Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Real World Review of the iPhone -- Guest Blogger & Mobile Expert Mark Ewen of Acta Wireless

Steve Jobs just announced yesterday that Apple will reduce the price of its iPhone from $599 to $399, fueling speculation that the iPhone -- despite the early media frenzy -- may not be living up to the hype.

Certainly, $599 was a high price point for consumers; and, given certain limitations (including availability only on AT&T's network), the iPhone does not yet seem to be a first choice for biz users.

With this in mind, I have asked friend and mobile expert Mark Ewen to be my guest blogger today about his reaction to the iPhone. Mark has over 10 years of experience in wireless digital media and is currently a Venture Partner at Acta Wireless. Prior to joining Acta Wireless, Mark served as SVP of Global Sales for Motricity and, prior to that, worked for seven years at Openwave Systems. Bottom line -- Mark knows the mobile world. His insights below about the iPhone are instructive -- here he is in his own words:

"I love the iPhone.

For the first week of being an iPhone user, I was willing to make sacrifices to switch from my Treo (I’ve been a Palm Pilot, and Palm OS Treo user since the very beginning and am to this day convinced that there is not a better mobile OS than Palm – I’m on the edge of my seat to see and buy the next Treo running the next generation “Palm OS” which will be the Access Linux based OS (Access acquired Palm Source). I was at home/office most of that week. During the second week, I was not only traveling, but roaming up in Canada on Rogers Wireless. When you travel and are “truly mobile” you discover things you can and can’t sacrifice. Here is my “week two” summary…

Biggest reasons I'm returning my iPhone on day 14 (last day I can return it for 10% re-stocking fee):

1. No support for GoodLink or something equivalent (a way for me to have "direct push, over the air sync" from the phone to the server in the network (such as MS Exchange) which stores all of my email, contacts, calendar, tasks, and notes -- *all* of which should seamlessly and elegantly appear on the device over the network). Even without this, the sync to Outlook via cable is also not ready for primetime (ie is very buggy) -- and doesn't have "Tasks" at all, and the "Notes" application on the iPhone doesn't even sync at all! Very hard to understand -- a great deal of people use Outlook and *all* of the associated data types: email, contacts, calendar, tasks, and notes -- same data types as have been found on the very first "mass market" PDA ("Palm Pilot") dating back to 1996. I don't understand why Apple would not want to really have strong support for all of this out of the gates, although I believe it’s positioning is initially as a consumer device, and not as a PDA.

2. No way to quickly find someone you want to call on a very long contact list either by first name, or some other word or words that might be in their contact record (company name, city, other). More specifically, there is no way to globally search for any data stored in the Phone (for example, I have notes in my calendar entries, contact entries, etc -- I need to be able to search for a word or combination of words within those notes fields just like I do with "desktop search" programs on my laptop)

3. The complaints we’ve all heard all along: camera does not have a flash or support video or zoom, no MMS, no SD card capability, no removable battery (if you're not going to have GREAT battery life, this is imperative -- especially for someone who is listening to a lot of music while away from a power source for a day or two), no support for UMTS/HSDPA ("3G" data speeds), no GPS (Google Maps is good -- but could be great), no ability to add applications, games, etc to the device (I imagine this is coming at some point), no iTunes storefront (still have to go to my laptop/PC to buy new songs etc), no cut/copy/paste function (this is a big deal – makes typing/editing and many other functions extremely painful).

4. No support for smiley faces in SMS (not a big deal, but something kinda cool about Treos)

5. I don't *love* the fact that it doesn't have a real keyboard, but could probably become proficient with the soft keys over time

6. No way to "skip" to the next song in shuffle mode while jogging without waking up the device and going into the iPod application (there should be another button on the device and/or the earbuds for this -- the button could be used for other things depending on mode)

7. Doesn't always recognize a number string in text to let you "dial" -- sometimes it does, but inconsistent across the various modes/apps

Biggest reasons I don't want to return my iPhone despite all of the above:

I *LOVE* the ULTRA high res screen (and the way you scroll, resize, flip, etc), the 2mp still camera, the WIFI support, visual voicemail (totally killer), the HTML browser (despite it not supporting flash, java, and doesn't really handle certain situations such as booking a flight on Southwest, or looking up flights on Kayak just to name a couple), and the fact that it's also the coolest iPod ever. I also love the YouTube support, but it really needs to support all of YouTube vs a small subset of YouTube content.

These reasons alone could cause me to be a two device person -- one (Palm OS) Treo "phone" running GoodLink, and one iPhone running WIFI only -- not use it as a phone (and primarily using the camera, and the iPod when not in WIFI coverage, and using the browser, maps, and YouTube when in WIFI coverage). If only it weren't a $500 price tag -- can't quite get my arms around it being worth $500 for a very cool mobile WIFI enabled HTML (limited) browser that has a great camera and great iPod -- although I'm still very tempted to keep it anyway (actually it’s more like $700 since I'd also be giving up the fact that I'm not under contact with AT&T right now and that's essentially worth about $200 in phone subsidies when purchasing most other devices)."

Vudu Hopes to Bring Movie Magic to Your Big Screen -- In Hi Def & Much Faster Than Any Other Service

Silicon Valley start-up Vudu -- yet another movies on demand service -- is set to launch today.

I have been tracking this company, which has been in stealth mode up to this point, for quite some time. Although Vudu faces daunting competition from all major cable operators, telcos, and online movie services, the company has some serious checks in its favor and should not be dismissed. Why? Here are just some of the reasons:

(1) first, Vudu is backed by blue-chip VCs Greylock Partners and Benchmark Capital;

(2) second, Vudu's management and development team are pedigreed and have significant experience from other relevant innovators, including TiVo and WebTV;

(3) third, Vudu will focus on delivering hi-def movies to your home on demand and contends that -- as a result of its set-top box and proprietary approach -- it will be able to do so at a fraction of the time it takes other online services to deliver them; in other words, movies literally will be "on demand" (and the selection is said to be much wider than any other current movie on demand system for the home, including cable, since Vudu launches with over 5,000 titles.

The major hurdles for Vudu include the competition noted above, as well as the fact that consumers will need to shell out another $399 to buy the Vudu device that connects to the TV (and then will need to pay additional fees to buy or rent movies on top of that). Apart from the price, it ain't easy to get consumers to connect yet another device for their TV.

However, for movie buffs who need their hi-def fix -- and truly want the luxury of choosing on demand from their phone -- Vudu presents a unique alternative given the length of time it takes to download movies from all other Internet-based services.

Goodbye Business 2.0 -- You Will Be Missed

Time Warner announced yesterday what had long been rumoured -- that it would be shuttering, rather than selling, Business 2.0 magazine. The magazine will be "folded into Fortune magazine" according to today's Los Angeles Times, whatever that means.

I just had a meeting with a reporter at Business 2.0 at their offices in San Francisco last week, and I have been a long-time and avid reader of the mag which first went to press in 1998. Quite frankly, Business 2.0 was one of the rare publications that I never missed reading -- useful insightful articles geared to the digital media/technology entrepreneur and investor community. Always well written and fun to read.

I will miss it.