Time to upgrade

Stefan Hammond
20 Jun 2008

For the last four years, I've used a low-end Nokia handset as my mobile comms device. It works. I've been waiting for something that better suits my needs and I'm still waiting.

But only until July 11, when Apple's second-generation iPhone hits Hong Kong.

Why‾ As a Mac user since 1987, I'm familiar with their OS (I use an XP box at work which balances my OS-usage). And since Apple crept into the software market with high-profile consumer apps like iTunes and Safari, I've organically built a knowledge base I can leverage with the iPhone. This pre-existing expertise makes the iPhone more attractive than its competitors.

But the launch of iPhone 1.0 last year left me cold. Apple delivered a world-class media frenzy, but restricted the device to US-based consumers and a single carrier. And it was pricey.

Apple lowered the price and launched the device in Europe last September - becoming the No.3 smartphone provider behind RIM and Nokia early this year - but the rest of us have had to wait more than a year.

For early non-western adopters (who had to "unlock" the phone, a practice Apple tried to squelch by issuing firmware updates that "bricked" unlocked iPhones, rendering them unusable), none of this seemed to matter. But I wasn't interested, despite the obvious appeal of the interface. I'm not going to deal with dodgy unlocking and worry about firmware updates. Sell me the real deal, or I'll stick with my monochrome Nokia, thanks.

I felt if I waited, the deal would improve. But the level of improvement was greater than I anticipated: Apple added 3G capabilities, a GPS chip and cut the price substantially. Clearly, Cupertino seeks to boost their enterprise mobility market share with a device that will also attract consumers.

True, I don't have the choice of carrier, and I have to wait until I can get my hands on a unit for the all-important personal evaluation. Will the iPhone 2.0 have locked or unlocked SIM slots‾ Will the GPS work seamlessly with mashups featuring Google Earth‾ Will the iChat feature work as well as it does on a MacBook or iMac‾

Mobile environment

Despite the success of their portable gear, Apple's core business remains its laptops and desktop units. They've made significant gains in laptop market share through a confluence of three factors: the Unix-based OS X operating system, the Intel chipset and price-point. Each incarnation of OS X has brought more functionality, albeit at the potential cost of hardware-upgrades (the just-announced OS X 10.6 won't work on the earlier non-Intel chipsets, a move that surprised no one).

With vertical integration in hardware and software being augmented by iPods, and now iPhones, Apple seeks to create a chain-reaction that will help drive sales of their core personal computers. That's fine. But what's perhaps not so fine is Apple's recent practice of adding its Safari browser as an "update" to iTunes on Windows boxes. This has been criticized by tech journos and also Microsoft (which issued an advisory against Windows users downloading Safari).

Of course, MS has a competing product in Internet Explorer, while Apple wants to get its browser on Windows machines (and all of this ignores Mozilla's open-source Firefox browser).

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