The iPhone is not a revolution in computing

Alex Iskold has an interesting article on ReadWriteWeb. He claims that the iPhone is the key that will allow Apple to dominate the next generation of computing. The SDK and the device’s brilliant compact version of OSX, Iskold argues, means that the possibilities open to Apple are almost limitless. He also maintains that with the new enterprise announcements, the iPhone can take on BlackBerry in the business world too, and become the one-divice solution for suits and creatives alike.

I’m not so sure.

I remain a critic of the iPhone. I’m sold on its almost perfect industrial design, and I agree there is nothing close to it for browsing (short of a micro-notebook or web-tablet), but it’s still limited by its hardware.

The lack of a flash makes the camera fairly sub-par, even for a cell (although it remains a decent 2mp shooter in good light). The lack of 3G means that a Wi-Fi connection is critical. And the bizarre omission of video means that it can’t compete with the Nokia N95 (my current cell of choice), or the recently announced N96. Also, having typed on the iPhone a fair bit, it’s nowhere near as intuitive and ergonomic as my BlackBerry 8800. Let’s also not forget that the iPhone can’t multi-task – a fundamental characteristic of the modern computer since the Amiga. Developers are already arguing that this drastically limits what they can do on the device.

Hardware, of course, can be remedied. AT&T have promised a 3G iPhone eventually, and flash-memory boosts will keep the line fresh. But I’m still to be sold on the idea that the future of computing is handheld. True, as Google hints to with its upcoming mobile OS, handhelds are a very juicy preposition for advertisers, but people are not going to spend hours surfing on their handhelds when a full-size computer or laptop is available.

Also, who is going to use a handheld device for production? No photographer I know is going to use a handheld for Photoshop. No accountant is going to build spreadsheets on his cell, and no writer is going to tap away anything more than an email or blog post on a mini touch-screen. Yeah, we may use smart phones when on the go, but they’ll never replace a traditional PC.

Maybe Apple will dominate the future of computing. Sales of Macs are rising and the platform is now seen very much as the one to have (even in non-production circles). And I’m sure if Apple does own the future, the iPhone and iPod will be fundamental; but let’s not get carried away, the iPhone is not revolutionary, just evolutionary.


16 thoughts on “The iPhone is not a revolution in computing

  1. I certainly don’t know whether the iPhone will “dominate the next generation of computing”. However, I do know that the arguments leveled against this possibility have been weak.For starters, are we comparing the value of a phone based on a trivial feature such as the camera? Not to knock the Nokia N95, but nobody who cares about the quality of photography would be using a cell phone for the job in the first place. The camera in the phone is more of a “checklist” feature. That’s like saying the iPod won’t be popular because one of the bundled games is weak.Second, the iPhone certain isn’t the best at everything. But, it’s a great all around machine and it excels at what it was primarily designed to do – make phone calls, surf the net and play media (pictures, movies, music). Also, keep in mind that it’s tough to make entire platform judgements based on the first version of what will surely be a family of products. Already there is an iPod touch, but it’s safe to bet this is a platform from which other products will come. Similarly, we all know 3G is coming.The iPhone’s biggest weakness was not hardware but software. That is, it wasn’t ready to compete with RIM as it didn’t have sufficient compatibility with Exchange servers, nor did it have sufficient security for corporations. In June, that will be a huge barrier that is removed and it will be removed for all existing iPhones.Finally, no, smart phones will not replace desktops, at least not entirely. They will be more and more important as time goes on though. The market is really just emerging and Microsoft isn’t a sure winner here. Microsoft has been in the mobile device market for years and what do they have to show for it? Mediocrity. Microsoft’s desktop market dominance is based on the monopoly they’ve been able to maintain for years. The mobile phone market is a bigger market. Further, having success with mobile devices can translate into success in other areas. How many Windows users are using iTunes today because of the iPod? Again, I would agree that predicting Apple’s huge success is a bit premature at this point. However, the items above should be food for thought.

  2. While the iPhone processor and energy management limits multi-tasking, what other cell phone does? Apple’s processor is more powerful than their competitors. Intel’s chip plans indicate more powerful chips are coming for this market segment. Apple will introduce a 3G phone with a better camera this year along with a larger iPod Touch model IMHO. It’s OS X and the same libraries and tools that can be used for Mac programming too. It’s available, free on a new Mac’s install CDs. As they business software firms become familiar with them for iPhone applications, they’ll discover how easily they can do both. As the installed base will eclipse the Mac’s numbers, I suspect a “halo” effect with many more programmers familiar with OS X and Macs.

  3. I think you are right in that the CURRENT iteration of the iPhone is not a revolution in computing. However, I think you’ve missed the bigger point. The iPhone in theory IS probably the biggest revolution to hit personal computing. Think about it this way. Sure nobody wants to use Photoshop on an iPhone screen but what if in the future that iPhone can hook up to an external monitor and keyboard? Soon, with a faster processor, better graphics chip, more memory and longer battery life, the iPhone essentially becomes a PC in your pocket. I think with a few upgrades and in less time than people realize, the iPhone will basically become the mac mini in your pocket…

  4. Aaron,I read your article with anticipation. Hoping that I would be enlightened with some fresh material of why the iPod wouldn’t be as “great” as it’s foreseen to be. However, it’s unfortunate that you pretty much demolished your own credibility when you stated the words: “Blackberry 8800, intuitive, and ergonomics” in the same sentence. I’m a heavy blackberry user: 8800 to be exact. I have 4 emails streaming to it, (one corp, 1 blackberry, 2 third parties); I use jivetalk as my main IM client, running gtalk, yahoo, msn, and aim all at once.Now I can say with confidence that it is anything but intuitive, ergonomic, or even halfway near as good as the iPhone. Sure, it’s much better than its predecessor (side-scrolling knobs) due to the white scrolling ball, but it’s like dipping a shit in a vat of hot chocolate. Sure you can cover up the smell, but you know its shit inside, and once you bite. .there’s no doubt about what it really is. I could write volumes on why Blackberry probably has one of the worst interface known to mobile-kind (just take a look at their email layout. .enuff said), but that’s getting off the topic here, since you’re focusing on the iPhone.Flash? WTF. . .since when does your beloved BB 8800 run flash? NEWSFLASH. It doesn’t! Maybe in the future it does. . I think there’s a new OS upgrade coming. . bleh. . So does that mean your beloved 8800 is sub-par? So no Flash. . and why in the world would we even want to run flash on our mobile phone? Come on . .everybody knows that Flash is a CPU hog, and will totally kill the battery life of the mobile-phones. That’s why it’s an utter failure on the mobile-side. . but not so much on the desktop side (where CPU powered is nearly unlimited and there’s a plug hooked to an outlet). Again, I could write another book on why Flash sucks on mobile. . but that’s getting off the point as well. Not having Flash makes it a sub-par phone??? Puhhhh-leeeeeeeeeeeeze!Now as for that comment about people not surfing on mobile as a desktop substitute. . well. . I wonder why. . surfing on BB is an absolute nightmare. .it can’t even render a damn webpage correctly. I even use Opera as my backup and it’s also a hassle to use. Now. . Couldn’t it be the fact that surfing via mobile is so shitty that the iPhone’s browser system just totally blew the crap out (or should I say the chocolate covering) off all the mobile browsers. Didn’t Google just say that iPhone just totally roared on the scene and blew the chocolate chunks out of everybody and took the majority of the mobile browsing in less than half a year? Enuff said.3G? Come on. . That argument has been dead and is still dead; 3G really doesn’t mean much. Sure. . It’s nice to have one. . however. . .if you put the iPhone 2.5G vs. any phone 3G. . I’m pretty much willing to bet that the iPhone will render the page correctly and even faster than any phones out there on 3G. (Hint, go to YouTube and look for an iPhone vs. whatever comparison . . . you’ll see that iPhone wins every single frigging time . . .and that’s even with the 2.5G connection). Again, I concede that it would be nice to have 3G. . If as a “dick-wagging” measurement for some folks who have certain compensation issues going on. Of course. .that’s getting onto some certain psyche of men that I could write volumes about. .Now. . you’re talking about doing Photoshop/excel. .etc. . and how nobody would do that? Hogwash. . just because it hasn’t been done before in a nice way doesn’t mean that it cannot be done on the iPhone. What the heck does multi-task have to do with a “fundamental characteristic” of the modern computer since Amiga have to do with anything that iPhone does. Sure, it’s not recommended by Apple to have two apps running at once due to the perception that Microsoft Phone suffers from. . the fact that if you have more than one app. . . your mobile phone slows down considerably. . heck. .check your Blackberry. . Now run Jivetalk/BB/browser/TeleNav/Gmaps whatever. . You’re guaranteed to have a very serious lag there. . Microsoft has one of the worst multi-tasking features on their mobile phones. . Come on. . I could write. . ah. .I’ll stop here. .

  5. It’s a revolution in computing for the type of computing class that it’s in. So, yes…, it’s a revolution in computing.I don’t think you’ll find a single person who has ever written, said or hinted at the iPhone being a “revolution in computing” — saying that you should use Photoshop on a handheld device, or an accountant should trade in his desktop machine.YET, in spite of those people never saying that, they’re still saying (along with a lot of other users), it’s a “revolution in computing.” I would say it’s you that doesn’t understand what they’re saying, rather than those others who don’t understand.

  6. Who said that in order to “revolutionize” the iPhone has to replace the PC? What it will do is revolutionize how much you can do on a handheld device. Or rather, how much people are willing to do on a handheld. “It’s the interface, stupid”. And remember, the hardware is just version 1, the sky is the limit to how much it will improve over the coming years.

  7. The Nokia E90 – the latest iteration of the Communicator – does fulfil quite a lot of the gaps you identify. It doesn’t have the same, pared-down user interface because that style is only possible when there’s not all that much going on.I’m a fan of the communicator series, having done my degree on one. They do work rather well and while you’re not, realistically, going to put together presentations and spreadsheets on them, I’ve used them to edit them on the go.I think the greater openness (which I know doesn’t mean open) of the Symbian platform compared to the iPhone’s may also help push things forward; Symbian is going to have greater market share and will attract, I think, more third party developers.

  8. william no3When I referred to the BlackBerry 8800, I was only referring to it as typing device. And BTW, I use a Nokia N95 8GB. I rarely use my BlackBerry as my main phone. So no, this is not a post arguing that the BB is better than the iPhone. For a start, I don’t think it is. The BlackBerry just has a better typing interface.Also, your venting about Flash is rather misdirected. I was writing about the lack of a Xenon flash for the camera.

  9. The iPhone is not a cell phone. The iPod Touch is not an iPod. The truth is that the iPhone is a pocket Mac that has a cell phone in it, and that the iPod Touch is a Mac that has an iPod in it. I don’t know how long it will take people to figure this out, but it isn’t hard to see.Maybe when Intel’s Atom processor (a 1.5w dual-core 1.87Ghz CPU) is at the heart of these machines it will be easier for other to see. Maybe not.

  10. Ulf HednarI’m not sure why being a handheld Mac is the point, when it’s primarily used as a smart phone.Aren’t ASUS, HP et al. smart phones just small computers, too?Also, it’s called the “iPhone”. So surely it’s designed to be a phone, albeit one based on OSX?

  11. Aaron, Not to belabor the point, but I just don’t see the connection between the camera feature in a phone and how that feature would ever make a phone “revolutionary”. Would a 6mp camera in a cell phone make the product revolutionary? I wouldn’t think so. Revolutionary would seem to indicate a significant change to the way things are done. The dictonary says “radically new or innovative”. Adding more megapixels to a cell phone is hardly “revolutionary” and the same goes for adding a flash. If nothing else, the user interface of the iPhone is revolutionary. The touch screen with gesture input is revolutionary for this type of device. Look how fast many have tried to copy it. LG even advertises a touch screen with simiar icons. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the proper framework behind it to support gestures and other related features that make this design practical.Similarly, I’d call Apple’s deal with network carriers to be revolutionary. Clearly this business model is a departure from the status quo. Likewise, the iPhone may or may not be many things, but it has drastically changed expectations in both in terms of features and in terms of business models. With that said, the flip side to this is that it is certainly debatable whether this “revolution” will amount to any real significant success for Apple in the long term. Time will tell.

  12. The 6MP camera would be revolutionary if it allowed you to do something totally new; that could be because you cross a threshold that allows you (say) to take photos in a club. If it’s just an incremental improvement, it can hardly be called revolutionary.Ulf – that may be true from a technological point of view but that’s not how it’s marketed and it’s not how it’s understood. I think that the closed OS also makes it harder to see it as a computer rather than a phone.

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