Is the iPhone set to be a white elephant?

Should established mobile phone stalwarts be afraid?

So, Apple's long-awaited iPhone was finally announced and the expected whoops of jubilation from over-excited gadget fans could be heard from London to Timbuktu, but was it worth the wait?

Aside from the facts that even the name of the product is still up in the air after Cisco's lawsuit against Apple (folk are already calling it the 'Jesus Phone' anyway) and that it's still five months away anyway, the iPhone has plenty going for it to sustain interest until it appears.

A great screen, plenty of software pluses - like a proper internet browser and those cool little Widgets - great Apple design and, of course, the fact that it just happens to be an iPod too are all in its favour.

On the downside, many have lamented the fact that the iPhone is so expensive, is not a 3G phone and that it can't download new music from the iTunes Music Store over the air. Let's not forget that prices come down (seen any free RAZRs recently?) and that 3G is still little more than a marketing label to most users anyway. And is the iTunes blind spot likely to put off anyone? After all, I hear the regular iPods do all right without that ability.

Software the key

From an end-user perspective, the Japanese experience in leading innovations in the world's mobile phone market over the last 10 years may offer some pointers as to the iPhone's prospects.

There are around half a dozen different handsets here in Japan that have at least 1GB of onboard memory and are being sold as hybrid music players cum phones, the most prominent of which are Sony Walkman-branded models, of course. However, without exception, the Japanese phones are crippled by clunky, slow software and the result is that punters still prefer to carry separate audio players and mobile phones.

In persuading buyers to double up their gadgets at last, the key for Apple is in its heritage - it's a specialist computer firm, or it least it was until the onstage erasure this week of the word 'Computer' from its name. And it's been producing the best operating system bar none for almost six years now. Mac OS X makes computing on any other platform feel like time wasting and it's also at the heart of the iPhone.

In other words, if even a fraction of the Mac feeling shines through in the iPhone, its success is guaranteed, at least until the rest of the pack catches up and presses Apple onward and upward as usual.

Lastly, even if Apple has learned from previous unusable music phones, it's sad to note that the iPhone will come only in various flavours of GSM, which means that it won't work in Japan for now. Rumour has it that Softbank Mobile (the firm that recently bought out Vodafone here) is in line for some Apple action in 2008, but we'll have to wait for the bump up to a 3G iPhone for that to happen. J Mark Lytle

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