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Weekly Column

Faster iPhone faster! Kill!! Kill!!: Expect a 3G iPhone by Christmas.

Status: [CLOSED] comments (128)
By Robert X. Cringely
bob@cringely.com

My challenge here is to write the one zillionth iPhone story (and MY third) without repeating too much what has been written before or failing to include at least a couple new items which -- trust me -- you'll find below. This column is mainly about how to properly manage the introduction of a disruptive technology, which is harder than most people would guess. It's also about how Apple plans to make this an iPhone Christmas.

Being better is not enough, as Steve Jobs learned at least twice before with the introduction of the original Macintosh computer and later with his own NeXT computer. Both of those products had spectacular introductions, rave reviews, and boffo initial sales, which shortly thereafter fell off a cliff. That's the way it is with many new technologies: you can't rely on early adopters alone. There are some people who will buy almost anything that is new, but there aren't enough of those people to help most companies bridge the sales gap that follows a fantastic introduction after all the true believers have bought and the rest of us haven't yet made up our minds. It hurt the original Mac, but then Apple had Apple II sales to rely on. It darned near killed NeXT. It HAS killed many a start-up.

Steve Jobs has learned a lot about product introductions in the years since NeXT and nearly all of it comes into play in the way he has managed the iPhone introduction. Here are the rules, if you are keeping score:

  1. Set expectations. The iPhone was announced months before it shipped. This was not only because FCC filings would have outed the phone anyway, 90-120 days before it shipped, but also because you have to get people in the mood to buy something that costs $500-600. Months of anticipation helped the hype and helped the sales.
  2. Deliver on those expectations. Early reviews are generally pretty positive for the iPhone. It's not enough for the thing to be pretty; it also has to work.
  3. Follow up on any problems. The fact that Apple sees the iPhone as a hugely important platform for the future can be seen in the company's decision to give a top-of-the-line iPhone to every Apple employee, even part-timers. This is frigging brilliant. EVERY Apple employee becomes an iPhone evangelist. EVERY Apple employee participates in ongoing stress testing and customer feedback. You can bet that every technical problem will be addressed quickly, simply because the entire company will be experiencing these problems.
  4. Have no shortages. Apple is a big company that makes millions and millions of gizmos. The success of the iPod has made Apple the Big Kahuna with Chinese manufacturers, which shows in the complete lack of product shortages despite the success of this rollout. The expected gray market pretty much didn't happen for exactly this reason.
  5. Have an upgrade plan for the future, which is to say Christmas.

Yeah, what about Christmas? Apple couldn't risk introducing the iPhone at Christmas. They had to get all the bugs out before Christmas in order for the iPhone to be a risk-free gift. Knowing that the phones work, and work well, people can get used to the idea of giving them as gifts. That's one reason why it is easy to predict that iPhone sales for Christmas will be robust. Only for Steve Jobs "robust" is not enough. He wants iPhone Christmas sales to EXPLODE. How do you make that happen?

Well, you could lower the price, but don't expect that. Apple WON'T lower iPhone prices before (or probably even after) Christmas. I would expect AT&T to eventually come up with some sort of two-year iPhone subscription deal that effectively lowers the price, but even that won't happen until after the holidays. Incentives don't happen until incentives are needed and with the iPhone they aren't needed yet.

The trick to spurring even greater holiday sales is to make a good thing better.

It would be nice if Apple and AT&T could come up with some little extra boost for Christmas sales like, for example, a software upgrade. That was pretty much inevitable, don't you think? The idea that the iPhone could go even three months without a significant firmware upgrade would be ignoring the reality of modern consumer electronics. Apple or AT&T will have got a few things wrong that will require a firmware upgrade to fix. And while they are at it, I'm sure the companies will add a feature or two, like TRUE 3G DATA SERVICE.

It is my understanding that Apple and AT&T are planning a fall rollout for full 3G iPhone service, with technical trials already underway in certain AT&T markets. AT&T's (formerly Cingular's) 3G uses a technology called HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access), which is a combination of GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) and EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution). It provides average mobile data download connections between 400 kilobits per second (kbps) and 700 kbps. Not as fast as any of us would like, of course, but the new service will be 3-5 times faster than the current EDGE network alone, making your iPhone suddenly 3-5 times faster than it was before, right?

I think so. The question here is whether 3G is already built into the iPhones shipping now or whether it will require a new model? Given that it is coming so soon after the iPhone introduction, I can't believe that even Steve would make us buy new phones. It is very likely that a firmware upgrade will awaken the 3G within all you iPhone owners.

And there's that bump needed to make Christmas iPhone sales explode. Nobody likes the slow performance on the EDGE network, so jacking up the speed by 3 to 5 times will give people something more to talk about as well as making it even easier to give an iPhone to those you love. We'll get excited all over again.

Actually, AT&T really has no choice but to move to 3G with the iPhone, given the problems iPhones are creating for the EDGE network (see this week's links for more).

And what we're getting excited about is much more than a phone or a media player, it is a whole new computing platform. Talk to anyone with iPhone experience and they'll tell you it feels more like a computer than an iPod or a phone. This is Apple's platform for the 21st century that I am sure we'll see revved and augmented in a variety of ways carefully over time. It won't replace desktop or even notebook computers, but this iPhone platform, properly augmented and with the help of Moore's Law, has a chance to do some major market-share grabbing from old Apple partners/competitors, notably Microsoft.

Take THAT, Bill.

Comments from the Tribe

Status: [CLOSED] read all comments (128)

Great article, let me just echo it a bit.
I do not own an iPhone but based on all I've read and all its capabilities, is far better than a lot of what is already out there.
A couple of things to keep in mind that can be improved and will be improved.
-Keypbaord:
*If you turn the phone to landscape, the keyboard doe not turn to landscape with it...it should.
*The spacing on the keyboard should be adjustable...for those with slightly big finger
-True GPS...Google maps is great but GPS can be better (correct me if I'm wrong)
-WiFi music download or blue tooth (wireless sync)
-Add applications for IT professionals.
Will the iPhone sell in Christmas??? YES, but I agree there will have to be a bit more from AT&T or Apple Inc.
- Either lower the price or offer discounts...I think this is necessary to have EXPOLSIVE sales.
*Keep in mind that the iPhone is a 4G or 8G device and I feel that there will be firmware upgrades available by Christmas...space is not an issue and it will also be hard for me to believe that there is no provision to upgrade to things like faster network, more applications, games...What I'm trying to say that I think the iPhone will stick around and Steve Job will sell lots of fimrware before the iPhone 5.0 comes out.

Thank you for reading.
J.R. Garcia.

Jose R. Garcia | Jul 12, 2007 | 8:39PM

When you compare the fewer and larger on-screen keys of the Phraze-It Keyboard, you will see that it is very easy to type with your fingers on the Phraze-it Keyboard for Windows Mobile phones. The Phraze-It Keyboard is really made for mobile productivity. Prevalent Devices has touch screen phone text entry figured out. They offer typing, thumbing, one handed or two handed text entry, a full comoputer keyboard for word processing full sentences and paragraphs. A business user will prefer the Phraze-IT Keyboard.

Al | Jul 14, 2007 | 7:20AM

I'm not sure where I heard this, either from Jobs himself, or from Walt Mosberg, but the current lot of iPhones will support 3G with a hardware upgrade, which Apple will provide for a fee.

Also, the reason 3G was not included in the initial release of the iPhone was because the current chipsets wwere power hogs.

Doug Evans | Jul 17, 2007 | 6:40PM