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iPhone positioning, figuring out the device type

iPhone is shrouded in mystery and vagueness, and our readers seem perplexed about what this phone actually is, while Apple firmly believes it has re-invented the mobile phone and tries to foist its views off on consumers. With this piece we are kicking off a series of articles on the modern world of mobile phones, what and how Apple has created, what the place of the Apple iPhone among other handsets is. This product, as a phenomenon, is already here, so the only thing left to do is find out what it really can do, emotions, marketing tricks and tub-thumping fans aside. So, here goes the first installment.

For the time being users seem to be confused, as they continue to argue about what is the iPhone?. Is it a mere feature phone, or, perhaps, it can be qualified as an Apple-branded smartphone, or even a communicator, though the latter version doesnt have many followers. Lets take a closer look at this products positioning.

Some time ago the iPhone went by the name of apple smartphone; though I really have no idea what people sticking with it mean by that. In order to avoid delving deep into queer terms and puns, lets remind ourselves, what the market accepts as a smartphone.

Smartphone a handset running on a non-proprietary operating system that allows creation of additional applications by third-party developers, while all tools required for that are provided by the OS developer. In a word, you can install third-party programs, increasing overall functionality. So happens that smartphones powered by one and the same OS are released by different makers, so here comes another, indirect token more than one manufacturer of such devices.

Java, being a separate multi-platform standard, meets the definition above in some way, but doesnt offer those device management abilities offered by developers of stand-alone OS. At the same time, standardization of Java goes at full tilt and perhaps the moment, when the borderline between Java-programs and native applications is no more will come pretty soon.

The market features two major smartphone operating systems - Symbian, Windows Mobile. Linux inside does not automatically means that all devices running on it are smartphones. The LJ by Motorola is quite specific at present it has all the locks on, being a closed operating system, and development of native applications for Linux MontaVista in it is impossible, thats the thing only the maker himself can do.

Now lets take a once-over of the iPhones abilities. Can you install own Java-applications on it? The answer is No this standard is not supported. And what about applications from the desktop OS? No way. In spite of the dreams (that many had) about identical OS versions found in the phone and desktops, there is no such thing here. It appears that the difference is even more tremendous than between the desktop Safari and that the iPhone comes preinstalled with.

It turns out that no applications can be installed on the phone, so the user is limited to the pool of applications drawn by the maker in the first place. And in this sense, the handset doesnt qualify as a smartphone by any means and calling it this way is somewhat ridiculous. What is more, MAC OS itself cant turn a feature phone into a smartphone it simply skimps on features.

The followers of the smartphone theory will usually feed you with these arguments:

  • Only smartphones sport huge touch-sensitive displays and on-screen keyboards. A very weak point, as the market offers loads of touchscreen-based devices that have nothing to do with smartphones. For example, the Nokia 6108 with its handwriting recognition for some Asian countries, even though it runs S40 by Nokia.
  • This is a smartphone, for it carries MAC OS onboard, just like the one in desktops. Hmm, really, really pitiful argument if applications from desktop PCs could actually work here, then it would be a smartphone. But in this case, any OS would do in any event, it is totally different from what the developers are experienced in, so there is no way for them to write own applications.
  • The feature pack and suite of applications clearly indicate that it is a smartphone. Apparently, people spreading this opinion have never encountered real smartphones with substantially greater default functionality. It is not even worth talking about.

At the same time, it would seem that Apple realizes how scanty this device is, and offers a way-out network applications that can be launched via the browser. This is where we are stepping onto a tricky road, as we will have to speak about certain things that nullify the entire concept of this device and simply wont be accepted by any of its fans.

Networks applications is the future of the mobile phone market they are growing in numbers with every passing year, and new features keep popping up. Just remember Google Maps, whose implementation found in the iPhone is one of the markets best. This is a default application, which is quite interesting. There will be other applications strongly connected with network resources, for instance WikiPedia. For the most part, these will be content-based services.

And if only this segment was unique to Apple, then we would say that the company is the pioneer and is now intensively building up a new niche. Alas! The first company to get the idea of network applications on board was Nokia. Today the number of various Widgets is far greater than that for the iPhone. The community of developers easily makes up new apps, is interested in them, and, more importantly, has all essential tools at its disposal. Again, no traits here for the iPhone.

But it is not the worst thing. Todays smartphones are characterized by a tiny feature that brings them together multitasking. Even feature phones are coming to grips with it platforms A100, A200 Sony Ericsson, Nokia S40 5th Edition FP2 (Q1, Q2, 2008) and later on Motorolas LJ.

The iPhone has not multitasking whatsoever, of course if you dont count its ability to play music in background mode. In a word, you cant handle your mail and organizer at the same time, switching between them, copying data from the latter and pasting it into letters, adding some notes etc. This means the iPhone doesnt have to goods to allow you manage your time with ease. Instead of that, you are down to perform one task in one sitting. Is that bad? By no means, there is nothing to be ashamed of, many phones cant do that either. So, we finally come to the verdict that the iPhone is not a smartphone but a feature phone remarkable solely for its touch-sensitive display.

Enterprise, multimedia, fashion, something else?

Having figured out that the iPhone is a mere feature phone, lets take a glance at its positioning, and find out who can buy this product. Narrowing down to a certain audience, this would be people already familiar with Apples solutions and with some experience of managing them under their belts. Then, the consumers bent on cutting-edge technologies, in other words enthusiast. For them, this solution is a fount of various sweet bonuses. Also, there is a big group of consumers who never had a clue what this was all about, but gave in to the craze. So, in order to learn what this device can offer specific audiences, we are now looking at it through the lenses of its specifications.

Enterprise. The iPhone has no spirit of an enterprise solution. Basically, the definition of a business handset today is very obscure, the market is polarized, but we can specify some characteristic segments and generic features. Technology-savvy companies with developed IT-departments sit on the top they supply their employees with smartphones and communicators, extracting the benefits they bring.

What are the strong sides of these solutions? For most it would be email that can keep anyone occupied during a trip. For example, in the US market, it is email that allows BlackBerry devices, as well as a number of Windows Mobile products to breathe. These days many companies actively employ MS Exchange ActiveSync, Push Mail, which enable instant delivery of email to connected units as if it was an SMS that gets to the recipient a few seconds after sending. We even overlook other aspects, since these basics are pretty much enough already. You can also throw here the ability to view headlines of letters on a server, selective upload and other amenities for good measure.

Ability to view and edit MS Office attachments and also Adobe Acrobat (iPhone allows viewing only, no options for saving them either). Moreover, such devices usually get enterprise data bases installed, which contain contacts, valuable information, custom applications, so that the user can always get access to the data he needs. This automatically means that a notebook at hand becomes pretty much useless, all goods are already on the handset.

Remote management of smartphones (both WM and Symbian) this is one of the top-priority fields. This system implies that an administrator, should you have your device stolen or lost, can lock your SIM-card, but thats not all, he can also wipe the devices memory. In a similar way, he can update firmware versions over the air on thousands of units, utilized by the company, add new features, and upload new data or applications. It might sound like a fairy tale, but it is already here and similar systems are widely adopted.

It doesnt take a rocket scientist to guess that iPhone has none of these amenities (not even close) just an abysmal email client that allows you only to view documents, thats about it. The maker has also taken care of users files that cant be carried on the device and sent via email, the device simply has a different idea behind it.

Less advanced companies also worth a few words these prefer buying feature phones for their employees, since the latter need reliable communications alone, rather than bells and whistles. And a different logic kicks in here. First, this device should boast a good brand (iPhone a great brand), second, feature fair price/quality ratio, and be easy in use and service (thats where the iPhone falls flat).

That is, if a manager faces the dilemma of going for either the Nokia 6233 for 1 USD on a 2-year contract, or the iPhone for 499 USD signed for 2 years as well, what his choice will be? I suppose the answer is obvious and need no further comments.

An important conclusion we can make right now the iPhone is a personal device and by no means a business-aimed solution; enterprise users will never accept it. So it turns out, the companies that can shell out for the iPhone, wont do it, since it doesnt have the goods, while smaller companies will overlook this nifty, hyped and hence pricey device in their pursuit of price/brand ratio.

Multimedia. Apple is famous for its MP3-players, this is actually its second prioritized field, after computers. So seemingly it comes up with a multimedia-ready device, which is the iPhone. But is it so?

Thankfully, or, maybe, regrettably, a few years ago Nokia established NSeries, a range comprising multimedia-heavy products that were called not feature phones or even smartphones, but multimedia computers. The multimedia department of these solutions kept getting underscored on every occasion (suitable or not). What the market recognizes as a multimedia-driven device today?

Probably, the following characteristics matter the most:

  • Ability to play music;
  • Radio;
  • Video playback;
  • Ability to make and edit own video clips;
  • Bundled camera, image editor, special effects;
  • Games;

What of the above does the iPhone deliver? Well, no games are available, and for want of hardware keys, there wont be a wide array of them. Therefore, the iPhone is not about gaming, no matter how you look at it (hence a great many of younger people are put off).

There is a camera in this device, but it has no settings, or allows you to make any use of the snaps (no stock editor, one and the same wallpaper all the time), no video recording capabilities. In this sense the iPhone is quite meager. While Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung and Motorola enable direct PC connection over Bluetooth, USB for printing, you wont find this feature in the iPhone. The thing it banks on is slide-show, but other makers have it as well. Missing memory card slot and USB Mass Storage mode will never allow you to copy snaps onto other devices. However, it is not a big deal, since the low-end camera module found in the iPhone wont provoke any strong desire for printing out photos in view of their very mediocre quality.

With its player Apple has proven that FM-radi onboard does not guarantee success. Thats why everything the whole mobile industry has been striving to get to over all these years is now ignored. Today the guideline on the mobile phone market is really, really simple tack on radio onto as many devise as you can. And the companies follow it, be it with or without RDS, radio modules can be encountered even in entry-level solutions. In its turn, the iPhone with its own concept comes in to oppose the markets principle.

The music department is supposed to be the iPhones edge something should be backing up its image of 6th generation of iPod with integrated phone. There is much truth to this wording, in this sense it is indeed a music-heavy product. But when its put face to face with Walkman or XpressMusic handsets, it turns out to be lagging on a lot of things.

It is just about time for anger and tension to grow, because once again we encroach on the very fundamental things the iPod along with other Apples music-minded products are associated with great sonic experience, etc. etc. But this is a mere myth, skillfully maintained by the company itself. In fact, the Apples players utilize technologies of 2003-2004 and are lagging far behind the market with their average sound quality. Before iPod Video many complained about outside noises during music playback, these were caused by nothing but the players hardware. The company has always been into selling the aura, design of its products, rather than technological talents or cutting-edge hardware solutions. And eventually, this played a nasty trick on its iPhone. Why? I hear you ask. Simple, all todays mobile phones come in with much richer retail package:

  • Remote control none available for the iPhone;
  • Ability to plug in any 3,5 mm compatible headphones without adapters (jack mounted on a headset or the device itself). The iPhone actually retains one, but it was intentionally recessed, so as to prevent the users from connecting custom earphones and force them to buy new from the company a very limited choice, mediocre quality (especially true for the default headphones), well, no good;
  • A2DP Bluetooth profile the iPhone just doesnt have this profile, meaning that wires are your only option;
  • Direct music uploads the iPhone doesnt deliver this feature, you are down to iTunes, which requires synchronization every time;
  • Getting music from friends over Bluetooth disabled in the iPhone;
  • Stereo-speakers to share favorite tunes none in the iPhone;
  • Dedicated music keys on the casing the iPhone comes with its touch-screen alone, have to call it to life all the time.

And this is only a short list. The iPhone does retain the basic functionality (playlists, filters), a handful of visual amenities (album art), but omits loads of extras that shape up the final impression. In other words, with this convergent device, the only thing the company has done is replication of its previous offerings without any further enhancements. For example, Nokia, Sony Ericcson allow the users to control playback by shaking the phone, the Walkman range calls it SensMe, which picks tunes to match the mood of the song you originally chose. We could go on and on with all these details. And all this takes place against the backdrop of a very though competition in sound quality between the iPhone and some flagship solutions. I dont want to delve deep into this right now it will be highlighted later anyway. However, it is important to understand that Apple sticks with its policy in this field basic implementation of the music department with quite good, yet nothing-to-shout-about sound quality (lags behind the contemporary players, for example the Sony A800), skimpy suite of extras.

Of the six constituents listed above, technically, the iPhone offers three, and one of them is obviously inferior to the competition. It turns out that by contemporary standards, this product cannot qualify as a multimedia-ready solution. I wouldnt mind if someone called it this way (which is closer to the reality): iPod Video with a phone module chucked into it.

Fashion and nothing else

What characterizes all fashion-savvy solutions? A good, recognized brand (the iPhone has it), quaint design (in stock), top-notch materials (gotem), relatively hefty price tag (obviously). Meanwhile, the maker can provide only the core functionality with no bells and whistles fashion-conscious users put it very low on their lists, they rather need a thing grabbing everyones eyes and displaying their status. The success of the Nokia 8800 and all of its variations results from the abovementioned factors.

So, the iPhone is a real fashion phone? Exactly, it is the only class it belongs to.

This means the iPhones direct rival can by, say, the LG Prada. By the way, these two solutions are very resembling philosophy-wise and in the sense of some technologies used.

Finally, we have figured out what kind of phone it is, and come to realize that it is neither an enterprise solution nor a multimedia-heavy device. Apple has made a bold move by shutting itself away from the segment of premium MP3-players, which have already become its signature, and slipped into the lower price-bracket. Its top of the line solutions are replaced by the iPhone, which can be dragged along as a second or even third phone, allowing you to brag about your status and lots of cash. Thats why there are no price cuts for the phone, which wouldve made it too affordable (even more than it is today, which wasnt on Apples to-do list).

The hype around the product lets it reach the main goal make its owner the talk of the town for some time. This is what characterizes every fashion-savvy solution.

The path they have picked is quite good, especially for the US market, where it will be rivaled only by Nokia, which is relatively weak on this market. That is, there no competition with the fashion-savvy Nokia 8800 in its American iteration, while the Nokia N95s sells well, but nothing outstanding about it. With an army of the iPod owners behind its back and player replacement dates on the near-horizon for many users, the company has made all the right moves and offered a product that made the market go crazy. However the figures they give us are a tad shady, since about 25 percent of all sales were generated by profiteers, who wanted to gain something from the fuss around the iPhone. Well, they failed. But thats what we are going to focus on in the articles to come.

 

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
Translated by Oleg Kononosov (oleg.kononosov@mobile-review.com)

Published — 27 July 2007

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com

 

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