June 28th, 2007

iPhone Blindness

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This is a follow-up to my post on why I didn’t buy an iPhone, i.e. because the AT&T network sucks. I’ve been amazed at how the iPhone has caused so many tech commentators to be blind to the network problem. Valleywag’s iPhone scorecard really made it hit home for me, when I saw the high overall GPA despite the failing network grades.

Here’s the bottom line — buying an iPhone is like buying a MacBook that only supports dial-up access. Sure, it rocks for offline uses, but this would be a deal killer for nearly any laptop buyer. How can iPhone reviewers tout the web browser as the “real dazzler” and the “closest thing to the real Internet” when it crawls along like a 1200 baud modem?

But it’s not just about the slow EDGE network for mobile web use. As useful the web use is, the BIG problem with the network is first and foremost about PHONE service. It doesn’t matter how revolutionary the phone software and phone user interface are — a dropped call is the same on an iPhone as it is on one of those throwaway phones you get for free with new service.

Here’s a great line from David Pogue’s iPhone FAQ:

How snappy is the real iPhone, compared with Apple’s ads? It’s identical, with one exception: Apple never shows the iPhone when it’s on AT&T’s cellular network. That would just be embarrassing.

Embarrassing indeed. What’s embarrassing is that Apple pulled out all the stops to make the iPhone a truly revolutionary device in terms of form and function, but they couldn’t cut a deal with Verizon. What a pity.

And Steve Jobs knows it. That’s why he went on the offensive today with AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson to try to address the network issue. According to Jobs (via WSJ):

You know every (AT&T) Blackberry gets its mail over EDGE. It turns out EDGE is great for mail, and it works well for maps and a whole bunch of other stuff. Where you wish you had faster speed is…on a Web browser. It’s good enough, but you wish it was a little faster. That’s where sandwiching EDGE with Wi-Fi really makes sense because Wi-Fi is much faster than any 3G network.

Yes, WiFi is great, but I used the web on my fast Verizon Wireless connection today numerous times, and not once was I near a WiFi hotspot.

But that all aside — Steve, what about the dropped calls and the dead zones? What about the PHONE?

As John Markoff puts it in the NYT times coverage, “The lack of appeal in AT&T will be one of the biggest unknowns as the product rolls out.” To say the least. Nevertheless, there’s a good chance that iPhone sales will live up to the hype as well — there are more than enough people suffering from iPhone blindness who will wait in line to buy a crippled revolutionary device.

When the iPhone is available on Verizon, which it will be eventually, I’ll be the first in line. (It will 3rd or 4th generation by then and will REALLY rock.)

UPDATE

Here’s Walt Mossberg momentarily suffering from iPhone blindness before he finally comes to his senses regarding the downside of the AT&T network:

  • Derek,

    Somebody's got to play the contrarian -- it's a dirty job, etc. Back when the iPhone was announced and everyone was pissing on the closed platform (which turned out not to be) and other nits (e.g. no keyboard), I was shouting praise from the rooftop.

    A revolutionary network on a crappy network is a fascinating circumstance, and very indicative of the current state of tech affairs, which is why I keep thinking about it.

    You live in San Francisco, home of municipal Wifi -- hardly a typical experience.

    You don't have to believe me, but maybe you'll believe Walt Mossberg in the video I posted above. I don't think he's got any FUD issues.

    Lastly, enjoy your iPhone, man, I'm not trying to rain on your parade. (And it's part of Apples master plan anyway.)

  • Oh, and I haven't had a single problem, network wise, yet, and I've been roaming the city on Muni. Edge in San Francisco is faster than what I was used to on T-Mobile by a mile. And when it picks up a free wifi spot, it zooms.

  • Scott -- Okaaaay. We get it. You hate AT&T. But your declarations of un-iPhoneness are coming off as willful FUD. So AT&T sucks in your hood. Sorry to hear it, pal. Skip the iPhone. But let those of us with good coverage enjoy it without saying we're blind. Please.

  • Derek,

    I do have real firsthand experience using the AT&T; NETWORK -- remember, the network is the issue here, not the phone. I used the AT&T; network all over Washington, DC and in many other cities. I experienced the dead zones and the dropped calls.

    What's YOUR experience making calls on AT&T;? How many places in SF have you tried it?

    I also have a brand new MacBook Pro with the new LED screen, after having been stuck on a PC for years -- I know first hand the exhilaration of Apple design innovation.

    But I also know what my priorities are a power technology user. Like I already said, when the iPhone is on the right network, I will switch in a heartbeat.

  • Yes, people with some real firsthand experience DO have a lot to add to this conversation.

    I can say that my iPhone has been great so far. How's yours? Oh, that's right....

    ;-)

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