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/ log / 9th Nov, 2007 /

The iPhone arrives in the UK

Apple iPhone

Apple’s hype machine is in full swing with the launch of the iPhone at 18:02 today. That’s two minutes past six this evening in long hand. Catching a brief interview on BBC 5Live just now in the middle of a late lunch I suddenly realised what a load of cobblers this is.

First of all, the marketing speak was flowing like a 12” with a scratch in it. “Revolutionary user interface”, “iPod, phone and internet all in one”, “exceptional value for a revolutionary product”, “revolutionary internet,” then repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

Next the reality: Only O2 have the iPhone. Minimum contract 18 months, minimum tariff £35 plus the £269 for the handset. The marketeers would have us believe it’s great value for money. Maybe so. I had the chance to play with Chris’s iPhone earlier this year when he was over here. I liked it. The interface was fun. No quarrel with that bit of the revolution. However, the specs are more complex. The camera is an also–ran. Two MegaPixels, no flash, no great shakes. As a phone it’s just big. The visual voice mail is cool, but the revolutionary network integration seems to cause problems. One example is the lack of automatic roaming for AT&T customers in the States travelling elsewhere. When Chris landed here, he couldn’t get a signal. Even the venerable Stephen Fry had to fight for the right to party roam. Perhaps that will change now with O2 primed and ready. However, regardless of anything else, the sweet spot is the browser and the UI. Safari firing on all cylinders and the pinch, slide and tap of the interface are a peach.

Wait a second, though.

As much as I like the interface in a 10 minute playing slot, I didn’t like the housing. “Traitor!” I hear you shout. I know, but although it’s solid, it’s also dangerously pretty. The perfect smooth–cornered, super–shiny device to fly out of my hand onto the pavement/floor/other dink–inducing surface.

Then there’s Safari. I love that browser. It does lovely things to my body text. However, it’s nothing without the bandwidth to feed it. WiFi at home will make it sing and O2 throw in access to 7,500 Cloud WiFi hotspots as part of the deal. Outside of that we start to struggle. In a country that’s famous for over-priced and slow WiFi (as anyone who’s stayed at a Hotel over here can testify,) poor Safari will gasp for bandwidth unless you have deep pockets. The in–between places where I would get real benefit from decent Web access, like walking down the street needing Google Maps or on a train between the stations, will be frustration zones.

I sound like a whinging pom, even to myself, but my hype aversion angel is looking out for me this time I think. I’m looking for a new phone. Good Web access on the road from a mobile network would be a valuable bonus. So let’s stop a second and look at an alternative, the 3SkypePhone:


Its name abuses camel case even more than the iPhone. It costs less. Free with a £12 p/month contract. £50 pay as you go, with a minimum top up of £10 per month, of which you can throw £5 at unlimited Web access on a 3G network. With either option you get unlimited Skype to Skype calls and IM thrown in for good measure. No SkypeOut or SkypeIn (although that may be coming) but still, for that price who can argue? No revolutionary interface, no iPod but a similar camera to the iPhone. All in all a reasonable deal and a phone that can fly out of my hand and I won’t have to grapple with the insurers or cry at the cashpoint to replace.

I’ll probably end up with an iPhone in my usual late-adopter way. Not because of the marketing hype or because it’s trendy with the cool kids, though. Probably because open WiFi and good connectivity start to become available in places where I need it. The price will come down, too. Probably just after Christmas. After all, the main problems with the iPhone are actually nothing to do with the device itself, but everything to do with monopolistic network pricing and poor network speeds.

In France, where the excellent anti–trust laws prohibit one company owning retail access to the device, they will probably sell them contract–free, but make sure the price is so prohibitive that it makes no sense to buy one. Already, according to the BBC, Apple and O2 have stated that unlocking the iPhone to use on any network will void the warranty. What a hardware warranty has to do with network locking, I’ll leave you to figure out.

So I'll be biding my time and seeing how things develop. I'd love to grab one for real world site testing, but an 18 month contract and a heap of cash seem a high price to pay to see if my suspicions are correct. If you are lucky enough to dive right in without a care, let me know how you find it. Did you feel the revolution?


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