Thursday 11 January 2007


In a quick diversion from MMOGs, I'd just like to talk about telephones briefly. Well, not so briefly really, but never mind. As most of you probably saw, Apple just announced the iPhone

Now, I have one problem with this. It's not a damn phone!

OK, so it is a phone. Otherwise iPhone would be a pretty silly name (even aside from the Cisco lawsuit). But it's not just a phone.

For many years now, when out and about I'll often be carrying (if I have enough pockets) a mobile phone, an MP3 player and a PDA. The devices have changed over time; the phone from some old Nokia years back to a Sony Ericsson T610, the MP3 player from a 64Mb flash based Diamond Rio to a 20Gb Creative Zen Jukebox to a 60Gb iPod, and the PDA from a Handspring Visor to a Sony Clie to a Tapwave Zodiac. With each iteration, there's been more and more feature overlap; the original phone just made calls, the MP3 player played music and the PDA was more or less a diary (with a few games, eBooks, an offline web browser...) Now, all three devices have calendars and address books, all three have games, all three can play music and video (well, the phone can't, it's a few years old now, but plenty of current models can). "Convergence" is the big buzzword, but I still use three separate devices; for the calendar/address book, the interface on the phone is horrible, and the information can't be updated directly on the iPod, hence the Zodiac still being most useful for those. Although the Zodiac can play music, it only has 128Mb internal memory and two SD slots (though at least the price of SD cards has come down a lot since I first got it) compared to the 60Gb of the iPod (which I've 2/3rds filled).

The iPhone looks like it might finally be convergence done properly, rather than just stuffing more and more features onto a phone with a tiny screen and the worst interface in the history of time (unless you're dialling telephone numbers, in which case the digits 0 - 9 are pretty effective), it could well be The One Device which I can replace everything else with (so long as they up the storage so I can get my 40Gb of music on there). But there's a catch...

I don't really care about mobile phones. Yes, I have one, and yes, it's very useful sometimes so I wouldn't want to be without it entirely, but, being an unsociable person with no friends, I spend an average of 87p per month on calls, plus another 50p on data transfer if I'm going crazy (I sometimes download e-mail to the Zodiac via bluetooth and GPRS, but it's only really necessary if I'm nowhere near an internet connected PC for webmail, which is less and less often now). This, for the mobile phone companies, puts me somewhere in the "leper" area of Customer Attractiveness, which is fair enough, I suppose I'm like someone who wanders into Starbucks and buys the cheapest coffee possible, then sits in the comfy chair drinking it for the next seven hours. I accept I'm in a minority. Mobile phones shift eighty squillion units every hour, whereas I'm the only person in Western Europe with a Tapwave Zodiac, hence the new device not being the "Newton II", or the "iPod with extra stuff", or the "iPDA", but the iPhone.

And that's the catch. It's a phone (it says so in the name!), so, chances are, it's going to be sold like a phone, in stupid bleedin' phone shops where the handset itself is a disposable irrelevance, it's the lovely expensive monthly contract they want you to sign. True, there are "pay as you go" (no monthly fee) options, with more expensive phones (as they're not subsidised by the contract), but the "top range" handsets (and unless something else amazing comes along by the end of the year, the iPhone is going to be slap bang at the top of the range) frequently aren't even offered on those tariffs. And yes, you can get sim-free phones without the contract, but that's much, much more unusual, so there's nothing like the competition or economies of scale as for something like an iPod that's sold everywhere.

Ah well. I've never really been a bleeding edge adopter (and I think it'll take a few generations to *really* nail the iPhone), so I guess it doesn't make too much difference whether the first iPhones are sold through phone shops, consumer electronics shops, or shops staffed with crossbow-firing rabbits. Hopefully by the time I come to replace my current pocketfuls of gadgets, you'll either be able to get one for a reasonable price with no restrictive contract, or there'll be a "super iPod", with a large touchscreen interface, which maybe happens to make phone calls too...

Oh, and eventually (if there isn't one already), I'm sure someone will release an MMOG designed for a small touch-screen, like the iPhone, and you'll be able to play anywhere by WiFi/3G/GPRS/whatever. There we go, MMOG link!

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