iPhone: One year later

Apple's splash into the mobile phone market proved consumers will pay for hip devices. Now the race is on to one-up the iPhone.

The iPhone certainly has its critics, and they emerged on Day One. The initial iPhone-bashing focused on its use of AT&T's relatively slow EDGE wireless network, which Apple says it chose because it was so widespread in the US. AT&T is promising a faster 3G network upgrade this US summer.

Some early critics noted that it could take a full minute to download a Web page over EDGE -- much longer than the almost-instant downloads depicted in iPhone TV ads. For the iPhone's Wi-Fi users, though, Internet browsing has generally been much faster.

However, Apple's five-year commitment to lock in the iPhone with AT&T's network flies in the face of the other major trend of the past year in wireless mobility: openness, in both networks and applications.

Google and the Open Handset Alliance took advantage of concerns about the iPhone being locked in to a single carrier when they introduced their Android software last November. Based on the Linux operating system, it would allow users to work anywhere on any network. Google was also an instigator of a major push to have the US Federal Communications Commission's 700-MHz auction include a channel that required the auction- winning carrier to support any device.

Apple ignores such talk and staunchly says its iPhone is allied with AT&T and that's that. But some analysts believe there is wiggle room. "Perhaps some future version of iPhone could be outside AT&T," Gartenberg suggests. But Dulaney differs, saying, "Unlocking from AT&T won't happen."

In contrast, Apple's commitment to openness centers around a multitude of applications, not networks. Its software development kit, announced in March, has attracted the interest of 500,000 developers, and analysts say it could lead to literally hundreds of new applications being distributed to users via Apple's AppStore.

Based on Apple's March announcement, what's officially coming next week in iPhone 2.0 are features designed largely to impress business users, including support for device management functions and Exchange e-mail, an apparent response to concerns that the device didn't support a business-class e-mail system. But there will also be plenty of new consumer-focused applications, including entertainment from start-up i.TV.

Ironically, while the iPhone is making a play for the enterprise, RIM has begun marketing its BlackBerry -- a mainstay among business users -- to consumers with slick TV ads and a new developers conference aimed in part at promoting consumer applications. And RIM is reportedly releasing a touch-screen BlackBerry called Thunder later this year.

Experts predict that future successful wireless devices will need to appeal to both consumers and business users at once, recognizing that there is a true "prosumer." And at least so far, most analysts believe RIM and Windows Mobile devices are more secure.

The Copycats

Apple's competitors, primarily the traditional mobile-phone makers, have so far offered a set of competitive features wrapped in sleek cases that imitate the iPhone. Representatives of two competitors, Hewlett-Packard and Palm, acknowledged at a recent conference that when the iPhone was announced, their teams launched a series of focus groups and design meetings to wrack their brains to create something better.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld

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