After much anticipation, the Apple iPhone has finally made its way to retail outlets throughout the U.S. The reckoning now begins for anxious buyers, media pundits, and apprehensive I.T. departments.
The debut was set for Friday, June 29 at 6:00 p.m. local time, when the much-publicized device went on sale at Apple and AT&T Wireless brick-and-mortar stores, which were planning to stay open late to handle the expected crowds.
In preparation for the launch, AT&T added 2,000 workers, trained specifically for the iPhone. Customers can buy up to two units in one visit at Apple's stores, but only one at AT&T's. Another, less socially active alternative is Apple's online store, with sales beginning on the 29th at 6:00 p.m. Pacific.
An advance wave of buyers landed at the stores days ago, camping out for the right to spend $499 or $599 for the device, plus a two-year contract. At Apple's 5th Avenue store in New York City, for instance, about five dozen prospective customers were already in line late Thursday.
Apple's Media Momentum
Among the few people who have actually used the iPhone are the reviewers, many of whom have used phrases rarely found within arms-length of a handheld device. Walter Mossberg and Katherine Boehret of the Wall Street Journal called it "a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer," David Pogue of the New York Times said it was "revolutionary," and Steven Levy of Newsweek described it as "superbly engineered."
The reviewers also have pointed to some drawbacks, such as no instant messaging, no video recording, and no support for Flash in the iPhone's built-in Safari Web browser.
One of the most frequent complaints has been that, instead of the higher-speed 3G data network available on many AT&T smartphones, the iPhone uses the slower EDGE technology. But in an interview in Friday's San Francisco Chronicle, AT&T's Fred Devereux said that the company has "optimized the EDGE network" and "improved capacity so that it works really well for that device."
Alternatively, when the iPhone finds a Wi-Fi access point, the data transmission "flies," according to Mossberg and Boehret.
Concern at I.T. Departments
Data transmission speed is not the only concern among I.T. departments. The concerns among technical professionals revolve more around whether the iPhone supports Microsoft Exchange, for instance, or how enterprise-level security can be maintained.
"Apple has not been clear about how the iPhone hooks up with corporate I.T. departments," said Avi Greengart, an analyst with research firm Current Analysis. "If you ask my I.T. department about dealing with the iPhone," he added, "they're probably going to tear their hair out."
Apple's chief goal so far has been to charm the consumer, not the I.T. department, and Greengart said that the charm offensive has been "masterful."
"The big surprise for me," he said, "is how much faith the American consumer has in Apple's ability to innovate with the user interface." If you look at the tech specs, he said, they're interesting but not amazing, but people are still enthralled. "And," he added, "when you get your hands on it, it's amazing. You have to feel it."
But very few people have gotten their hands on an iPhone. Greengart said there are three main reasons why Apple's hype has been so effective, without hands-on experiences, for a device that you have to hold to appreciate.
First, he pointed out, "it's Apple, and people trust the brand so much." Second, he noted, the iPhone is also an iPod, which "has become a cultural touchstone," and a touchstone attracts attention when it is transformed.
And, finally, Greengart added, it's a cell phone, which has become "the most personal of personal technologies, almost an appendage." Many people "hate their current phones, because they're hard to use," he said, so a radically easy-to-use version of the most personal of devices gets people's attention.