A new look at the Apple iPhone

Description: Hands down, the iPhone is the product of the year.

Generating more discussion in consumer and enterprise circles than any other device in recent memory, the iPhone has revolutionized the way phone vendors are thinking about user interfaces. In terms of a digital audio player, the iPhone (and iPod family) are light years ahead of everyone else.

Price: $399, with two-year AT&T contract Cool Yule rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Sure, it was overhyped to the point of nausea, but once you hold it in your hands and see how easy it is to do things like initiate a conference call, you’ll be hooked. Yes, there are several issues surrounding enterprise compatibility, pricing and application openness with the iPhone, but this only paves the way for improvement for future devices. I have a feeling the iPhone family will make the list of future Cool Yule Tools in years to come.

Here’s what I like about the iPhone:

— Web browsing on a mobile device that works: Remember all of the “WAP is crap” headlines from years ago? Things hadn’t improved much, despite what mobile device vendors promised about the ability to Web surf on a handheld gadget. The iPhone fixes this problem, and raises the bar on Web browsing. The Web looks like the Web, and the very cool zoom-in and zoom-out feature (you use two fingers and either “scissor out” or “scissor in” for zooming) makes the small text on the screen problem go away. Even the issue of clicking on a link to go to another Web page is better than anything I’ve seen, the interface seems to know when I’m clicking a link vs. using my finger to scroll around the page. Because of this, enterprise application developers worried about translating their applications for a mobile environment won’t have to worry about special sites or changes for mobile devices.

— Seamless network connections between a wireless LAN and WAN: When you’re in an area where the WAN and Wi-Fi are good, the iPhone does a great job seamlessly connecting you to the best area (one assumes the device picks the Wi-Fi connection over the EDGE connection). The best part is that users don’t have to worry about the connection, unlike other devices I’ve seen where you can spend hours trying to configure the connection correctly. With more dual-radio devices on the horizon, seamless configuration will be even more important, especially if the device then connects to a faster wireless network.

— Improved phone call features: I don’t even know if I have three-way conferencing on my existing conference, much less the combination of menu choices and buttons to push to create such a call. With the iPhone, it’s a matter of calling someone, pushing the conference button (putting caller 1 on hold), dialing the second number, and hitting the “merge” button. Easy phone features let users get their work done more efficiently, and the iPhone succeeds here.

— The realization of work/life convergence: For years, I’ve seen mobile devices that want to be taken as a “serious business device,” so much that they don’t want to put a digital camera or an MP3 player on the gadget, for fear that an enterprise IT manager will claim the device as “frivolous” or too consumery. Currently the iPhone has the problem of being the opposite of this — it will need some features to convince IT that it can be taken seriously as a “work device.” But even now, Apple understands that users want one device for their life — not just their home life, but for their work life too. E-mail doesn’t care whether you’re sending a message to the CEO or your Aunt Mary. A music player doesn’t care whether you’re listening to a relevant podcast (Twisted Pair!) or Twisted Sister. We used to think convergence was about merging a cell phone with a PDA, but now the word convergence should be whether a device can address a user’s work applications and personal applications (if they’re even different). The iPhone understands this convergence better than other devices at the moment.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Nobody ever got fired for picking X” (whether this was Cisco, IBM, etc., depending on what you were buying). To translate that to a holiday gift buying decision, I can proudly offer, “Nobody ever got sad opening up an iPhone gift.”

Comment: edit@itworldcanada.com

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