10 June 2008

Ring, ring, ring goes the telephone

I don't like the iPhone. I have had one now for about five months, and if it weren't for the fact that my N95 has a developed a dodgy screen I would happily revert back to using it. None of the things that are wrong with the iPhone have actually been fixed with the new 3G model, announced yesterday by a worryingly gaunt Steve Jobs, so I expect to like this new model even less.

The iPhone has a shockingly bad camera, only 2 Megapixel with no flash, no video support, no option for video chat. Although it is really easy to do things with the photos once you have taken them, the quality just isn't good enough in any light other than the blazing sun of a Cupertino afternoon. And seriously, in this day and age to have no native video support is unthinkable.

The web browsing is good, its the strongest feature of the phone, with a nice big screen and really good interface. The trouble is that many websites recognise that you are browsing from an iPhone, and so give you a cut down iPhone-specific web page. This can be good with some sites, Google Reader does not scroll properly if you use the non-iPhone version for example, but for many pages its annoying.

The text-messaging doesn't recognise the maximum number of characters that your service provider allows per text. This means that often texts end up being split in two and costing more. I do like the iChat-type interface for keeping all texts with the same number in a single conversation, but the lack of a character limit could be easily fixed.

No Cut and Paste. Think about that, you cannot cut and past text from an email to your notes, or from an email to a web form, or from an email to a text message. There is no shared text between applications, something that is a pretty basic function in any computing platform.

As I've said before, I'm not a 17 year old, so ring-tones don't matter to me, but the inability to add your own custom ring tones without using iTunes or Garageband is more money-making proprietary nonsense. You should be able to just choose any sound file on your phone and activate it as your ring.

And here-in lies the rub, its the fact the Apple do not accept that the iPhone is your device, and you should be able to do with it whatever you want. This is such an American attitude, a legacy of the US' closed and proprietary mobile networks. Contrast Apple's approach to that of European companies such as Ericsson or Nokia, with open platforms (especially Symbian S60) and a strong homebrew developer community actively supported and encouraged by the manufactures. The initial price of the iPhone immediately put it in the same league as the N95, a phone that outclasses it on all fronts. Combined with the ridiculous lock-in tariff plans from the single operator per country the iPhone looks decidedly unappealing.

In Ireland the 8Gb 1.0 would currently set you back €299 with a minimum monthly tariff of €45 for a minimum of an 18 month contract, for a total of €1,109 over the course of the contract. All of this for only 1Gb data, 175 minutes talk, 100 texts and voicemail calls at 15¢/call, with no visual voicemail. The 16Gb would cost €200 more.

Compare this to an unlocked 8Gb N95, available on expansys.ie for €544.95. I currently am a pay-as-you go customer with Meteor, and average €20/month in charges. I mainly use wifi rather than Edge, have free voicemail and free texts to other Meteor customers - most of my friends changed over to Meteor because of this offer. I get between €5 and €10 extra in credit per month from meteor, depending on how much I have toped-up over the course of that month. I have no contract, and can change phone or network whenever I like. My total cost for the same 18 month period if I bought a new N95 would work out at less than €905 for a better phone.

Realising that the iPhone did not compare favourably to top-end phones like the N95, Apple are now marketing that they have dropped the price for 3G models considerably. In Ireland O2 are keeping the same 1Gb data limit, which makes even less sense for a 3G phone, but dropping the price to an initial €49 for the 8Gb with a €100/month tariff for an 18 months contract. This means that the new phone is actually more expensive over the full lifetime, working out at €1,849. The cheapest plan, a €45/month tariff, will have the iPhone's initial cost at €169, bringing the total to €979, still more expensive than the N95.

The iPhone has many things going for it, and it has caused other manufacturers to raise their game, but the propitiatory nature of just about every aspect of the device and service really annoys me. I'm not going to throw mine away yet; I'm waiting to see what the apps are like, assuming I can still access the store with my jailbroken 1.0 (I've kept my iPod touch un-jailbroken just in case I can't), as I am very interested in seeing it used as a controller for programs like Live and Logic.

But when the N96 comes out, all bets are off.

Links
Irish O2 Tariff announcement

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