The iPhone: Steve Ballmer is Laughing, But�

Now that the release hoopla is over, our Apple guru takes a hard look at the pros and cons of the new toy. Plus: a humble opinion about Steve Ballmer.
Posted January 22, 2007

John Welch

John Welch

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"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to speak of many things." With apologies to Lewis Carroll, the time has come to discuss what happened at Macworld. By this of course, I mean the iPhone. Well, there was some other stuff announced, but really, this was the iPhone Macworld.

First, I'd like to address the people who are somehow stunned or surprised that Steve only talked about the iPhone, the Apple TV and the new Airport Extreme. If, after the iPhone, you thought that he was going to talk about much of anything else, you haven't been paying attention to how Steve does Keynotes. He does focused Keynotes where each product announced is able to be in the limelight. There was no way that announcing the iPhone and talking about Leopard and iLife '07, and anything else would have allowed that.

This was the iPhone's keynote. Even from my hotel bed, where I was laid out on Tuesday with a vicious stomach flu, I realized that.

So, what's the deal with the iPhone?

Target Market

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It's not aimed where most of the smartphone market is aimed. It doesn't do Exchange or Notes (at least at the moment – the obvious caveat here is that we don't really know anything about the iPhone yet, so this is really all quite speculative). It doesn't have a big API or a push for third party. It doesn't have all kinds of things that people consider "necessary.”

It's locked down to a single carrier in the US, and it's pretty expensive. Steve Ballmer managed to literally laugh at it, so what's the deal?

First, the Exchange/Notes connectivity is a non-issue. The iPhone isn't aimed at the people who need to be tied to work on that level. It's aimed at people who want a more sophisticated phone than the standard flip or whatever they have. The price is most definitely an early-adopter tax, but unlike the Rokr, this is not a mediocre phone with iTunes tacked on.

It will have IMAP support, which means if your email provider supports IMAP and the IMAP IDLE command, you essentially get "live" synchronization with your email server. It's not Exchange, but it's not POP3 on a schedule either. The Yahoo deal strikes me as a "yeah, yeah, we got your push email too" kind of thing. But if Yahoo will do that deal, it makes me wonder about others.

I will, however, bet that when Leopard and Leopard Server are released, you'll see synchronization support for the groupware features that Apple is introducing in these products.

The third party applications issue is interesting. On the one hand, sure, we all want more toys for our gadgets. However, this is not a requirement, as the iPod shows. Still, people are used to third party applications on smartphones, so what's up with Apple not actively embracing this?

In my "real" job, I support Treos and Windows Mobile phones, and I will state, without doubt or hesitation, that just as poorly written third party software can cause problems for your Mac or Wintel box, it will cause a phone to have problems as well – to the point where it cannot function as a phone. Endless reset cycles, consumption of resources, etc.

I have phones that I have to reboot a couple of times a day due to third party software issues. So Apple wanting to avoid that is a good thing. It would really suck to find out your phone is now a brick when you need it to get a tow out of a snowstorm.

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