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"David, computers don't call people!"

Today, like everyone else, I'm going to talk about the new Apple products: the iPhone and the AppleTV.

First, the phone. I won't waste your time describing this thing; I'll provide some links for some good articles on the phone. My first impression of this phone (without having actually seen one, natch):

The thing looks so cool. Sure, Apple's design is second to none, but for a cell phone/PDA, this thing looks dead sexy.

The interface: for me, the most compelling reason for Apple to get into the cell phone market is that in my experience, cell phone interfaces are garbage. I've owned a number of cell phones and PDAs; they've all had serious shortcomings in the way I interact with them. I've been using electronics since I was a kid and there are cell phones I've encountered (hi Mom!) that I've really had trouble trying to figure out, just how to do simple things like enter names/numbers into the phone book. Hmm, maybe my three year old niece Faith should have a whack at it! The older/simpler phones and PDAs worked well because they were simple devices. When the loads of new features and capabilities got dumped into these machines, the interface obviously got short shrift. I'm as fond of all the gizmos as the next geek, but a piss-poor interface ruins it for me. If the iPhone's interface is as simple and powerful as it seems, it will be a great thing, even if the device itself doesn't take the world by storm (Motorola, Nokia, and the rest will have to try and match it).

The screen: The screen looks great from the photos and the feature where it automatically flips from portrait to landscape mode is nice. Videos might actually be watchable on this thing. One concern I'd have about the screen is how durable it is and how well it works when covered with finger smudge. We'll have to wait and see (the phone ships in June) how well the screen holds up. If you haven't already, go to the iPhone site and check out the demo -- the scrolling feature in iTunes looks fantastic. They've clearly done a lot of work on these features.

The capacity and performance: One of the things I was talking with a friend about last night is how Apple isn't saying what kind of processor is powering this thing. This is an important issue when we're talking about what kinds of applications can be run (the phone runs some version of OS X) on it. Jobs demo'd mail, web, and iTunes, but it remains to be seen what else can be run. The available storage, 4 or 8 gb, seems barely adequate for iPod use and other data the phone needs to store. I would assume that this number will go up as flash memory gets bigger/cheaper. I understand that a hard drive, like the video iPods use, would make the phone too large/power hungry, but this seems like a paltry amount of storage. And, like all other iPods, the battery is not user-replaceable. That's really too bad since the battery life isn't so hot and I'd guess that many owners would opt for a second battery if it were replaceable.

The cell carrier: Apple went with Cingular and this is one of the biggest complaints many people have leveled against the iPhone and I agree. Apple has a history with Cingular and there were certainly a number of advantages for Apple in partnering with a single carrier. However, I wish they'd picked a different carrier. Everyone loves to hate their cell phone provider, but Cingular seems to get the worst ratings in most areas. They also have poor coverage nationwide. This is a bit of a dealbreaker for me. I currently have a Nextel phone (for work) and Shades uses a T-Mobile set. Nextel has huge gaps in coverage and will not allow you to roam on anyone else's network (they use a system that is incompatible with all other cell networks), so when I travel, I can't count on having any cell service everywhere. T-Mobile is better about this, but their coverage/roaming is spotty. Cingular is somewhere in between Nextel and T-Mobile for coverage and for me, that's pretty lousy. And as long as I'm ranting about cell phones, why is it with all this technology, that the 40 year old phone in my garage has better voice quality than a new cell phone?

So, I still think the product is potentially cool, but the wrinkle with Cingular is a bummer. Maybe they'll sell an unlocked version eventually. Here are some articles I found interesting on the iPhone:

This article gets it right on the need for a great cell phone.

This piece talks some about the lack of Apple's famous scroll wheel and has these amusing quotes regarding Jobs' introduction of the iPhone:

"Enthusiasm for a new Apple launch is taken for granted. Jobs himself has a charisma that the Wizard Saruman would envy; people who debate with him, even if they initially disagree, '... mostly they remembered that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves,' as Tolkien wrote."

and

"And as a commentator, you dare not deny Jobs in public. 'When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell... For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled... but none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will,' Tolkien finished." Tee hee

OK, on to the AppleTV. I like to download TV shows from, shall we say, places other than iTunes. Currently, the majority of this content is offered up in AVI (DivX/Xvid) format which plays well on PC/Macs and on many new DVD players. So, if I want to watch this stuff on one of my TVs without hooking up a computer, I burn these shows as data files do DVDR discs and play the burned discs on the DVD player. It works pretty well, except that I have to burn files to disc all the time, which gets old. It's fairly easy, but more of a chore than I'd like. The AppleTV is the kind of device that can eliminate the steps of burning data discs and sticking them into the DVD player. It does this by grabbing video/audio/pictures that I have in iTunes over my home network and playing them through my TV. It has a remote control and standard TV hookups so I don't have to screw around with computers and burned media to watch the TV shows I've downloaded.

This sounds, at first glance, like the thing I want. However there are a couple of problems. One, it only plays media that iTunes can read and for video that means mpeg4/h.264. In order to get the non-iTunes content playing on this thing, I'd have to convert it; burning discs takes less time. There maybe other products out there that do all this and read the all the formats I use. As of right now, this isn't it. Too bad since otherwise it looks very nice. Apple obviously intends people to use this with content purchased via the iTunes store. The other issue is the price. $300 seems a bit much to justify for something like this, but maybe if it did everything I want, I'd find a way to justify buying it.

OK, the one interesting piece of DVD news this week (OK, interesting is relative) was Warner's formal introduction of the "Total HD" disc. This is a Blu-Ray and a HD-DVD disc literally glued together (someone referred to it as "glue-ray"). They claim that all their hi def releases later this year will be in this combo format (they and Paramount currently release seperate HD discs). For more on this, check out this article. Between the combo disc and LG's new Blu-Ray/HD-DVD combo player that was announced at CES, there might be a happy conclusion to the format war. We'll have to see how it all plays out this year since the companies are going to ramp up the formats (more players, bigger movie titles) in the next 12 months.

And I think I might want a Wii...damn!

Comments

Re: iPhone processor. I think it is an ARM processor. If it were Intel, you can bet intel would have been on stage bragging it up. It might have been a lower powered PPC of some sort... but I found this job posting on Apple's job site:

Bluetooth/WiFi SW Engineer - iPhone

In the requirements section:
Solid understanding of embedded hardware platforms (ARM processors, SDIO, UARTs, etc)

So I bet it is an ARM processor powering it.