Why I still don't want an iPhone

People are often surprised to learn that not only do I not possess an iPhone, I also didn't want one when they first came out. The reasons are fairly obvious: the first iPhones were only available in the US, locked to one carrier, and cost $600. Now that the iPhone Mk II is coming to my home market, armed with 3G, GPS and a more affordable price tag, everyone I know has been asking me, "So, NOW are you going to get an iPhone‾"

The short answer: no.

It's not that I'm not impressed, mind. I have tried the iPhone Mk I, and I've written elsewhere on its brilliant design and intuitive interface that, frankly, kicked the pants off of every other mobile phone available at the time, and many of the handsets that have come out since - even the ones with touch-screens.

There's lots to love about the new iPhone, too, like the accompanying release of the iPhone SDK to allow third-party apps. It's also one of the first handsets in its price range to pack a GPS chip, which you'll be seeing more of from other handset vendors before the year is out.

And yet I'm still not going to go out of my way to get one. Here's why.

The lock thing

Part of my problems with the iPhone are admittedly minor quibbles, like the lack of a removable memory card, and, if the first-gen iPhones are any indication, the touch-screen being a less-than-ideal interface for SMS (which, you may have heard, is still the biggest non-voice mobile app going, and also the chief way I post my Twitter updates).

A more significant issue for me, however, is the SIM lock problem. As a tech journalist, I fully understand the business reasons for locking a phone to a carrier, and that the iPhone was by no means unique in that respect. But from a consumer standpoint, it's a pain and, in my case, a deterrent.

So far, the press releases from 3 Hong Kong, Softbank Mobile, SingTel and others have been non-committal as to whether the new iPhones coming next month will be locked or not. The dominant rumor is that they won't be, if for no other reason that Apple has to hit its 10-million unit sales mark this year somehow. (Amusingly, the rumor of the unlocked iPhone has enough legs to put some worry in the hearts of start-up companies that have turned a nice dollar selling iPhone unlocking products and services.)

Even if the phones aren't locked on an exclusive basis, however, they will likely come with preloaded firmware supporting the 3G services of that carrier. That means if I switch carriers with my iPhone, some of my services will disappear unless I get my firmware upgraded. I've been through that before, and even with today's OTA capabilities, it's not as straightforward a process as it sounds. And I don't relish the idea of replacing my iPod with a device whose firmware binds me to a particular service provider.

In fact, I don't particularly want to replace my iPod at all. And here's the heart of my misgivings about the iPhone - it's a convergence play that's meant as a replacement for both my current cellphone and my iPod.

 

Great idea, but only if it serves as an acceptable substitute for both. Basically, Apple is asking me to swap my current phone - which sports a 5-megapixel camera, a Bluetooth radio and MMS capability - for a device with a lower-rez camera and no Bluetooth or MMS support. It may have more onboard memory, but the 16-GB iPhone doesn't come close to the 30 GB on my two-year-old video iPod.

Converged devices tend to disappoint in this fashion, and for my money, the iPhone is no different, its whiz-bang touch-screen and nifty interface notwithstanding. With advances in chipset design sporting smaller footprints, lower power consumption and better performance (some of which will be on display in the exhibition halls), it may not be too much longer before converged devices rival their standalone counterparts in quality.

Until then, however, I'm keeping my devices separated. In fact, instead of one device that does it all, I'd rather have three or four specialized devices that auto-configure themselves into a personal wireless mesh network that also syncs with my laptop when I'm using it. The handset maker that comes up with that first will be the one that gets to hand Steve Jobs his hat.

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