Snap Judgments! The Early iPhone Skepticism

What predictions of failure for the iPhone can teach us about iPad predictions.

By  |  Monday, February 1, 2010 at 4:03 am

Jack Gold, Computerworld, “Will Anyone Answer When Apple iPhones Home?,” January 10th, 2007:

Why am I not impressed?

First, making an entertainment device is much different from making a phone. Over the years, plenty of phones offering lots of nice “toys” for users have disappointed. Ultimately, they were not very good phones. And the bottom line is that you have to build a good phone first, and then add features on top of that. Otherwise, don’t bother. You can ask Nokia, Motorola, RIM and others about this. All have had flops with what on paper were devices that looked marvelous. Another difference between phones and entertainment devices is that phones must be much more rugged and less prone to breakage while being subjected to all kinds of abuse. Can the iPhone take such abuse without a high failure rate? We’ll have to see.

Second, the price is steep. Yes, I understand that the astronomical list prices of $500 and $600 are simply initial inflations meant for the early adopters willing to pay almost anything (and to limit volumes while Apple ramps up to catch up to demand). But even if the prices were cut in half, that is hefty for a phone device these days, even one with loads of features. How many consumers are willing to pay that much, plus $40 to $80 per month for a plan that includes data services (which will be necessary to access many of the phone’s features).

Third, who is the target for this device? At $300 to $400 (assuming the price falls rapidly), an iPhone clearly is not a casual buy. In the past, most high-end phones have been sold to business users willing to pay for a fancy phone with the capabilities they wanted. But these users almost universally demand connectivity to corporate systems, especially through push e-mail and Outlook integration. How well the iPhone does at integrating to these systems remains to be tested. And although I would bet the iPhone will integrate and sync well with the Mac, very few businesses run on Macs. If the iPhone doesn’t do a good job with PCs, Apple has a big problem.

Fourth, the device runs the Mac OS. This is a major constraint, since few third-party application vendors (e.g., Good Technologies for a push e-mail client) run on the Mac. There are a lot of unanswered questions. Will these vendors port to a proprietary operating system when they have the option of running on Symbian with far more devices, or Palm OS or Windows Mobile? And will the iPhone support J2ME-based applications, of which there are a growing number? Apple can’t afford to build a dead-end system with no ability for users to enhance the device with third-party applications. But Apple will likely have a tough time convincing application vendors to build specialized clients for the iPhone until the volumes are there, and the volumes could be limited by the lack of third-party applications – a Catch 22.


My advice: Unless you are a die-hard Apple fan, wait a few months to see how this all shakes out, especially if you want to use the device as an adjunct to your business. Find out how good a phone it really is and how well it connects to the world you live and work in before spending the high price for what could ultimately become an orphaned, stand-alone music player. An iPod would be a better choice for that, and much cheaper.

Harry says: Gold (A) reasonably suggested that businesses take a wait-and-see attitude on the iPhone; (B) took the notion of the iPhone running OX X too literally, and was overly pessimistic about the chances of developers supporting the iPhone; (C) seemed to assume that the iPhone would be fragile and sync poorly with PCs before there was reason to have an opinion one way or the other. As far as I can see, he hasn’t written about the iPad yet.

Rory Prior, ThinkMac Blog, “Will the iPhone Fail?,” January 12th, 2007:

You see the problem is you’ve got a really expensive phone here which fails to hit its two key demographics for two very different reasons. The first is the teen to early 20s market, these are people who would love an iPhone but can’t afford one. They’re also the people most likely to be stolen away by equally pretty looking phones that do more and cost less (even if they don’t have the elegance or UI glitz). The second is the ‘prosumer’ market (the folks with good jobs in the city who drive BMWs). These people can afford the iPhone, but they’ve already got phones from their employers. These integrate with their various enterprise systems (Exchange, MS Office, IM, etc) and while they might be tempted by an iPhone, the cold hard realities of non-replacable batteries, no 3rd party software, lack of blessing from the IT dept. and the suckiness of onscreen keyboards leave them stuck with their miserable Windows Mobile smartphones. Ironically the same sort of reasons why they’re probably Windows users rather than Mac users.

Without these two key segments of the mobile phone market who the heck is going to buy an iPhone aside from Apple fan boys and gadget geeks? Heck I’m an Apple fan boy and even I don’t think I’d buy an iPhone unless I could install 3rd party apps on it.

The mobile phone market is big enough that Apple can sell enough iPhones for the product not to be Cube style failure, but in its current implementation they can’t hope to do anything more than carve out a tiny portion of the fashion phone market.

Note I say in its current implementation – there are a few fairly basic things Apple could do (and perhaps will) to allow much wider adoption of the iPhone. The most important is not to lock out 3rd party apps, next would be to make the battery replaceable and finally to sell a nice tiny little bluetooth keyboard so that those who are serious about sending emails and messaging on the go aren’t driven insane by the touch screen. Still of all of them I can’t stress enough how important 3rd party apps are. Steve Jobs might not like the idea of you cluttering up his lovely product with your junk, but once you’ve laid down your cash it isn’t his phone any more and you should be able to customise it so it meets your needs. If it really runs OS X it should be robust enough to allow 3rd party software to run on it without one slightly buggy app bringing the phone down.

Harry says: I think Prior missed out on the impact that the iPhone’s Safari Web browser would have. He was right that third-party apps would be essential, and wrong about the keyboard and battery issues. As for the iPad, he’s taking the reasonable stance that it has plenty of potential but needs apps written to take advantage of its capabilities.



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14 Comments For This Post

  1. Allen Says:

    Yes, I want an iPad 🙂 And if you look at my issues with the iPhone when it first was released, look how Jobs listened to me and made significant changes for mass appeal – price dropped and the rate plans dropped big too.

  2. Pelpa Says:

    The iPhone was a success because Apple amended most of the highlighted issues.
    In fact, the iPhone wouldn’t have been so popular if it hadn’t got almost every missing feature, especially the App Store.

  3. Jubei Says:

    Easy really. No matter how idiotic you are, how off your prediction is, fall flat on your face, make up the silliest post to cut down Apple products, you can still keep your job for looking like an idiot or a fool. Thats the best job in the world. Look at Dvorak, Thurrott, Ederle and the many PC-centric bloggers going at it again and again and again…. Best job in world. 😉

  4. Dave Zatz Says:

    Here’s what I wrote January 9th, 2007 as everyone at CES in Vegas turned their attention to Macworld in San Francisco:

    “If the iPhone works as advertised, they’re going to sell a ton and really bring “smart phones” to the masses (despite the $500-$600 price tag) — along with music and video. I prefer the tactile feel of keys to dial with (especially when driving), but have grown accustomed to my 6700 (“the brick”)… so I can probably live without.”

  5. Oslodude Says:

    For the same reason I have not yet bought an iPhone, I will not buy an iPad:


    How obvious is this? And for what reason has the feature been excluded?

  6. drew Says:

    I am really torn on this. The iPhone succeeded since it fully replaced prior devices that were not nearly as good.

    The iPad, it seems, is a little different. It seems to be a new category, but is aimed at the netbook. If you go back and look at criticism of Win7 starter edition, people criticized that you could only run three apps at one time.

    From what I understand, the iPad only runs one app at a time. Also, it appears you cannot simply move files on and off the iPad the way you can on netbook. I find I use my netbook (with Win7 starter) as a big flash drive. I can run the programs I want, and run more than one program at a time.

    Now, having said that, as a device for consuming media (as opposed to creating it) the iPad seems very impressive.

    I was surprised by the price point of $499. I think that alone will sell a lot of these. The problem is if I am going on a trip, what I am going to take with me? If I had a iPhone and a netbook, where does the iPad fit into that?

    As an aside, what would be really neat is seeing (I am a high school teacher) is the iPad as a educational tool. Digital textbook, and specific apps that would allow students to use the device within the class, and then they could submit assignments electronically.

    Since all students would be doing the same thing, running one app at a time would not be a problem.


  7. Glenn Dixon Says:

    Philip Greenspun has now opined, sort of…

  8. Matt Says:

    Interesting look back. Apple has done a decent job of addressing issues with the original iPhone, either through software (copy & paste) or hardware (3G) updates. As a consultant who travels weekly, there are three features I was hoping for that will keep me waiting until rev 2:

    1. USB/SDHC – I would like to use an iPad to manage my iPhoto library and have the ability to upload/email photos while on the road. I currently do this with my work laptop (copy pic from camera, upload to Flickr, sync back to iPhoto when I get home), but would prefer to have an easier way. I know there is an adapter, so this isn’t a deal-breaker, just a gripe. Another option would be if the iPad will work with Eye-fi cards.

    2. T-Mobile Support – I don’t understand why they are selling the iPad unlocked, but didn’t include support for T-Mobile’s 3G network in the US. Again, not a deal-breaker, but without that I will be sticking with the wifi version.

    3. Webcam – My primary use for this type of device would be using Skype/iChat to video chat with my family while I’m on the road. Again, I currently use my work laptop+external webcam for this, but would happily carry a smaller, faster device for this purpose.

    If they add a webcam, I’ll buy the wifi device and camera connection kit on release. If rev 2 comes with webcam/usb/T-Mobile frequencies, I’ll pick up the 3G version in an instant.

  9. Jake Says:

    I wrote a similar story for the Industry Standard a while back, contacting early iPhone skeptics to find out what they thought a year after its introduction:

  10. gargravarr Says:

    Pelpa – That’s like saying the automobile wouldn’t have been a success if they hadn’t added seat belts, a roof, air con, etc. Name me lots of successful products which did not evolve or add new features. Arguments from hindsight are easy to make.

  11. drew Says:

    Gargravarr-but USB is not a “new feature”, it is an industry standard. Apple is entering a market where people expect certain things on a computing device.

    Having to use a connector (and carry that connector around) takes away from the utility of this device. Once you add in the keyboard dock, you’ve moved away from the svelte appeal of this device. How much will I be carrying around in my bag to make this device useful?

    The iPad is slick looking device; but as I have thought about it, how would I use it if I had one? It won’t replace my netbook (I can’t really type without the keyboard dock, and the dock does not look like that I could balance it in my lap).

  12. gargravarr Says:

    Thanks Drew, but we talking about the iPhone, not the Pad. I was commenting on Pelpa’s Captain Obvious statement that features = interest (and possible sales). My point is that it’s easy to claim to understand the success of something AFTER it becomes a success. To do it beforehand takes more than just blind luck.

    As for the iPad, if you think you can’t use it, don’t buy it. Simple.

  13. drew Says:

    Alas, that is the problem; everything I see makes me want one! While people will debate practicality, the form factor and usability seems very appealing. I use my netbook mainly for email and web surfing. I don’t type all that much on it, and the extra screen real estate is very appealing. It comes down now to cost beyond the device. I am already paying for the wireless modem for the netbook. To go 3G is $129, plus the service.

    This points in many ways to the way I have done computing in the last few years. My last laptop was 6 pounds and duplicated my desktop. The netbook I got last year copies enough of what I need, and weighs a lot less. The form factor of the iPad is lightyears ahead of my netbook-how much typing do I think I will do, vs. how much will I actually do.

  14. dpme Says:

    And also, as a total aside, is price. I had expect that the iPad would come in just under $1000. Looking at the pricing at Apple, I am (pleasantly) surprised that the most expensive iPad (3G, 64GB) tops out at $829.

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