Parks Associates Blog

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Is the iPhone too Vain to Succeed?

The central challenge in designing a smart-phone has always been the interface. Email, web browsing, and similar applications are only useful if the consumer can quickly and easily input information. For the humble, this problem is overcome by slapping a tiny keyboard somewhere onto the phone. The problem is that keyboards are ugly and putting one onto a sleek, sophisticated, mobile phone is as attractive as fasion model sporting an over-stuffed pocket protector.

Handset vendors have tried to find ways around this problem. Motorola and Treo both launched short-lived cellphones with a stylus interface and hope springs eternal for a good voice-interface. For those of us that aren't characters on Star Trek, however, the most fashion-conscious option is to conceal the keyboard somehow. Ask the super-model to put the pocket-protector into her purse and only take it out when others can't see. Danger's hip-top phone is the best example of this "cool on the outside, nerdy on the inside" approach.

Which brings me to Apple. The iPhone's functionality depends on a phone-size touch screen combined with a some innovative interface tricks. Now I will be the first to say it looks really cool and cool has always been a key factor in Apple's success. What happens though when I grow tired of staring at my iPhone and I want to start emailing people?

I admit I haven't gotten my hands on one of them yet but I'm dying to know how well it can hammer out an email. With a $500 price tag, I'd have some pretty high expectations. More to the point, an expensive smart-phone with an awkward email interface probably won't go very far among blackberry weilding road-warriors. At the same time, young hipsters are going to want a device that allows them to IM each other 24x7.

Herein lies the challenge. If the iPhone looks cool but isn't all that great for IM, email, and other 'smart-phone' functions, then what you really have at the end of the day is an iPod + voice. That will be enough for some but it won't be enough to make the iPhone into the category killer device people have been anticipating. Good looks are great but if you're too vain to do anything but sit there and look pretty, your prospects are limited.

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