If you need bling, glue some zirconiums to your Nokia.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
A wireless iPod? That's the ring of a cash register you hear, not a phone

Jan. 14, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard

   My wife's niece called me before Apple had even finished announcing its new iPhone on Tuesday. "How soon can I get one?" she wanted to know.
   When I explained the delayed introduction date -- the iPhone won't be available until June -- she raved about all the things shed heard about the device on the radio and told me she didn't care how long she had to wait. "I WANT ONE!" she shouted.
   But she calmed down as soon as I mentioned the price.
   There's no question that Apple's new one-of-a-kind iPhone, marrying a video iPod with a no-button cell phone, isn't your father's Oldsmobile. Or your mother's Motorola.
   For one thing, it costs much, much more. The standard version is $499. Get the model with extra music and video capacity and you pay $599. You don't even have a choice of carriers. You can only get it with a Cingular account.
   A Martian who just arrived on the planet might think these prices put Apple's iPhone at a little more than double the cost of fancy cell phone like the Motorola RAZR, which has a list price of $249. But in fact, nearly every cell phone on the market sells for deep discounts -- I just bought a fancy Samsung and got paid $50 to buy it -- but Apple's iPhone is guaranteed to sell for almost no discount at all.
   So the real-world cost of joining the iPhone revolution is steep. Is it worth the price of admission?
   If all you want is a cell phone, most assuredly not. Phones are phones. You talk on one end and someone else talks on the other. If you need bling, glue some zirconiums to your Nokia.
   The cool design of the iPhone -- with icons on the screen replacing buttons on the phone and a screen that knows how to rotate the display based on how you're holding it -- is impressive, no doubt about it. It will make your friends very impressed with your debit-card limit.
   But it won't make better phone calls.
   Apple knows this, of course. But that should tell us something.
   What Apple really did is build a trojan horse. The clue was in another announcement made the same day: Apple is no longer Apple Computer Inc. It's now just Apple.
   Get this, America. Apple, which makes a line of splendid computers, doesn't want you to think of it as a company that makes computers. Or as a company that just makes computers.
   And it really doesn't want you to think of it as a company that makes phones.
   It's the iPod, pal. The Apple iPhone is actually the most advanced iPod you can buy. With the largest screen of any iPod -- using a display that knows how to rotate itself using a tiny gyroscopic thingamabob so you can flip the iPhone sideways and watch a widescreen movie.
   Apple has already sold 50 million TV shows and 1.3 million movies from its iTunes Store. Music is a huge part of this -- the company sells a billion music recordings a year through iTunes -- but video is what's going to keep Apple flying in the next few years.
   As proof of that, Apple also introduced a product that lets you show those iTunes TV shows and movies on your TV, from any modern Windows computer or Apple Mac. It's called Apple TV. It uses standard wireless technology and costs only $299 -- a relative bargain, considering the iPhone. The Apple TV also sends digital photos from your Windows PC or Mac to your TV screen, too, and it can be used with all the PCs or Macs in the house, not just with one.
   Do you see the connection here? You get that fancy video iPod, the one that works like a phone if you need to make a call, and want to buy the episode of "Lost" you missed when you were at the parent-teacher conference. Or you get that new Disney movie for the kids.
   We used to call this kind of thing "convergence." But now that it's actually happening, it seems more like smart marketing. Come up with a new razor, start selling a new kind of blade. Or, in Apple's case, come up with a new way to deliver TV shows and movies and start selling both a wireless method of showing your iTunes videos on TV and a wide-screen player that turns out to be the best iPod yet.
   And convince the doubters that the iPod is really a phone, too.
   Is this good? For Apple shareholders, sure; Apple stock closed at $92.57 Tuesday, up $7.10 from the day before and close to Apple's record high of $93.15. For the rest of us? Maybe. I'd like to see a wide-screen iPod without the phone. And an Apple TV for half the price.
   But what else does Apple have planned now that it's no longer officially, or even primarily, a computer manufacturer? I don't know. But we are living in interesting times.