“Cingular-only” Shock Syndrome is wearing off, albeit slowly. I’m still embarrassingly depressed over it. I’ve never had a gadget make me so emo. What makes it even more depressing is that early rumors about the Gadget-that-won’t-be-mentioned (GTWBM) claimed that Apple and T-Mobile were extremely close to inking a deal, but at the last minute the deal fell apart. Who knows what happened there, but it adds more salt to my already excruciating nerdpains.
The GTWBM is an unbelievably amazing contraption. It’s feature set and functionality is beyond all but the wildest expectations. The implementation is gorgeous. Truly, truly it is the most perfect mobile phone this world has seen so far. You’ll note I’m using the prophetic perfect tense because I am that sure of it’s flawlessness. Not only is the GTWBM a beautiful feather in Apple’s cap it is also a huge blot of embarrassment for all the other phone manufacturers. Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Palm, LG, Siemens, and Sony Ericsson together have been spending decades and decades attempting to make the Perfect Phone, but right now there really is no Uber Phone that completely dominates the market. The closest thing to that is the Motorola RAZR, which is extremely popular, but any RAZR user will tell you the same thing: it’s a crappy phone (I used one for two weeks and then couldn’t take it anymore). Now, Apple in its very first attempt makes the Phone that all the other manufacturers have been failing for decades to create. If anything I’m at the point where I’m in less wonderment about the dear and blessed features of the GTWBM and more in wonderment about the dismal failure of all other phone manufacturers. Were they not even trying? Did they not care? Were they just too stupid? Did they think they could keep getting by with mediocre features, glitchy functions, ugly UIs, and flaky reliability? What have they been doing with all their R&D?!
There are some puzzling things about the GTWBM. First is its name. Why on earth did Jobs pick that name when there’s already a phone with the exact same name, owned by a company much larger than Apple? In the most obvious legal move of the millennium, Cisco has already sued Apple. Cisco will win this, and Apple will be forced to change the name. So it begs the question, why the heck did Jobs even bother? Does he like being sued? Does Apple legal think they have a case they can actually win? You can read a response by a Cisco SVP here which gives Cisco’s side of the story. Even as an Apple fan, I’m inclined to side with him wholeheartedly. Naming the GTWBM as they did was just plain stupid. Especially since naming it the Apple Phone would give it just as much brand power and uniqueness to stand out from the crowd. Heck, most people will call it “that Apple phone” anyway. Indeed, I would even argue that using the name they did makes it less identifiable because every tech company and it’s parent company has some iProduct. iAnything is common and, unfortunately, boring these days.
Second, obviously and painfully, is the choice to make it a Cingular exclusive. Sure, Cingular is the largest mobile carrier in the US market with 58 million users, but that still excludes over half the rest of the US market from buying it. Why would Apple purposefully choose to reduce it’s immediate potential customer base by over 50% right out the gates, especially when it wants to hit a really aggressive 1% marketshare in the first year? Apple could have followed the European model for mobile phones: let the user buy an unlocked phone and then they pick which carrier they want to use. This gives the user the most flexibility and the greatest choice. Apple chose the limited, narrow-minded, and arguably archaic US model for phone distribution. Sitting in my IRC channel when it got announced, the vast majority of netizens were upset that it was Cingular only and not a single person was happy it was Cingular only. The most positive reaction was simply a glib defense of Jobs’s inexplicably limiting and frustrating business decision. I find it very, very hard to believe Apple will sell more GTWBM by going Cingular only. Sure, Cingular probably subsidizes the heck out of the thing, thus significantly reducing the upfront cost to the user, but I would bet many users, including myself, would gladly pay the full cost in order to use it on the carrier of his or her choice. I have two guesses why Apple chose to go with Cingular only. First, the cost of the GTWBM is so high (e.g. $900+) that only the most diehard Apple fans and tech geeks would even consider buying it, which forced Apple to partner with a carrier to get it subsidized. Second, Cingular paid out the nose to get exclusivity, meaning Apple got a huge chunk of change right up front for phones they aren’t even producing yet. Either way, I think it’s reasonable to assume that going with Cingular only somehow makes business sense for the immediate future, but I’d be astonished if it remains Cingular exclusive for more than a year.
With all this being said, I still hold out hope. I believe it’s almost a certainty that it will be hacked and unlocked, allowing it to be used on other GSM carriers. Also, there’s real good reason to hold out for version 2.0. 1.0 releases aren’t always a sure bet, as many bugs need to be ironed out, features don’t work quite as intended, and the newest technology isn’t included. For example, the GTWBM does not support 3G (mobile broadband basically), which will be de rigueur high-speed network standard in the US within a couple of years. Nobody will care about Apple’s thingeemabob in 2008 unless it is 3G, and I’m expecting by then there will be several different models and it will not be a Cingular exclusive. So, I guess what I’m saying is by the time the GTWBM is on other mobile carriers, it will be just hitting its stride, support true mobile broadband, cheaper, and even more perfect than what it is now.