Analysis: Reality might tarnish iPhone's shine

As the thrill of the iPhone’s unveiling wears off, analysts and users are asking questions about how the device will play away from the San Francisco stage where it made its debut on Tuesday.

Some features of the $499 phone stunned attendees at Apple CEO Steve Jobs’s two-hour Macworld Expo keynote. Its music and video capability with the biggest and sharpest iPod display yet, its touchscreen interface that lets you zoom in and out with your fingers, and its nearly button-free design all drew big cheers. But much still isn’t known about the iPhone—even its name is now in doubt, thanks to a trademark suit by Cisco Systems —and some observers have slammed known shortcomings.

The innovative touchscreen, which would control almost every function of the phone, might not work so well if it got scratched, worries Ovum analyst Roger Entner.

And the virtual keyboard on the touchscreen may or may not work better than the tiny hardware keyboards on other smartphones, said JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg. Plus, it’s not clear how easy it will be to use the iPhone with one hand, he said. The large expanse of glass also raises concerns about breakage if the slick-looking phone slips out of your hands.

Another hardware concern echoes complaints about the iPod: Apple didn’t say whether users will be able to replace a worn-out battery themselves. Typically in GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phones, the SIM (subscriber identity module) card is stored behind a removable battery, Entner said. But if Apple wants the phone to be a sealed unit like the iPod, it could have the SIM card installed in a slot on the side—where it’s more prone to dirt and damage. Battery life in the slim device, which includes notoriously power-sucking Wi-Fi technology, is also a concern.

Users may also be disappointed with the amount of software available for the iPhone. Apple said it is developing applications with exclusive U.S. carrier Cingular Wireless, but the pickings are likely to be slim for a while, said InStat analyst David Chamberlain.

The Mac OS X on the iPhone will be a closed variant of the operating system found on Macs, and third parties won’t be able to develop software for it independently from Apple, Gartenberg said. It doesn’t let users open up Microsoft Office attachments in e-mail today, a big shortcoming, Gartenberg said.

Many observers slammed the lack of 3G (third-generation) mobile data capability. The slower 2.5G technology the iPhone has may hobble entertainment applications, said American Technology Research analyst Albert Lin. It was probably left out because of cost, he said. Lin expects Apple to offer over-the-air iTunes purchasing in time, but that would probably wait until after a planned 3G iPhone comes out.

Editor’s Note : This story was reposted at 4:15 p.m. PT on January 12, 2007 to remove two paragraphs that incorrectly linked Steve Jobs to the Newton. Jobs was not an Apple employee at the time of the Newton’s 1993 launch.

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