Why the iPhone is not for everybody

I tend not to think of myself as one of those typical Apple-elitists. You know, the kind that hopes that Apple remains a marginal player in the worldwide market of computers, so that their choice for the brand remains a unique identifier for them. Instead, like many other Apple-fans, I would love to see the company grow and gain market share. Because naturally, this would benefit us all. The more Apple computers in use, the wider the range of software and other supporting products that become available. And although Apple is not quite there with their line of Macs, it did manage to become the number one spot in MP3 devices. And now, it is bound to become the biggest, or at least one of the top biggest companies in the field of fully featured mobile communication devices, or smartphones.

But let’s go back for a second to the whole Apple-elitist thing. I have to admit that there is one aspect in particular that makes me proud to be an Apple-user: I choose to use an Apple computer. After all, statisitcally based, it would have been logical that I picked up a Windows PC from one of the local shopping malls, just like 90% of computer users. Instead, I made a comparison between the offerings of generic PC vendors shipping Windows machines, and the Mac. And, at least to me, the Mac won that comparison by a large, large margin. It’s beyond the purpose of this post to state why the Mac is the superior platform for me (but sure, this includes Apple’s breathtaking visual design of the operating system, the stability and security of its OS underpinnings, the world’s best industrial design, but most imporantly  the tight integration between all hardware, operating system, software and Internet service components that provide me with this exceptional and unmatched user experience). So does the knowledge that most people select their computer based on price or raw hardware specs instead of doing a little investigation on what system works best for them make me an Apple-elitist? If so, then yes, I think I have to admit that I am more of one than I initially thought.

The whole subject came up to me again lately, when I was talking to one of the many people I already know who own an iPhone. This particular guy, a young student in his early 20s, known to not be an Apple-fan to say the least, also recently aquired an iPhone 3G. He came up to me and spoke these historical words: “This time, I went with the Nintendo Wii among mobile phones: the iPhone. You know: the least capable, but most popular device at the moment”.

Yes, I’ll give you a moment to read this one over again. I know it left me baffled for a few minutes.

He choose the iPhone because of the notion that among many young people, your cell phone is a very important status symbol. The size of the thing (with the general rule: the smaller, the better), its color, the sound it makes when someone calls you or the funny way you can flip, slide or otherwise open it are frequent topics of conversation between young people these days. And appearantly, the fact that a phone gained an enormous hype for being “the coolest new thing in town” also counts. Not only did this guy not recognize the fact that the iPhone’s interface and user experience is years ahead of even its closest competitor, he even labeled the iPhone as a limited device.

While talking some further to him, things became clear to why he had this bold opinion. The iPhone does not record video clips, it does not allow you to exchange ring tones with other mobile phones via Bluetooth, but most of all, he had gripes with the fact that he had to use iTunes to manage the media on the device. As he told me, with his previous phone he could just mount it as a hard drive, and then manually move the required files over. And then he showed me his music collection on the iPhone: all single tracks from different artists, and all without cover art. It quickly became clear to me that the guy pulled all of his music from P2P networks instead of ripping CD albums, let alone buying music trough the iTunes Music Store. He didn’t care about albums, he just wanted to hear that one particular song that he knew. And I had to admit: his music collection and the way the iPhone interpreted them all as “single track albums” looked like a mess.

Of course I could have told him that iTunes is one of my most appreciated pieces of Apple software, due to its excellence in managing music, the ways that I can search my music based on various criteria and how my collection presented to me. I could have explained to him that, in an Apple universe, you actually manage music, not computer files. And that once you music is neatly ordered in iTunes, it not only provides you with the best music jukebox software available on a computer, but also neatly offers your music in any other place it might be usable, such as on your iPod, on your iPhone, accessible trough a wireless streaming station (like the AppleTV or Airport Express), but also in your movie creation software to select as the soundtrack, in your photo viewing software as background music or in your web editor for inclusion on your web site. And again: everywhere you have access to the same neat organization of your music, and nowhere you need to dig trough piles of unordered music files. It is exactly what makes the Apple experience a joy to me (and a lot of other Apple-fans), and at the same time it is what bothers people who are not willing to take the plunge and stick to their computer-skill-based ways of working on their PC.

It is clear to me that the iPhone is by far the most innovative, easy to use and well integrated combination of a phone, a music player, a gaming unit and an Internet access device that is available today. And this will probably remain so for a long time to come. However, for some people, the advantages of the Apple way of working do not stack up to the things they seem to find important and which are lacking, such as teenage-driven applications like expensive, non-email based (MMS) picture messaging, bluetooth wallpaper and ringtone exchange, the ability to record barely watchable 1 inch high and 2 inch wide video clips or in this case the capability to move single media files lacking any identifiable meta-data over by hand.

This leads me to the conclusion that the iPhone might not be for everybody. I think at least you have to make a solid choice based on your needs when you embrace a new piece of technology into your life, especially if it’s something you plan on using each and every day like a smartphone. Picking something just because of its cool-factor is, in my book, one of the least smartest things you can do.

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