To iPhone or not to iPhone

I don’t own an iPhone yet. There I have said it.

It’s been difficult for me to resist the purchase. I am an admitted techno-geek who enjoys being on the cutting edge of the next big thing. And the iPhone certainly qualifies on that count. Although I know that the phone does not live up to its hype (what could?!), it is still undeniably cool. It is also my job to write about technology; so I could easily justify purchasing an iPhone as a business expense. Actually, I almost feel compelled to get one so that I can keep pace with my journalist competitors who already have one in their hands.

So why don’t I own one already?

First, once I get past marveling at the elegance of the phone, I am not sure how practical I will find it for my particular lifestyle. Normally, I carry a mobile phone with me at all times. It’s small, compact, and convenient, and I don’t worry if it gets a little scratched or not. That’s perfect for me. Do I really want a significantly bigger and heavier phone that I need to be more cautious about damaging? I am not sure.

Second, I don’t often carry an iPod with me. I have both an iPod nano and an iPod with video. Typically, I use the iPod with video for major trips, where I want to have my full library of music with me—including all my videos, photos, and games. I use the iPod nano when I am taking a short trip in my car, or the BART to San Francisco, or a bike ride—and all I need is quick access to my most favored music. The iPhone is not ideal for either use. It can’t substitute for an iPod with video, due to its 8GB storage limit and inability to work with iPod games. It works okay as a nano substitute, although it is still larger than my mobile phone and nano combined!

Another consideration is that, if I want my iPhone to always be available as an iPod, I should ideally always have a set of headphones with me. Yes, I can listen on the phone’s built-in speakers, but they are too soft and tinny-sounding to be satisfactory in most cases. So an iPhone would “force” me to regularly carry around an extra peripheral (headphones) that I now only occasionally take with me. Otherwise, I lose some of the convenience of the phone’s built-in iPod. I could still play iPhone through my car stereo, even without headphones. But that assumes that the device I use to connect the iPod to my car’s speakers is compatible with iPhone (some are; some are not). Otherwise, I have to wait for the updated version of my connector device to get released and then pay yet more money to buy it. Which brings me to a related point: I don’t use the headphones that come with my iPods. I have more expensive, better-quality ones. The problem here is that, due to the recessed headphone jack, many third-party headphones require an adapter to work with the iPhone (which is yet another purchase-in-waiting). Plus, as of now, only the official iPhone headphones include the remote control and built-in microphone that make it convenient to take a phone call while you are listening to music. This means I either have to sacrifice sound quality and go with Apple’s headphones or sacrifice the convenience of being able to easily switch from music to a phone call. The bottom line here is that rushing to get iPhone today means an inevitable waiting game for the peripheral updates yet-to-come plus the added expense of buying them.

Next, there are the admitted limitations of iPhone itself. The most serious, for me, is the slow EDGE network. One of my major intended uses of iPhone is as a Web browsing device. Reviews have said that iPhone can take several minutes to load one Web page via an EDGE connection. That just isn’t gonna cut it for me.

I am also a bit concerned about hassles coordinating my POP account email between iPhone and my home computer. That is, I want to make sure that any email I receive to or send from iPhone will also get copied to my computer at home. I am assuming that this is possible even with a POP (as opposed to an IMAP) account, but I am still unclear as to exactly how to do it.

Then there are the really irritating omissions, those things that I can do with my current mobile phone and iPod, but cannot do with iPhone. Here’s just a partial list of such items: no voice dialing, no custom ringtones, no games, no ability to send photos directly to another phone, no “disk mode” (that allows the iPhone to act as a hard drive when connected to the Mac).

Sure, the iPhone has many wonderful qualities to compensate for these downsides. But you already know that from all the hype heaped upon the device. I’m just calling attention to what you may find disappointing if you get one. This is not meant to be a review or to strive for balance.

It may be better to wait at least a few weeks for this dust to settle before bringing an iPhone home. The good news here is that, as iPhone is running on Mac OS X, many of the currently missing features will be able to be added simply as a software upgrade. You won’t have to buy a new iPhone to get them!

Still, this does raise the larger question: Should you wait for the inevitable version 2.0 of iPhone, which I am speculating may be out as early as January 2008. This major revision should address almost all the user complaints with the current version. I would hope for it to include, in addition to whatever software-only upgrades can provide, support for a faster Internet network, built-in GPS, better support for third-party software, and perhaps even more memory and a removable battery.

Overall, if money is not a primary concern, and you can live with the peripherals hassles and minor irritations described here, there is no need to wait. Get an iPhone today and start enjoying it. You can always sell your 1.0 version and switch to the 2.0 version when it comes out. That way, you get the use of the 1.0 version immediately for a net cost of around $200—$300 (depending upon what you can sell it for later). And you can keep using your older iPod(s) for those situations where the iPhone doesn’t cut it.

Otherwise, unless you have a burning need or desire to get an iPhone immediately, I would recommend waiting for the 2.0 version. You’ll be happier in the end. Of course, I probably won’t be able to wait that long. But that’s what I would recommend that you do.

UPDATE: July 7: I gave in and bought an iPhone yesterday. On balance, I am glad I did. More details later.

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