Last week saw the UK début of the JesusPhone.
The general American public pretty much went – and this is a technical term – bat shit crazy for the damn thing.
With good reason too, here’s a device that is going to really shake up the way the mobile industry thinks about things.
Apple have crashed into the Scandanavia/Far Eastern mobile party and they’re going to leave greasy fingerprints over everything dammit!
Using their usual approach to design Apple have taken a look at the way other peoples phones work… then they’ve thought about how phones should work… and then they’ve made theirs Just Work.
‘Tis the Apple way.
The Future… Now!
I haven’t actually played with the iPhone yet, but it’s one of those things that you can tell is an important piece of engineering and design just by seeing it in action.
Let’s face it, when you watched Baldy Picard’s crew of lackies on Star Trek: The Next Generation sliding their fingers over the brightly coloured coffee tables, you always kind of thought that would never really work in real life (just me then…).
There’s no feedback, there’s nothing tactile to press, there’s no CLICK! Us humans like buttons, buttons that CLICK!!
Then you see the iPhone in operation and the touch screen theory – which has been ‘the Future’ for as long as I can remember – actually becomes a beautiful reality. First there’s the sensitivity, then there’s the gestures, then there’s the feedback the core animation gives you. Your interactions with it makes sense, the movements you make do the things you wanted to do. It Just Works.
‘Tis the Apple way.
The Dark Side
Alas the Apple way is, increasingly, also about locking people into their formats and maxing their cash (you can’t blame them really). iTunes, for instance, has given them a virtual monopoly on downloadable music thanks to the ubiquitous iPod. I’m not sure quite how calculated that was, I don’t think even Apple could have foreseen how popular the iPod was going to be, but it’s certainly given them ideas.
You get the feeling that with the iPhone they have gone all out to maximise their profits – using the network’s and public’s desire for the phone as a carrot and then beating them senseless with the the heavy stick of exclusivity.
Fortunately for Apple they have so far discovered that the public and networks are quite willing to take that beating, pick themselves up and come back to them toothlessly smiling and begging for more.
The Difference Over The Pond
At least that’s the case in the American market.
The US is a nation that, in mobile phone terms, has always seemed to be 6-18 months behind Europe. (Never mind Korea who seem to be constantly 2 generations ahead of the rest of the world…)
The Americans have always seemed to have approached ‘cellphones’ a little differently to the rest of the world.
I don’t pretend to know the details but, generally, I get the basic idea that there are less network choices, with longer, harsher, and more expensive contracts. The coverage is patchy, and 3G is only available in certain cities. The networks offer a much smaller range of phones, that are technically underwhelming, and the public have to pay for them – up front!
That makes the iPhone pricing structure normal to the average American customer.
In Europe it’s pricing structure is plain ridiculous.
A Quick Example
Let me try an illustrate the difference in setups. It’s difficult at the moment with dollar being approximately worth about 27p… but I’ll try my best…
AT&T – USA
For instance I’ve just had a quick look at the AT&T site where they have this AT&T Tilt(TM) SmartPhone on offer…
This is a phone with very impressive specs:
- touch screen
- slideout keyboard
- Built-in GPS
- Stereo Bluetooth® 2.0
- 3 MP camera with 10x digital zoom and autofocus
- microSD expansion supports up to 32 GB
On AT&T that wee beast will set you back $399, plus a mail off $100 rebate (on a tangent, what is it with these? We don’t really have them? Why can’t you just have that $100 off at the till? – I digress). But it will also lock you into a frankly ridiculous two (2) year contract. The site won’t let me see the finer details, or the cost per month, but I’m betting they aren’t particularly favourable.
The ‘Tilt’ maybe be branded AT&T but is actually a HTC device.
HTC call it the TyTN II….
T-Mobile – UK
T-Mobile smoothly call it the MDA Vario III.
It’s exactly the same phone. On that screenshot above you’ll notice the key phrase “from FREE to £249.99”.
T-Mobile don’t do 2 year contracts.
On a 12 month contract plan at £20 per month the phone costs £209… move up to an 18 months contract at £20 and it’s £149… go up to £30 p/m it’s £99… and so on.
(Just for info… I know for a fact that a £37p/m FLEXT plan gets you unlimited data plus a combo of 1800 text/900mins adding up to the equivalent of £180!)
That’s only online – somewhere were you can’t do a little bit of negotiationg. I’m British, I don’t really do haggling… but even I could go into a mobile phone shop and get it cheaper and probably get other stuff like TomTom thrown in for free. All the staff have sales targets and they’re desperate to sell you phones…
You’ve also got to bare in mind that this is a brand new phone, in a couple of you’ll be able to get one online much cheaper.
And this is the top end of the line – the premium device – several stops higher up the technological ladder than the even the Jesus Phone.
Things like a Nokia N95 (£29 on a £30p/m contract online), or the latest SonyEricsson CyberCameraMan thing (free on a £25p/m contract online) are widely available for free on much more modest contracts. It is those type of phones that, in reality, are the iPhone’s real competitors.
The mobile market has been like that here, and in most of Europe, for years. We are not used to paying (up front) for phones that come on contracts…
Then there’s the technical specs of the iPhone itself… they’re underwhelming to say the least.
- No 3G.
- No GPS.
- A rubbish camera.
- No swappable storage.
- No swappable battery (that old trick).
Plus there are plenty of other areas that it lags well behind the competition in.
At £279, plus £35 per month on an 18 month contract that only gives a pathetic 200 mins and 200 texts, the iPhone is ridiculously expensive and completely at odds with what the British phone buying public has come to expect!
And don’t me started on the fact that the mediocre 02 are the only network.
Having said that…
So what you have is an incredibly expensive, incredibly restrictive, under-specced phone.
So I hate it, surely?
Well no, I don’t. I think it’s a cracking device. Despite the fact it would be almost a step down in technical terms from my current GPS enabled MDA Compact III I would seriously consider it as my next phone.
It’s Apple product, it works like an Apple product, it has that Apple Lustability™ that every CEO, of every technology company in the world would sacrifice their first born for.
But I’m not switching networks, I’m not paying £279 upfront, and I’m certainly not then paying another £35 per mont on top of that for an extremely mediocre price plan!
I like having a geeky phone, and the iPhone is right up there on the geek scale, but until Apple relent and allow realistic pricing I’m refusing to give in to it’s considerable charms.
I don’t think I’m alone either, the European public are going to need a little bit more than a awesome, revolutionary UI experience.