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Judgment day: Can the Apple iPhone deliver?

Posted: 29 Jun 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple iPhone? release day? smart phone?

The day of reckoning is here. The drapes are finally pulled off the Apple iPhone.

Perhaps not since the invention of wireless communication has a cellphone been the subject of this much frenzy. The hype had escalated to boiling point that industry watchers feared consumer expectations were raised too high. Could the iPhone truly fulfill its promise? Today, consumers will judge.

For those who may have been abducted by aliens and kept in outer space for the last six months, the iPhone is Apple Inc.'s long-anticipated quad-band GSM smart phone that could play music and video, surf the Internet via Wi-Fi, check POP emails on-the-go, and locate places with its built-in Google Maps. All these features are accessible via the phone's touchscreen interface, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself touted as the most revolutionary interface since the mouse. The gadget's features make it a sleek crossbreed between an iPod and a scaled-down MacBook, with the additional capability of making phone calls and capturing images with its 2Mpixel integrated camera. Apple also increased the phone's talk time to 8hrs, up from the 5hrs originally announced.

The months that passed since the iPhone's introduction at the MacWorld Expo January 9 had been teeming with suspense. News of trademark disputes, copycat rollouts and industry speculations all contributed to the buildup of excitement.

What's in a name?
In the tradition of the iMac and the iPod, Apple could not have picked a more apt name to call the iPhone. But there was a glitchthe name was already taken. Cisco Systems Inc. sued Apple for the iPhone name shortly after Apple's device was unveiled, claiming it had owned the trademark for the name since its 2000 purchase of Infogear, maker of the series of Internet-based phones of the same name. The two companies later settled their dispute out-of-court. Under their agreement, both companies are free to use the iPhone trademark on their products throughout the world.

In April, amid rumors that technical difficulties would delay the iPhone, AT&T Chief Operating Officer Randall Stephenson assured the public that the June release would push through. He added that 1 million customers have expressed intention to buy the handset once it becomes available. AT&T's wireless unit won an exclusive U.S. deal to sell the iPhone.

Cost factor
Meanwhile, market research firm Markitecture in May reported that while iPhone scored high in consumer awareness, the chances of these consumers buying the product are very slim. According to the firm's survey of 1,300 cellphone users, 77 percent said they were familiar with the iPhone, but only 6 percent said they were willing to buy the product. The $500 price point was the top reason for not purchasing the phone.

The iPhone is Apple's long-anticipated quad-band GSM smart phone that could play music and video, surf the Internet via Wi-Fi, check POP emails on-the-go, and locate places with its built-in Google Maps.

In the weeks leading to today's launching, a slew of feature-heavy smart phones stormed the market, perhaps hoping to get a free ride on the hoopla, or preempting a likely market slaughter if they showed up after the iPhone. Among interesting iPhone rivals that came to market were T-Mobile's Wing, a Windows Mobile-operated GSM handset that's also Wi-Fi-enabled; the HTC Touch, a touchscreen-enabled number from the Wing's maker, HTC Corp.; the Java-run prototype from Sun Mircosystems that was a dead ringer for the device Jobs held at MacWorld; and the most recent, Nokia's E series of business phones that the Finnish maker had to launch earlier than scheduled. While some may dismiss these products as mere clones, they are actually among smart phones that make up the phalanx of rivals that may nip at the iPhone's market.

What could set the iPhone apart from its rivals is its applications. Earlier this month, Jobs announced Apple plans to let developers build Web 2.0 applications for the iPhone, a move that's said to slightly open the door to a mostly closed environment. He called it a "very sweet" proposition, but many Mac developers did not buy it. They say Web-based applications don't take advantage of the iPhone's intuitive user interface.

Marketing machine
But whether or not the iPhone clears the bar, you have to hand it to Jobs. From the iMac to the iPod, the Apple chief could whip up delirious publicity for any device his company's logo is latched to. And the iPhone could still be another tour de force for this living industry icon. Even the image of him holding the device at January's MacWorld Expo seemed to inspire lust for this cellphone-cum-media player. It had a way of breaking your heart just thinking you might never get your hands on one like it. Indeed, Apple had revved up its marketing machine for this device that took two years to get off the drawing board. And with people camping out at Apple stores since Monday, it seems the effort has paid off.

Now that it's out, the identities of chipmakers claiming precious real estate inside the iPhone will soon be out as well. Had Samsung really cinched a huge NAND flash order from Apple for the iPhone? Are there really ARM processors and Broadcom chips inside? Was it Quanta or rival Hon Hai Prescision that bagged the contract to supply the handsets? These are questions that are waiting to be answered in the next couple of days.

- Christine Telesforo
EE Times-Asia

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