Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A letter to Steve Jobs about iPhone

by alec on January 10, 2007


I just finished watching your launch video for the iPhone.  You’ve got great stage presence, lad, I’ll give you that!

I think your touch screen interface is gorgeous.  The velocity sensitive gestures are a stroke of genius. 

But reinventing the phone?  C’mon… You’ve put a softphone on a handheld device.  It’s been done before, perhaps not as slickly, but it’s nothing new.  Visual voice mail is old hat, too. Corporate unified messaging systems have had that forever. And you know, you’re right that dial by name is a better experience than dialing phone numbers.  The first Microsoft smartphones had that in 1999.  I haven’t “dialed” a phone number in years on any of the Microsoft, Nokia or RIM smartphones that I’ve owned. 

Hyperbole aside, Steve, I fear that the touch screen is going to be a disaster as a phone interface.  Obviously it’s a great UI for the web and music.  Phones are different from music players, though.  People make phone calls from places where they can’t necessarily look at a screen… cars for instance.  The physical feel of the dial-pad matters.  You can’t convey that with a touch screen. 

The thumboard you so eagerly deride as a cheap plastic keyboard is faster and easier than tapping out numbers and letters on a touch screen.   Microsoft’s first smartphones had no thumboard either.   They do now, and it’s no accident.  Thumboards are just a better user experience than going back to one finger typing.  Heck, even you accidently dialed a call to the number 4 onstage, and I know you must have rehearsed that demo a few times. 

What’s with the two megapixel camera?  For the price, you ought to be at least competitive to the 3.2 megapixel cameras that Nokia ships standard.

Kudos on the WiFi capabilities.  The WiFi / Edge autoswitching capability is something that nobody else really does well today. Will you be doing VoIP on WiFi too? If you can make that work well, you’ll have a winner. And don’t let your partner Cingular prevent you from doing the right thing for the customer, Steve.  If your WiFi is only good for access to the internet, then it’s really not that interesting. You know that though.  You said in your talk that “the killer app is making calls”.

I loved your demo with music, the call from Phil Shiller, and accessing the web while on the phone call.  Could you have done that if you were on the Edge network, or does it only work with WiFi access?  If you can do cellular data while on a call, nice job.  Oh, and why couldn’t you have just dragged Phil’s call into the email message to address it?  His address was on screen, so it seems a little redundant to have to go and look it up again.

Steve, the bottom line is that I can’t help feeling just a little let down.  I was expecting to see voice dial, like the Blackberry Pearl supports.  I was expecting a killer presence / meetme app.  I was expecting social networking.  I was expecting GPS so it can support location based services.  I was expecting a revolutionary communications appliance.

That’s not what you delivered. 

Eric Schmidt really positioned your announcement best.  He said “it’s the first time all of this has come together in one place”.  You haven’t reinvented the phone, but you have built an undeniably more complete device than anything on the market today. For that, customers will no doubt reward you.



P.S.  I’m not the only one thinking this way.  Robert Scoble, Paul Kedrosky and a few others have similar views.


CES Whistlestop

by alec on January 10, 2007

Yesterday at 4 AM I dragged myself out of bed, hopped on a 6 AM flight and was in Las Vegas by 10:30 in the morning.  By 11:30 that night I was back in the air headed back to Ottawa, after four meetings, a lunch and a dinner. I arrived at 9:15 AM today, and headed to the office. Why?  Air Canada ran a promotion at the end of December which allowed you to buy two months of unlimited North American air travel for just C$379 per month.  The catch?  You may only travel on Tuesdays or Saturdays.  My option was to fly to Vegas and return from Vegas in one day, or be forced to stay until Saturday. 

Such are the things that startups do.

It was tiring.  However:

  • it was effective.  I had five super meetings in one day.
  • it was cheap.  Aside from the airfare, I didn’t spend a week in Vegas.  I didn’t pay $200 per night for a hotel, and $100 day for meals.  And, after 5 minutes in front of a slot machine, I hit a US$340 jackpot.  The entire trip literally cost me nothing.
  • and I’m already following up the business we did.

I didn’t see any of the show floor, nor did I see Steve Jobs introduce iPhone.  In fact, I’m watching it now on video.  But it was probably the least expensive and most effective CES I’ve done in years. 

Lake Mead, from the air, shot on my Blackberry Pearl.

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