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iPhone 1.0: Looks 10, Utility 3 ? Wait for Version 2 in October

One of the hottest musicals last decade was A Chorus Line, and one of the best songs from it was called “Dance: 10, Looks: 3,” which told the story of a great dancer who needed plastic surgery before she could get hired. In many ways the current crop of Smartphones is much like this. They have a lot of capability, but they aren’t particularly attractive or easy to use.

With the first generation of the iPhone, Apple has turned this market on its ear, but much like the blond heiress who is cooling her heels in jail this month, the phone — while good-looking — lacks the critical features that make for a great phone. This isn’t inconsistent with other generation-one products, but does reflect on the fact that Apple has a unique spin on what is a common industry problem and why most of us who buy a lot of technology tend to avoid first generation offerings.

What’s Wrong With iPhone 1.0?

If it wasn’t for Apple’s excellent marketing, this section would likely be titled, “What is Right?” Apple does a great job of containing information, but if I would have told you that, say, Sony was coming out with a $500 phone that had no removable battery, sucked at texting and e-mail, was large when compared to the market leading (and often free) Motorola RAZR, and was nearly as fragile as fine china, you’d be asking who in their right mind would buy such a thing. Well, evidently, if you put the Apple brand on it, a lot of you folks.

This is the power of Apple marketing. They can actually bring out a product that would have been a complete failure for anyone else and get folks lining up outside of stores to buy it. Of course, much like it was with those who paid $2K and up for a Playstation 3 in December, I’m thinking a large number of folks are going to feel rather foolish days after they buy one of these things and realize that what they saw the phone do on TV not only isn’t consistent with what the phone can actually do, it may not even be anything they really want to do.

For devices like phones, first-generation products are almost like Beta releases, and Apple has a bad history with first-generation products. This is how a new vendor learns about a market, and they get you, the user, to pay to help them learn. While I wish private schools and universities operated that way, this P.T. Barnum way of approaching a market does have its risks, and the buyer takes most of them.

Remember, you have to commit to this thing for 2 years of expensive phone service on top of the $500 price of admission, and if this thing is a dud, that’s two years you’ll be hearing about what a gullible idiot you were.

Advice For iPhone Buyers

If you decide to buy one of these, there are a couple of recommendations you should take to heart.
First, don’t text or dial this phone while driving, and if you are a parent and buy your kid one of these, you should have a long talk about this. Unlike a phone with a keypad where you can “blind dial” (dial or text without looking at the phone), a touch screen doesn’t give good positional information, so you’ll want to look at this while using it. This is the fastest way I know to meet someone new on a road or freeway and forcibly move body and soul into his or her trunk. Do not actively use this phone while driving. You can use it to listen to tunes, but don’t manage your library either (just leave it on shuffle). Even answering a phone like this could be dangerous. Invest in a good cell phone headset like a Plantronics or Jawbone and use it to answer calls. 

Buy a protective case like an Otterbox. With a glass screen and a metal case, this phone is incredibly fragile compared to other phones. Drop it and you’ll likely have phone pieces to remember your expensive phone by (and don’t forget, you have a two-year contract, so replacing it could cost upwards of $700, because you generally can’t subsidize a new phone until your old phone’s contract runs out).

Pick up a spare external battery like the Charge 2 Go Pocket Socket (once they have an iPhone adapter). This should keep you running when the non-replacable battery (you’d think Apple would change this policy after being successfully sued) in the phone goes south, either for the night or permanently.

Get AT&T phone breakage insurance. A metal phone, a glass screen, and a tile floor will likely not be happy together. Especially if you don’t get a case like the Otterbox mentioned above, buy the breakage insurance, because having to pay full price for a new phone on top of breaking your $500 wonder will be incredibly annoying.

Don’t leave this phone lying around. Devices like this are attractive to thieves, and if you leave it in plain view in your car, you are likely to lose a window and your phone. Keep it in a secure pocket or pouch, or leave it in a very safe place and make sure you know the process to make the phone useless to thieves.

Wrapping Up: Wait For Version 2

With a replacement for the iPhone already in the works and due before year’s end, let someone else buy the first ones, or at least wait a month or two for all of the problems to work their way out of the initial device. You really don’t want an iffy phone. 

Remember, the first iPod sucked (mine, and a large chunk of the other initial products, broke within weeks of being sold), but follow-up products generally benefit from the knowledge gained with the initial products and become much better. 

Remember the old saying, “Pioneers get the arrows, settlers get the land”? You may want to be a settler rather than a pioneer with this one. Use the money to buy an LCD TV or other device that won’t be as risky as a generation-one technology product.