Don’t buy the iPhone!

Don't buy the (first-gen) iPhone (new)!

The iPhone looks amazing. Coming from Apple you know it has to be slick, and the demos and reviews from people who have actually played with it back that up. I'm sure it will be a great phone and music/video player that will sync seamlessly with your Macintosh personal information programs. I want one myself, but here are the pragmatic reasons why you shouldn't go out and buy the first generation.

  1. First Gen products always have issues. Remember the Nano Scratching Problems or the iPod Shuffle freeze up problem or the Mac Book Pro battery issue. It generally takes several months to identify and fix subtle problems with a first gen product. This is not just an Apple problem, automobile manufacturers are another good example.
  2. It doesn't support UTMS (3G data transfers. The dirty little secret about the iPhone is that Apple skimped on the GSM chip-set, which only supports extended data rate GPRS (EDGE), and not the new 3G UTMS super high-speed data that Cingular has just rolled out across the nation. This won't be too much of a problem for casual users who just want to make phone calls and listen to music on the phone. EDGE provides real world performance of around 10-20KB/sec downloads, which should be enough to update a widget or two and download your email in the background. (I expect that the Apple software designers will try and make all Internet activity asynchronous to hide the lack of speed on the Internet connection, hence the "download in the background" email support.) BUT, this will pose a larger problem in two areas that power users won't like:
    • Direct song purchase & download. Why use a computer to download and transfer your songs? Even if the first version doesn't support a mobile iTunes store experience, I can't imagine Apple not adding that feature in the future. A few second download using UTMS (3G) would take minutes using EDGE.
    • Google Maps. (And other interactive applications). A good cache can do wonders for the user experience with a slow network, but at some point a user may want to explore someplace they have never looked at before using Google Maps. (Or some other as yet un-announced interactive application.) The 1/2 second round trip time, and relatively slow data rate of EDGE makes using Google maps on an EDGE enabled phone annoyingly slow. It's ok if you absolutely have to figure out where you need to go, but you'll find yourself pulling into a parking lot to wait for the download (as opposed to viewing the map you need while at a stoplight, which is possible with 3G/UTMS). In fact, I expect the lack of UTMS is what has led the iPhone software team to limit the number of interactive applications on the phone. When a 2nd gen iPhone with UTMS support is released, the software people will be able to add on all of the cool interactive applications they originally wanted.
  3. The service contract. Obviously, Cingular is going to make you sign a contract to get this highly anticipated and coveted phone. I expect them to try forcing most people into a two year contract. Even if you are happy with Cingular's service, two years is a long time to commit.
  4. The 2nd Gen iPhone. You know it's already in the works. If I were Apple, I'd release it right after Christmas, say in January 2008 at MacWorld. It will probably have 3G/UTMS support, more interactive applications, more Flash memory, and a few software fixes.
  5. Bottom line, if you are going to buy a new iPhone and agree to a Cingular contract, hold out for the 2nd gen version that supports the wonderful new 3G network that Cingular has spent so much money on. But what if you can't wait? Buy it used and unlocked.

    • Used – Wait for somebody who bought a 1st gen phone to realize that they must have a 2nd gen phone, and get it for half price (and without a contract!). Ideally, ask the seller to get Cingular to unlock it.
    • Unlocked – When you buy a phone from the phone company, they lock it so that it will only work with their network and sim cards. This helps prevent customers from jumping ship to a cheaper or better phone company, even after their contract has expired. BUT, no law says they have the power to do this, and in fact, many anti-trust laws say that they shouldn't force the issue too much. This is why you can get your phone unlocked by a service provider by calling their technical support line and asking for it. (Sometimes you have to ask several times, and escalate to 2nd or 3rd tier support personal, but I have never had been refused.) The best way to do this is to explain to them that you will be traveling out of the country (ideally to somewhere that they don't offer roaming service) and need to use your phone with a pre-paid sim card while you are there. I recommend doing this for all of your cell phones sometime about half way through your contract. This allows you to use the cell phone with any provider in the future, once your contract expires. It also gives the phone more resale value, as the purchaser can use it with any SIM card and network. Of course, network specific features of the iPhone (Visual Voicemail) won't work with other networks.

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