Further Thoughts on the iPhone 3G

Shortly after Monday’s WWDC keynote address, Alex Albrecht of The Totally Rad Show and Diggnation tweeted that the just-announced iPhone 3G was “very disappointing.” Alex complained that the only thing the new iPhone had that the old iPhone couldn’t get (aside from GPS, which he didn’t care about) was 3G reception.

I think Alex is missing the point. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball pointed out, it’s the iPhone platform that’s the real story right now, and not the latest and greatest version of the device:

The physical phone is not the story. A year from now, the iPhone 3G will be replaced by another new model. The platform is the story. Platforms have staying power, and, once entrenched, are very hard to displace.

(Thanks to Colin Devroe for pointing the way to that article.)

Alex should be stoked that his existing iPhone is going to be capable of so many more cool things next month, and that the upgrade isn’t going to cost him a thing. Every year is sure to bring a newer version of the iPhone device, but it seems to me that the hardware will see only incremental improvements as time goes on (how many more hardware features can you add to the thing before it becomes a cumbersome phone or an undersized laptop?). What all existing owners and all future owners should be happy about is that Apple seems dedicated to making the platform for all versions of the iPhone cooler and cooler every time we swing around the upgrade tree. Until there’s a platform upgrade that doesn’t include older versions of the iPhone, I say there’s nothing to be upset or disappointed about at all.

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Apple’s target market for the 3G iPhone is not the early adopters and gadget geeks like Alex. This time, they’re after holdouts like Jason Martin and myself. That’s why the new, lower price is the major selling point, probably even more so than the faster speeds. Many of us, myself included, don’t live in areas where 3G is going to make any difference. But the price is going to make all of the difference in the world.

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In the comments section of the iPhone piece I posted the other day, my friend Erik wrote, “All I really need in a cell phone is the ability to call people and text message.  I hardly even use the camera on the one I’ve got, nevermind all that extra whizbangery.” I appreciate Erik’s position on this. Like Erik, there are certain features of my current phone and certain features of the iPhone that I will probably hardly ever use. The phone part is something that I hardly ever use now, and that I’ll probably hardly ever use no matter what phone I own. I don’t use text messaging either, as I’ve never really seen the point. And, while I have used the camera on occasion, I’ve never played a game on my phone, and I’ve never used any program for it, other than the calculator.

What the iPhone is about for me is carrying one less device. Right now, I carry an iPod and a phone with me almost everywhere I go. I use the iPod regularly, and I have the phone for emergencies. If those two things were one thing instead, I would be a happy monkey. The fact that the iPhone can also browse the Web from anywhere is huge for me, because that means I don’t have to open up my laptop and I don’t have to find Wi-Fi. And everything else the iPhone can do, like games that are simple enough for a geezer like me to enjoy: that’s all bonus.

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The biggest downer of the new iPhone experience will be mandatory in-store activation. The previous version of the device was activated at home, on your own computer, at your own convenience. This was one of the major factors which led to the massive iPhone hacking/unlocking community on the Web, so I can understand why Apple and AT&T want to lock everyone into a contract before the device is even useable, but I join the chorus of people who wonder if the two companies know what they’re doing. People will stand in line for this phone when it comes out on July 11. The estimated activation time is something like ten to eleven minutes, and when you multiply that by the hundreds of people who will be camped outside of each store, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I’m not exactly sure how they get around this while still addressing their concerns about the proliferation of unlocked iPhones, but I feel like they have to do something.