More than just another mobile phone, Apple's iPhone offers consumers a lavish portable device and retailers with access to more on-the-go consumers. Lawrence Latif buys one on eBay to give us the lowdown...

Handling the Hype

The iPhone is the must-have device of 2007 and rightly so. For consumers and retailers this really is the second coming. The iPhone truly offers retailers a second bite of the Apple with iPod-esque accessories and more importantly, services offering continual revenue streams.

While it may be called an ‘i’ label, Apple’s latest device is aimed squarely at the high-end prosumer and corporate markets.

Stocking the shelves

The iPhone isn’t the iPod and it won’t be available in shops, at least initially. Much like the iPod, there is a market for accessories and as the iPhone is a media centric device, there is scope for services, add-ons and applications to be sold. As Shaun Martin, business manager for consumer audio at Computers Unlimited explains, that’s not without a caveat.

"The market for iPhone accessories has the potential to be just as lucrative as that of the iPod. However, with only one version of the iPhone due, unless the uptake for the iPhone is at a comparable level to the iPod, then it will be less lucrative."

Thankfully after using the iPhone for three weeks, it’s very easy to see where accessories would fit. If you want to use your own headphones, there is a good chance that the jack won’t fit. While it’s a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, the form around it leaves little space for rubber or plastic sleeving, commonly present to protect the connector. Expect iPhone compatible headphones and wired hands free devices appearing soon.

For business users, a proper keyboard is absolutely necessary. With the iPhone supporting Bluetooth, wireless keyboards are a possibility, as are wired ones thanks to the iPod-esque connector at the bottom. While other shortcomings – such as lack of GPS – will allow retailers to sell compatible products as applications start to appear which make use of the in-built Google Maps feature.
Other more mundane accessories such as screen protectors will also be in demand.

Prosumer market

The positioning of the iPhone does mean that most consumers will be priced out of the market. With high demand seen in America, don’t expect hugely subsidised handset costs from O2 when it arrives here in the UK. The almost certain inclusion of a data tariff means that web-based services are a key area where retailers can expand in.

Apple has said the framework for developing programs for the iPhone is AJAX – the same framework that powers much of today’s ‘Web 2.0’ applications. It means that retailers who already have websites which utilise AJAX can modify sections of their online shop-front for use with the iPhone.

As with most high-end mobile phones, it will take some months before mass market consumers move onto the iPhone. Whether it be through switching current contracts or through price drops, the current rendition of the iPhone will be with us long enough for retailers to see the mass market potential of this pocket rocket.

Retailers should view Apple’s iPhone, Nokia’s N-series and other high-end mobile devices as tools for promoting and selling services. These devices are bringing the more feature-rich services in the hands of the consumer. Already operators are talking about super-targeted advertising and with devices allowing users to properly surf the web for the first time at high speed, retailers should see mobile phones as long-term revenue streams and not as one shot sales.

Hello iPhone

The iPhone is unmistakably Apple. Combining clean design lines, exceptional software, being overpriced and only sporting mediocre hardware it offers a blend of phone, PDA and iPod not available anywhere else. Whatever you have, whatever you use, you will sit up and take notice when an iPhone is in the room.

Currently the iPhone is only available in the United States and with a two year AT&T contract, though it will hit our shores in December and be available through the O2 network. While details of what price plan O2 will offer are currently unavailable, expect it to include some form of data tariff and a long minimum contract. The data tariff, however, is a vital part to owning an iPhone.

Regardless of its name, the iPhone is really Apple’s second PDA with phone functionality tagged on. This is clearly apparent from the standard software which comes installed. There are icons for Google Maps, stocks and shares, weather, calendar, email a web browser (Safari) and on one corner a telephone. That’s not to say phone functionality is limited, but what this device really tries to do is get the internet in the palm of your hand.

It’s all the more surprising, then, that the iPhone doesn’t have 3G capabilities.

While the hardware may look sleeker than an Italian sports car, the iPhone’s innards are more akin to Robin Reliant. Not only does it lack 3G support, there’s no built in GPS and the 2 megapixel camera is nothing to write home about. It also lacks expandable storage and a removable battery, which according to Apple will start to decrease in life after 400 charges.

Although most of the headline feature list is nothing special, it does come up trumps on speed and storage. Powered by a Samsung 700MHz processor and sporting either 4Gb or 8Gb of flash memory, the iPhone is fast. Even with all the eye candy provided by the operating system, everything happens smoothly without any pause or jitter.

All input is done through the touch-screen. There are only three hard buttons and one rocker switch to alter volume.

Blackberry users won’t be throwing away their units just yet. The 3.5-inch screen is an absolute joy to behold with vibrant colours and good levels of sensitivity to touch.

It’s not so much brand new functionality that makes the iPhone shine, but the interface is so slick that most people get used to it within a few minutes. With zooming easy to do, the iPhone is the most useful mobile web browsing platform currently available.

For all its hardware detractions, the iPhone is a curious blend of ultra chic design both in hardware and software welded together with the cachet of owning an Apple product. I’ve been stopped by airport security not to search me but for them to play around with my iPhone. Few products in the world can demand such attention. Does it deserve your attention? Definitely.

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