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Will the iPhone walk on water?
By: Scott Bradner
I just did a Google news search for "iPhone" and got a very impressive 58 hundred hits -- the same Google search on the web (not limited to news sites) results in a ridiculous 71 million hits. The level of hype over the iPhone started out at an absurd level back in January when it was first announced. Most major newscasts mentioned the announcement at the time and just about all of the telecom industry pundits had something to say. (What I had to say at the time is at "Apple iPhone: Almost all of what I wanted" http://www.networkworld.com/columnists/2007/011007bradner.html.) Although it did not seem possible, the level of hype has gone up since then. At this point, about two weeks before regular people will be able to buy one, the hype is almost obscene -- but, as is generally the case, little of the hype is coming from Apple, which remains characteristically tight-lipped about the device.
From the beginning there have been a bunch of naysayers. First there was the price - who in their right mind was going to spend 5 or 6 hundred dollars for a mashup of a cell phone and a video iPod with not all that much memory? I might note that some of these same pundits said that the iPod was going to be a flop because it was too expensive -- track-record-wise it seems one has to go with Apple on the pricing of snazzy pocket-sized electronic gadgets over the last few years. Then there are the folks who say that the iPhone will tank because it does not have a real keyboard - maybe like the iPod Shuffle tanked because it did not tell you what song was playing. Then there are the arguments that the iPhone cellular data is too slow, comes tied to service from a cellular carrier with a reputation for quite bad service, that the iPhone is too closed a platform, and that it does not have all of the bells and whistles that people used to high-end Blackberry etc expect to get.
The pundits are not all naysayers. At the announcement back in January Apple predicted that it would sell 10 million iPhones in 2008 -- at least one pundit is now predicting sales of 45 million iPhones in 2009. Apple has shown that it does know how to produce and sell devices in very large quantities, having sold 100 million iPods over the last 5 and a half years (http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2007/04/09ipod.html), but producing and distributing 45 million units a year of almost any electronic device would be a strain for almost any company. Motorola has done it with the Razr so I guess Apple could -- maybe we will see.
But why so much hype? I expect part of it is the impact Apple had when it went into the music biz - it single-handedly changed an industry. Maybe the pundit community is hungry for someone (maybe anyone) to change the too-predictable cell phone business. Another part is that Steve Jobs is one of the best hype-catalysts in any business these days. But a lot of the hype has to come from the herd instinct exhibited by the media these days - if you have any doubts of that phenomenon watch a bit of the Paris Hilton coverage which included, among other things, helicopter shots of photographers running after a police car - dignified is not the word that springs to mind.
We will know in a few months if any part of the hype was justified, meanwhile I'm not going to be one of the folk camping out all night to get one on the first day -- I'll wait until I see how open the platform turns out to be.
disclaimer: "Hype" does not rhyme with "Harvard" nor is it a part of any of the curriculum that I know of thus the above must be my opinion rather than Harvard's.