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Why I want the iPhone to succeed

This bling deserves better

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Opinion I'm glad the iPhone's is here - and I have very selfish reasons for wanting it to succeed. That's because even without the cellular telephony, it looks like something I've been wanting to buy. But it's also because after years of writing about smartphones, I've seen the established players become lazy and complacent, go down blind alleys, or standardize on horrible designs and feature sets. So the iPhone should focus minds wonderfully - it should raise the bar for everyone.

(Read how bad smartphone UIs have become here, and how the leader of the pack blew it, here)

I'm also hoping a crushing wave of shame will overcome anyone who has a Blackberry, or one of its hideous clones from HP, Motorola, Nokia or Palm. Owning one of these is like volunteering for a lobotomy - then boasting about it afterwards.

But common sense suggests it's going to be a bumpy road for Apple, and it knows it. This isn't a new experience: both the original Macintosh computer and the iPod received rave reviews on their debut but both were, a year of later, perceived to be failures. Both eventually recovered. Will Apple's new PDA?

That morning-after feeling

So Apple has set the relatively modest sales target for the iPhone of 10m by the end of 2008. This is rather less than cheerleader analysts predict - PiperJaffray last year suggested sales of between 8m and 12m Podphones in the first 12 months, based on one third of iPod owners upgrading.

That's a figure so modest it suggests Apple is (publicly and in the short-term) happy to see iPhone take its place at the top of the iPod range - with existing owners upgrading, and perhaps attracting a few new buyers. It's sensible to take a conservative line, because for all its bling, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Unusually on the Apple boards, the iPhone is already chalking up more negatives than positives - and the reason isn't hard to find - Cingular.

And ominously, Steve Jobs is already beginning to make the same justifications he made after the launch of the Apple G4 Cube, a beautiful Apple product close to my heart. (I was an original Cube buyer, and today have two. There aren't many of us around). But great design can't save something when the price is too high.

Here's how John Markoff described the Cube-style justification in the New York Times today -

Jobs' new designs win over a sceptical Swedish boardroom

Mr. Jobs defended the higher price of the new phone in a market where prices of so-called smartphones — those combining voice calling with Internet functions — are rapidly plunging to $200 and below. He contrasted the iPhone, which has only one mechanical button on its surface, with the BlackBerry and smartphones from Motorola and Palm.

And the Cube, you'll remember had no buttons at all - just a light sensor.

Elsewhere in the Times, David Pogue struggles with the iPhone's cramped onscreen virtual keyboard. Well, I'm with Steve Jobs on this one, for aesthetic reasons. But I have a horrible feeling that a device that appears to type better and costs one third as much will still find a market.

Neither of these problems - availability or cost - is insoluble. The limited availability will be fixed when the Cingular deal expires, leaving Apple to strike deals with multiple operators and/or release an unlocked iPhone. And Moore's Law, and a low-cost "iPhone mini" will help dissipate the Cube effect.

People forget the iPod was a flop until 2003 - until iTunes on Windows and then the iPod Mini ushered in the mass market. Meanwhile Apple's feature set suggests that it's in it for the long run - but how can it get from here to there?

Here's how the iPhone could weather the inevitable disappointment in the coming year - and how Apple could find a lasting market for its new, connected PDA.

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