Why the iPhone Failed

Friday, June 15th, 2007 at 2:42 pm | 8,901 views | trackback url
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I love gadgets. I have lots of them.

My role as pilot-link maintainer has me thinking about devices, data, synchronization and plenty of other things on a daily basis. Not a day goes by when I’m not trying to mentally redesign some portion of the datapath between devices.

That being said, the iPhone has created a lot of buzz in the industry. It’s a neat looking device, and has plenty of eye-candy to please the masses, for a short while. I’m sure it’ll do great as a device in the industry.

Apple iPhone

But the iPhone is absolutely useless to me and to anyone but the ENTRY LEVEL Apple customer and userbase. Before you reach for that tomato to throw at me, hear me out…

  1. It has less storage for music than an iPod, and is twice as large.
  2. It does not sync to anything BUT an Apple OS X machine and onboard applications. Can I sync this with Linux? No. Windows? No. FreeBSD? No.
  3. It doesn’t upgrade any existing device (i.e. getting data into it is manual re-entry, which is prone to lots of errors and mistakes
  4. It has a VERY fragile face. Can you stick this in your pocket with your bluetooth headset and keys? Not likely. Can you put it in your bag and not have it scratched/crushed/cracked? No.
  5. Can I share data on it with a non-iPhone user by “beaming” business cards or other datafiles back and forth? No.
  6. Can it run another operating system, other than OS X? Can I run Linux on it? No. (at least not yet, but that doesn’t erase the issues in 1,4 and 5 above.)

While its a neat looking device, so are plenty of gadgets that went exactly nowhere. My Treo680 has more storage, more features, more functions, more stability and more flexibility with support for at least 5 separate operating systems out of the box than the iPhone.

My colleagues who know I love gadgets are asking me when I’ll be getting an iPhone (probably so they can play with it). The answer is a resounding never, until all of the above issues are addressed. This isn’t a Linux statement, this isn’t an anti-Apple statement, this is a usability statement.

My wife has a 20″ iMac that I bought her last Christmas, and she loves it. She also has a 4-gig Nano I bought her the previous Christmas. The two work great together. She also has a flip phone I bought her for Mother’s Day a few years ago.

She admits that her phone has more features than she’ll ever use, and the iPhone isn’t even interesting to her… and she has the optimum environment to use it within.

I’m not sure who they’re targeting, and without any clear, open path to development on the device, I can’t see developers being their target audience.

I think the only people who will covet and buy an iPhone are those who “Just Gotta Have One™”, without really looking at how it misses the target on almost every issue.


  • No replaceable battery. This IS 2007, right? (there are plenty of links describing how to replace it yourself though, but you void the warrantee by doing so.)
  • It has a camera, but can’t record video (my Treos have all done both)
  • Custom headphone jack; can’t use your normal headphones with it.
  • Stereo bluetooth ONLY with the Apple-branded headset(s)
  • AT&T’s “unlimited” plan is not unlimited (read the fine print; you’re limited to 5 gigabytes per-month)
  • Requires switching to an alternate keyboard to get things like commas and other meta keys. By contrast, my Treo has a series of ‘shift’ keys that do the same thing, depending on whether you want numbers, letters, punctuation and so on. MUCH faster with the meta keys than popping up an alternate keyboard.
  • No Flash support (but there is a way around that)
  • No support for non-iPhone headphones (those expensive studio earphones you have? Forget it.)
  • No support for memory expansion cards (SD/MicroSD/CF), when it takes nearly no space to implement it
  • No non-Safari SDK available
  • Capacitive touchscreen, not resistive; no using it with gloves on in colder climates. (Treo wins again here)

And the list goes on. While I think lots of “Must Have It” gadget people will love the device, for real productive or business users, its a lemon.

Last Modified: Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 @ 13:45

8 Responses to “Why the iPhone Failed”

  1. While I agree that the iPhone isn’t for everyone, I find it irksome all the inaccurate reports about what it can/can’t do, as well as the, “I don’t want one, therefore no one could possibly want one” attitude.

    Correcting some of your points above:
    1. While it does hold significantly less music than existing hard-drive based iPods, it is certainly not twice the size. It is almost the exact same size as the 30g iPods, except for a little taller:
    iPod: 4.1×2.4×0.43 (inches)
    iPhone: 4.5×2.4×0.46 (inches)
    That’s 0.4 inches taller, and 0.03 inches thicker.

    2. I don’t know for a fact, but I imagine it will sync with Windows through iTunes just fine, and while us geeks would love it to sync with Linux, I don’t think this is a show stopper.

    3. If you can get your data on a Mac then getting data into it is no problem. It syncs and won’t require any manual entry. All of Apple’s software supports open formats like vCal and vCard as well, so I don’t see getting data onto the phone a problem.

    4. None of us have any idea how fragile the face of the device will be. While I imagine you’re right that we won’t want to put it in our pockets with keys, I don’t do that already with my cheap, crap cellphone I’m using right now.

    5. I never found that feature very useful when I used Palm devices, so the fact it’s lacking in the iPhone doesn’t seem like that big a deal.

    6. Us geeks might like to run Linux on it, but I don’t think it’s any big deal that it doesn’t.

    “She admits that her phone has more features than she’ll ever use” — I might imagine most people in this situation don’t use those features because they’re largely unusable.

    The biggest selling point for me for the iPhone is finally having real, mobile access to the web. No other device supports mobile browsing of the web like the iPhone.


  2. You compared the size of the iPhone with the current 30gb iPod. Does the iPhone have a 30gb storage slice for the music portion of the device? Are they shipping it with an SSD drive for that price? There’s no way that has a 1.8″ drive in that chassis. You might want to compare the size with an 8gb Nano to get a real assessment of the size differences.

    My 80gb iPod is smaller than my Treo, and my Treo is smaller than the iPhone (but twice as thick). I still prefer my iPod for listening to music than an iPhone. There are reasons NOT to converge devices, and this is one of them. I can’t decouple the music portion from the phone portion (which I prefer) and instead, I get two sub-par converged functions in one device.

    I looked, but I can’t see anywhere in iTunes where the Calendar, Addressbook or Notes tabs are located. Can you point the way?

    Synhcronizing an iPhone with iTunes is lovely, but not very useful if I can’t get the data that matters to me, on the device.

    Compound that with the fact that iTunes doesn’t run on my preferred platforms (Linux, BSD)… and its a no-brainer.

    I don’t need the device to run Linux, but running OS X on it, in its limited-compatibility default, isn’t leveraging much either. At least with Linux on it, I can replace things I don’t like, and include things which are useful to me (such as a proper method of transporting data to my preferred platforms).

    Regarding your comment about the “mobile access to the web”, that’s going to be another “not-enabled-by-default” feature, unlocked by your carrier with an additional charge for that rate plan. Call Cingular and ask, they’ll tell you the same thing.

  3. […] all the great media hype on the phone.  Read a few tests like at gizmodo on it and also read Setuid’s blog enty on its limitations.  The iPhone sounds kinda cool and it has some attractions; but I wonder if […]

  4. “Can I sync this with Windows? No.”

    Really? Why not?

    It’s fully supported right out of the box, including an Outlook conduit. Seems to work fine.

    You should do your homework next time.

  5. You’re absolutely right… you CAN synchronize with Microsoft Office, however… not with other applications using standards-compliant formats (Thunderbird, et al).

    They’re getting there, and as soon as someone makes an interface to add the features it lacks, bringing it in line with devices like the PalmOS-based Treo 680 for example, I might consider it.

    A few things they need to address before I’ll even consider or recommend one for my community of a few thousand users:

    1. Make the battery user-servicable. This is an absolute must. Weigh this against waiting until the price goes down, and buying one a year from now, used, from eBay, and you can see why this becomes critical. Without a way to replace the battery, a 1-year old iPhone bought from eBay for $100.00, will be worth $0.01 after that battery dies in 6 months.

    2. Make it import and export standard formats such as iCal, vCard and so on. This allows other authors to write sync “conduits” between desktop applications and the iPhone, leveraging its usability across platforms (i.e. not Mac, not Windows).

    3. More storage/replaceable storage. At the very least, give this thing the ability to use SDHC cards of some sort. 4GB and 8GB cards are the norm, and are QUITE cheap. The iPhone is basically a Nano, with a screen and phone capabilities. It is in NO WAY a replacement for a “standard” iPod. I have two iPods, and my wife has a Nano, and it can’t even come close to replacing any of them.

    4. Give it a real keyboard. I can out-type an iPhone easily, with a keyboard that has real keys, vs. some pseudo-on-screen keyboard that requires shifting to a completely different keyboard for alt keys, meta keys and such. Slow, slow slow.

    5. Allow third-party authors to install applications, REAL applications, on the device. Not the “widgets” that you see in OS X, via Javascript (no Adobe Flash support?!), but real applications. No platform survives in a black box… without third-party support for your device, its dead.

    Solve those problems, and open up the sync protocol, and you might have something that can competed with the Treo line of PDA devices that came out 3+ years ago.

  6. I guess the time told :) iPhone did NOT fail, and I wonder how many of your users now have one :)

    Never say never.

    I would love to hear now from the author, 3 years into the huge success iPhone has been.

  7. And I bet his wife has one now. I could see him with an Android, just out of spite ;)

  8. She has an iPhone, but hates it, actually… and she’s no longer my wife.

    I use a BlackBerry Bold (previously 9000 and now 9700), and it works beautifully.

    It does more for me than an iPhone can, and works with my calendaring which iPhone (and Android) cannot.

    The iPhone is old hat now, wasn’t the first, and is very far behind the curve in terms of technologies and features.

    Use whatever works. For me, the iPhone just isn’t an option, because it doesn’t do what I need it to do, and my BlackBerry does.

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