster for Office Space. We who were the first generation to actually develop a bullshit detector for every new and improved now with extra buy one get one four out of five dentists be like Mike sweeping the nation Madison Avenue ploy and charade that worked so well on the boomers somewhere between Vietnam and Mr. Mom and currently has them swallowing down handfuls of Viagra with a Red Bull chaser.
This is our dumbed-down, locked-up freedom device. It's probably the first thing we've waited in line for since Return of the Jedi.
And, at its heart, it's a $600 walkman.
That, my friends, is marketing at its finest. Everyone I know wants one. I mean everyone. Somehow, Apple has been forgiven for shamelessly negotiating away choice, stripping down features, locking in proprietary software, and slapping a Ticketmaster style markup on a gizmo that's really no better than what's already available.
So maybe the phone is a rock star after all.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
ABOUT JOE PROCOPIO
more about joe procopio
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
7.2.07 @ 9:29a
1. Great, another "review" about a product the author hasn't actually used.
(... unwarranted criticism really means...)
2. "...you're pretty much locked into the Apple universe."
As opposed to what?
The universe of unstable, virus prone, bloated, insecure, half-baked beta versions for 'paying beta testers'?
3. "...Never mind that this has been KILLING Apple since the release of the Mac..."
Wha!? Apple's doing just fine. And APPL shareholders are VERY happy.
Regarding the device: it just sold 500k units, half their 12 month goal (1M units or 1% of the cell market), in 2.5 days.
7.2.07 @ 9:41a
If I didn't go off half-cocked, then I wouldn't be me. You make good points, sir, but...
1) Not for lack of trying. As a tech writer for a couple pubs, I tried doggedly to get my hands on an iPhone, even just a demo at an Apple store. I was told repeatedly, there was no way, even after pulling several strings. However, I'm not slamming the functionality, the experience, or anything I didn't touch. And I've heard the mantra about reviewing it without having used it over and over from the Apple devotees. I'd ask you, as I've asked them, how the positive hype is warranted if no one has put their hands on it yet? Think this is a calculated move from Apple?
2) You know what else is virus-free? My refrigerator.
3) Less than 5% of market share with a far superior product is not fine. In fact, it was the insistence of Apple to not license their software that begat Microsoft.
I have no doubt that the iPhone will sell, sell well, and make Apple shareholders very rich. Very, very rich. Also AT&T shareholders. I just think they're blatantly shirking a number of ideals that they claim they stand for with the release of this handset.
7.2.07 @ 11:40a
Good point, your half-cocked writing is why we keep reading.
Also, I'm glad we agree on a couple points:
1. Your refrigerator is more virus-free than your Windows box. Good thing they don't have to send out "service packs" for your frig every 9 months and screw up the drivers for the ice cubes, cause conflicts with your counters or lock the front door willy nilly. That would suck.
2. "Less than 5% of market share with a far superior product..."
Seriously, I'd like to hear why does market share matters when it comes to value/quality?
For that matter, what's BMW's market share? I expect you to know that.
7.2.07 @ 12:20p
To Jim's point and in general. I had planned to write about Freakonomics this month, but my Verizon contract has been up for a couple months and I've been doing the "I think I might buy this" research on the iPhone. This column is the result of that research.
michelle von euw
7.2.07 @ 12:42p
Joe, I think this column is fantastic -- you lay out the numbers in a clear, down-and-dirty, and yes, startling way. This may be a result of your personal research, but you've packaged it phenomenally. Woo, I feel informed!
I notice you reference the Gen-Xers as being the iPhone patsys, but the marketing seems aimed directly at the crew right behind us. In fact, every article I've read about the lines forming outside Apple & AT&T stores quote 19 year olds almost exclusively.
7.2.07 @ 3:35p
Come on Joe! Can't you see the look of disappointment from your kids when all the other parents are rocking out to the Black Eyed Peas and checking out the little league website to see what field their supposed to be on while you're humming Cult of Personality and looking at a piece of paper. The shame.
The marketing strategy of Apple has clearly proven they can sell whatever they want, whenever they want. Take the warning and register iMedia before it's too late!
7.2.07 @ 10:16p
Apparently Working Assets is sponsoring a petition against iPhone because of its pointless tie-in with AT&T. (link)
7.2.07 @ 11:17p
No, I didn't buy an iphone, or camp out, and as for the little old ladies, I got witnesses who will claim I was in Argentina at the time. Besides, broken hips are all the rage in the senior set.
Loved your take on this phenom. The biggest turn off for me is the Apple Universe. I know technologically Apple is supposed to be the superior product, but I will not be a slave to Apple.
7.3.07 @ 2:17p
Convert me, what does "slave to Apple" mean, really?
7.3.07 @ 2:22p
7.3.07 @ 5:32p
I've gotta say, even though I'm an Apple iCrackWhore, a 5-year commitment to a phone is asking a lot. (Even my longest relationship didn't last that long).
7.4.07 @ 1:01a
To me, a slave to Apple means being trapped in a universe where you can only use Apple compatible programs/hardware. Meaning Apple brand only. Igot sucked into a similar trap once with Toshiba, being forced to used windows for toshiba, and only Toshiba compatible programs. Any non-Toshiba programs would just not work right. Apple gives me the same squee factor.
Of course I just wouldn't get an iphone because I don't believe in spending more than $100 for a phone.
7.6.07 @ 12:55a
When news broke out of the iPhone I was one of the bunch that said I'd be in line for it. Then the specs came out. Boy, was I disappointed.
Now if only the LG KE850 (Prada) came to our shores...
7.6.07 @ 8:56a
Joe, you are incredibly sexy when you get all uppity technical.
And I totally agree with you. The marketing of this product, the manufactured want, is incredible to witness from the sidelines. Honestly, I'm envious, because I really would have loved to be in the trenches that developed this strategy.
7.6.07 @ 11:51a
I read this column for the first time in a great big Apple Store in San Francisco, while the masses clustered around the next table over to salivate over the product in question, like piglets competing for a teat.
7.10.07 @ 8:10a
Prada, the Samsung i760, the VX6800 - I'm looking to do a column on iPhone killers.
Just a note. You don't have to commit to the iPhone for five years. However, over the next five years (so, until 2012ish) you have to commit to AT&T if you want an iPhone.
7.10.07 @ 2:32p
Man, commitment to AT&T? 5 years? Um... no.
7.10.07 @ 6:35p
Some claim that there are ways around the AT&T activation. More details via Boing Boing.
7.11.07 @ 2:13p
Who'd a thunk a product with less than half a percent of market share would stir the pot this much.
9.5.07 @ 5:58p
THIS JUST IN!
Apple Destroys Its Early Adopters
I'm curious how many people will ever buy a new Apple product again without waiting for a price drop.
9.5.07 @ 6:28p
Dude, the only thing I buy without waiting for a price drop is LUNCH. Bleeding edge is for people who like to pay full price for non-world tested warez. When the numbers get real and the bugs are cleaned up, THEN I'll buy your whatsis; no sooner.
9.5.07 @ 7:43p
I'm the same way, but that being said, a $200 slash after two months on the market? Insane.
What exactly were those people paying $599 for?
9.6.07 @ 7:53a
9.6.07 @ 9:18a
The sad thing is, it's STILL over-priced. So are most of the iPod models.
Honestly--why would anyone need a phone that does the same things a computer does? I don't want to be that connected to the world all the time. I spend enough time on the computer as it is.
Apple also is now marketing the ability to run windows-based software on the Mac in parallel with Mac-based software. This is a bonus? How? Now you have to pay (as far as I can tell) an additional $400-$600 for Vista, then the $200-$400 or so necessary for any of the major Windows-based software packages. By the time you're done, you've paid as much or more as you would pay for a separate Windows-based computer. What's the point? Friends keep trying to get me to buy a Mac (I'm finally replacing my 7-yr old Dell desktop that's still running Win 98SE), saying how much better it is. Yeah, a virtually virus-free world would be nice, but only if it is comparable in price to a Windows system to begin with and I don't have to buy twice the software.
Closed systems are fine for modeling scientific concepts, but they really don't fit well into my world from a practical perspective. I'll get a Mac when, and only when, they stop making users jump through hoops to use non-Mac OS-based software.
9.6.07 @ 5:21p
Apple: We're sorry. Well, sort of sorry. About half, actually.
9.6.07 @ 6:12p
"You feel betrayed by our stuff? Here's a credit that's only good for buying more of our stuff!"
9.10.07 @ 11:57a
One-millionth iPhone sold on Sunday, one month ahead of projection. So obviously not THAT many people care about any of this; they're snapping 'em up regardless.