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Staff Roundtable: Who's Buying an iPhone?

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As nearly everyone within range of the Reality Distortion Field now knows, Apple on Friday released the iPhone, selling untold numbers - one analyst estimates 500,000, while another is claiming 700,000 - in the first few days, including one to our very own Glenn Fleishman. There's no question that the iPhone is unparalleled as an object of techno-lust, but does that mean you should buy one right away? We'll be writing more on that topic as Glenn explores the features and limitations of his iPhone, but for now, in the interests of full disclosure, we wanted to share with you our own iPhone purchasing plans, or lack thereof.

[Glenn Fleishman] When my previous cell phone heard about the iPhone - it was in the keynote hall with me when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone - something deep inside gave up the ghost. It has been flaky ever since, crashing, turning itself off, putting a call on hold when answered. It knew its days were numbered.

Even before the iPhone announcement, I was in the market for a better communicator, and was giving a Windows Mobile smartphone serious consideration, perish the thought. So the iPhone, even with its hefty price tag, seemed like the right migration path for me.

As the release got closer, and more of the limitations appeared, I grew more reluctant. I know that a 3G iPhone is no more than six to nine months away: AT&T will have its high-speed network much more fleshed out by then, and newer 3G chips will give Apple the size and battery life they want. I also knew that, no matter how good the initial iPhone was, there would still be some first-generation wonkiness to work out.

But I'm a reporter, darn it, and it's hard to write about the biggest news since sliced bread if you're working from second-hand information or a loaner phone from Apple. Apple's review program was very small for the iPhone, with only four reviewers given iPhones in advance of the launch, and a larger number provided with phones on the Friday night of the launch. (The larger number did not include me, Jeff, nor other writers at The Seattle Times, for which we write a regular Mac column.)

So I bought one (see "My First Days with the iPhone" in this issue). I don't regret it. It's clearly the best handheld organizer I've ever owned or used, and it's the best cell phone - despite its limitations - that I've ever owned.

[Jeff Carlson] I'll admit, I really want an iPhone. I'm the target audience: a Mac-focused, highly mobile geek. And yet, I wasn't out there on the first day, and probably won't be seriously considering an iPhone for a while. Mostly this is due to price: Although I don't believe it's overpriced for what it is, $500 is too much for me to part with right now (it goes against the desire to pay down my one remaining credit card). I would also need to pay $20 more per month to use AT&T's iPhone plan. I could swing it, but it's not an added expense that I _need_ right now, no matter how attractive the iPhone is. My current phone is a Treo 650, which offers many of the same features as the iPhone (though not nearly as well), and I don't use its Internet service. Like Glenn, I'm convinced that my Treo knows the iPhone is now available, because it flakes out on me more often than it used to (for example, putting one call on hold to answer another makes it impossible for me to get back to the original caller).

And, quite simply, Palm is now Old News. They've had a few years to make the Treo a breakthrough, but instead kept with the status quo. Although the company has now restructured itself, recent comments from CEO Ed Colligan don't inspire confidence. During a conference call with investors, he expressed hope that iPhone users might be returning their new devices within 30 days. (And no, I don't see the Palm Foleo gaining any traction at all). The release of the iPhone should put aggressive innovation at the top of Palm's to-do list, or else they'll need to sell Treos at a huge discount to compete.

The iPhone definitely has a gravitational pull on me. People are responding to the iPhone not because of its features, but because Apple seems to have done it right - they looked at what people hate about the other phones out there and started from scratch. If I were to buy one tomorrow, it would be because the iPhone has been designed from top to bottom with Apple's focus on making something excellent as opposed to leveraging third-rate components and fourth-rate software that would maximize some profit ratio. I know Apple looks as hard at the bottom line as any company, but with the iPhone I get the sense that they've designed the product for me, not them. And that's a huge difference.

[Adam Engst] As much as I'm sure I lose geek cred for saying this, I can't see myself or Tonya buying an iPhone any time soon. The problems are threefold: price, location, and lifestyle. Put bluntly, $500 or $600 plus $60 per month is way more than we'd be comfortable spending on such a device, given that we already have $30 cell phones from Virgin Mobile that cost us about $60 per year in pay-as-you-go airtime, along with a variety of iPods that more than meet our mobile music and podcast needs.

The cost becomes especially steep here in upstate New York, where cell service is fairly spotty. I'm sure the iPhone would get fine reception in downtown Ithaca and at Cornell, but all bets are off once you go more than a few miles out of town. Poor reception promotes a feedback cycle - if you can't rely on having access wherever you are, you stop thinking about using the cell phone unless it's absolutely necessary.

And lastly, we simply don't have the sort of lifestyle for which an iPhone makes sense. We work in home offices, so we have no commute, and we seldom leave home for work-related events or meetings. When we're at home, we have perfectly functional landlines, multiple high-speed Internet connections, laptop Macs, and large quantities of screen real estate. If we lived in a metropolitan area with long commutes and a fully mobile lifestyle, the iPhone would be significantly more compelling. To listen to me play devil's advocate, check out this MacNotables podcast.

All that said, I still want one, and if one arrived on my doorstep, I can guarantee that I'd figure out some way to work it into my lifestyle, even if most of the usage was via Wi-Fi in the house.

[Matt Neuburg] Matt Neuburg thinks the iPhone is stupid. He also thought iPods were stupid. Before that he thought Mac OS X was stupid, and previous to that he thought those colorful original iMacs were stupid. He also thought the World Wide Web was stupid; we've got email and FTP, what do we need a bunch of hyperlinks and pictures for? In short, Matt Neuburg has never been right about anything, and suggests that everyone should probably do the opposite of what he thinks and get an iPhone immediately. Also Matt Neuburg thinks that people who speak of themselves in the third person are delusional.

[Mark Anbinder] One of the oft-reported glitches that affected iPhone purchasers this weekend is related to one key reason I probably won't have an iPhone for a while. My employer, Cornell University, has been trying to get iPhones for a few IT staff members, me included - but no one at AT&T can figure out how to do this.

The fact that the iPhone is officially only for individual consumers, and not for corporate accounts, was a stumbling block this weekend when iPhone purchasers tried to transfer existing phone numbers that were previously on AT&T corporate accounts. AT&T's automated system couldn't transfer a number from a corporate account to an individual account, and AT&T customer service reps could only do so with permission from that corporate account's contact person - who was probably not available after 6:00 PM on Friday.

Believe it or not, while I was definitely impressed with what I saw of the iPhone presented at WWDC, I didn't feel an overwhelming urge to buy an iPhone right away. (If I'd wanted to, I could have gotten one easily on Friday at our local AT&T Store; the line didn't get long until mid-afternoon.) But if I want to let Cornell buy one for me, they have to figure out how to do it first, and that's proving to be a challenge.

Apple has insisted that AT&T offer the iPhone only as a consumer product for now, so not only is it not eligible for corporate discount plans, there's simply no way to put it on a corporate account. Corporate purchasers could use a company credit card, but the activation process still starts with a credit check that requires an individual's social security number. One of my colleagues has expressed some concern that signing up with his own social security number puts him personally on the hook for the two-year commitment, even if he's signing up for work.

I actually got to touch someone's iPhone (still in its shrink-wrapped box) on Friday evening, as they left the AT&T Store, so even if I haven't had a chance to play with one yet, I think I can keep my gizmo envy at bay for a bit. I'll wait until the bean-counters can figure out how to do corporate purchases, even if it requires some fiscal sleight-of-hand.

[Joe Kissell] I'm in the market for a new cell phone, and the iPhone looks like it would meet my needs nicely. The one teensy catch is that I've just this week moved to Paris, France, and paying AT&T roaming charges for all my calls for the next two years doesn't seem cost-effective. So I'll have to wait until the European release later this year, and if the rate plans and contract terms are reasonable, I'll more than likely pick up one then.

 

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