iPhone Review and Accessory Hassles

Well, it’s not exactly a review. First of all, I found the launch of the iPhone fascinating – for its PR wizardry, for its collective hypnotic allure – it was deft and brilliant. The best entertainment wasn’t the Cabbage-Patch-Kids-style line I saw as I biked past the Santa Monica store; rather, it was watching others scramble in the wake. Sprint, I think it was, issued scripts to their customer service people so they could more pointedly explain no, Sally, you don’t want to cancel your contract for that toy, that foolish piece of crap Jobs is hawking. I think it was ten reasons why the iPhone sucked, or something. Oh well – I guess if you can’t lead, you might as well rip on those who do.

As I would expect from Apple, despite its (few) flaws, the iPhone is the best phone anyone’s ever built. I love it; it takes the cell phone to the next level, and will force others to do the same – thus evolving these things from phones into full-fledged personal communicators and entertainers. In light of what it is and especially when it is, it is a stunning consumer electronics achievement. They are entering the phone space just as they did the MP3 player space – far from first, but offering the best.

It is certainly hamstrung by a painfully slow AT&T EDGE network. I know AT&T is working to improve this and Apple is planning a 3G phone for the nearish term. Both those developments should alleviate the speed issue.

The primary complaint I have is with regard to the marketspace around the phone. While Apple’s PR strategy paid great dividends around the launch, it somewhat hampered the ability of third party manufacturers to spec products and ramp up.

By way of a first example, I have a pair of Etymotic ER-6 headphones I use with my iPod. They are amazing; vastly superior to the included earbuds. I was able to trim the neck of the ER-6 plug so that it mostly works in the iPhone (it still slips out if the jack rotates too much) so I could listen to the iPod side of the device. However, I cannot take calls using these things because they have no microphone or call button. So, despite the high quality, the use of this accessory dramatically lowers the functionality and elegance of the device. I wrote to Etymotic to see if they planned an iPhone set, and got a generic response that told me they either weren’t sure, weren’t planning, or didn’t want to tell me. There is the v-moda Vibe Duo – but it doesn’t have the button on them that enables you to start and end calls. That’s a considerable usability pain, especially if you’ve got the phone in a case and are riding your bike listening to music (something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.) So, I make less use of the phone than I otherwise would.

Also, I have a TEN FlexDock in my car that I’ve used for my iPod for a long while. Works pretty nicely for that, given the fact that it’s a clumsy, embarassingly-awkward way to integrate (I use that term verrry lightly) my iPod into my car stereo. Wth the iPhone, though, the Dock gets weird. When they first connect, the iPhone says it doesn’t recognize the device and wants to go into “airplane mode” – uhh no, thanks. The FlexDock will then charge the iPhone, and it’ll play music from the iPhone’s iPod, but has a strange attitude about iPhone sounds – that is, if someone calls, I can hear the ringtone through the stereo, but cannot hear the caller’s voice through the stereo once I answer. Huh. So, that sorta strips down the utility of that accessory and so, a lot of the time I don’t bother taking my iPhone out of my bag and plugging it in. Less use again.

Also, I went to the Apple store a few days ago to see about an exercise-type case for the device. I have an armband-type thing for my iPod and just wanted something like that which would fit the phone. They had nothing. Well, ok – they had this hideous belt-clip case that belt-clipped onto an arm-band and had the elegance of Rachel Ray; no other options. None of the slick neoprene socks they have for iPods, nothing. So, when I go biking, I’m still mostly leaving my iPhone at home. Even less use.

This is not the fault of the accessory makers; few, if any, are privy to design or spec information prior to launch, and so it is extremely hard for them to prepare new products in time.

I realize Apple feels that secrecy is worth the price of a slightly delayed accessory market. I also realize that the device has only been out about two months. I know that the numbers of people whining about it are relatively small. But, it is the early adopters who are walking around with the devices, sometimes being asked to review the device by total strangers, who you most want to please. You need that early surge in perceived penetration amongst that population to drive your longer term revenue. You need your product to be out there, in influencer’s hands, being used and seen around town and talked about every day. When we can’t plug it into our cars, can’t exercise with it, and can’t buy a fully-functional set of earbuds for it, it diminishes that effect tremendously.

Just something to think about.

EDIT: Or, check these out.  (Thanks, G, for the tip)

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