Apple isn't waiting

Steve Jobs’s keynote address at this year’s Macworld Expo was unlike previous keynotes in so many ways, from his revelation that Apple was removing Computer from its name to the complete absence of new Mac announcements. And the one product he did announce (see “Hello, iPhone,” page 54) was unlike anything Apple’s done before.

Clearly, everyone at the company—from Jobs on down—thinks that the iPhone is going to be a transformative product, one that doesn’t just thrust Apple into a new and highly competitive market, but also makes it a serious player, if not a leader, in that market overnight. Still, there’s a connection between the iPhone and all the other Apple products that have come before it.

Changing the world

At its core, Apple has always been about using technology to change the lives of everyday people. Starting with the iPod and continuing with the iPhone, Apple has proven that it’s really much more than just a computer company. It’s a technology company whose goal is to make great devices that people will use in all parts of their lives.

The iPhone isn’t the only example of this that came to light at this year’s Expo. The reannouncement of Apple TV (formerly iTV) fits the we’re-more-than-a-computer-company theme, too. (For more details on Apple TV, see “Inside Apple TV” in this month’s Mac Beat. ) Apple is pushing its technology, as well as its relentless integration of hardware and software, into all sorts of new places. Yes, some fans of Apple’s computers may be concerned about the company’s new name—but they really shouldn’t be. This isn’t some new Apple they’ll need to get to know. Rather, this is the company that made the Mac great, applying the same product philosophies to a slew of new areas. Just as the personal-computer market needed a Mac in 1984, the complex and fractured world of cell phones could really use an iPhone.

Will Apple become the dominant cell phone maker in the world? I doubt it. But I think it’ll be a credible competitor, and I think its presence in the market will force everyone else who develops cell phones to take a fresh look at their design assumptions and realize that some of their phones’ features simply aren’t good enough for consumers.

Plenty of questions

Perhaps the most shocking thing about this year’s Expo keynote was the depth of the iPhone announcement. Steve Jobs was on stage for about two hours, and he devoted almost all of that time—barring a brief Mac update and a short Apple TV update—to the iPhone. This was perhaps the most exhaustively detailed Apple product rollout I can remember.

Yet for every piece of information we got about the iPhone that day, I found myself adding half a dozen questions to the list I was keeping in my head for my follow-up briefing with Apple. According to Apple, the iPhone runs Mac OS X. Will Mac developers be able to develop programs that will run on the iPhone? What about the iPhone’s “widgets”: are they Dashboard widgets or something else? Why does the iPhone’s SMS text-messaging program look like iChat, when it won’t let you connect to the real AIM chat network that your desktop iChat client uses?

The list went on. We asked Apple as many of those questions as we could; you’ll find many of the answers starting on page 54. But the length of that list clearly demonstrates that the iPhone is a much more complex product than the iPod. The iPhone is, indeed, more akin to the Mac than to the iPod. We’d probably call it a handheld computer if we weren’t calling it a phone instead.

Whither iPod?

The comparison between the iPod and the iPhone raises still more questions. An iPod with a wide screen like the iPhone’s would be great for watching videos. Yet this new wide-screen iPhone has only as much storage as the iPod nano. Is there a higher-capacity iPod waiting in the wings—one that looks a lot like an iPhone, with more storage space but no phone features? Clearly, there’s much for us to learn about how the iPod and iPhone product lines will coexist; I suspect it’ll take months before we start to get answers.

But I’m not waiting around in the meantime. I’ve already ordered my Apple TV, and I fully expect that I’ll be moving on to an iPhone in the very near future. As the singer and songwriter John Mayer pointed out as the keynote event ended, five months sure is a long time to wait for a new Apple gadget. At least I’ll have an Apple TV to keep me company in the meantime.

[ What do you think of the iPhone? Of Apple TV? Come over to Macworld forums and let me know. ]

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