Author's Note: So, it seems that I've finally been pushed towards writing this piece. I figure that it'll save me effort in the long run, enabling me to present my argument without having to argue my point over and over again, useful in the cyclical nature of internet arguments. I mean, I've cited my own articles enough times in these forums to make them worth writing.
So, you've had a look at the iPhone, and you're thinking to yourself, "This might be a good phone to choose." You're planning to buy it. Stop. With your purchase of the iPhone, you're committing yourself to a product decidedly inferior in the smartphone market, one with glaring design mistakes.
Let's start with the hardware. With the iPhone, you get a 412MHz ARM11 processor, 128MB of RAM and either 8GB or 16GB of internal storage. Apart from the internal storage, this is only roughly comparable to other phones in the smartphone category, and that's before you get to the real flaws in the design. Unlike nearly every other smartphone on the market, you cannot supplement that internal memory with additional memory cards, a facility that's been available since the Nokia 9210 Communicator circa 2000. Apple continues to show off their commitment to hermetically-sealed packages with a battery that can't be user-replaced and a SIM card that you need a tool to remove. And you know, you're really going to wish you had a replaceable battery when you realise that the iPhone has a battery life which makes the Game Gear look impressive.
Then, we get to that screen. Contrary to what Apple may have you thinking, touch screens are hardly a new innovation. Indeed, they've been around since the mid 1990s - in fact, Apple were one of the pioneers in the field with their Apple Newton. But before you go thinking that this prior experience makes Apple experts in the field of touch-screen design, let's consider the Apple Newton for a minute. The Newton, among other things, featured atrociously underdeveloped handwriting recognition, an initial model with a size which made it closer to a modern-day Tablet PC and a price tag which didn't exactly endear it to consumers. It was roundly beaten by the Pilot line of PDAs from U.S. Robotics (later the Palm Pilot series by Palm, Inc.), which used the less ambitious but far more reliable idea of single-letter glyph handwriting recognition, and was available at a far lower price.
The fact remains that the iPhone isn't as clever an example of touch-screen design as they'd like you to think. It uses the new capacitative touch-screen design, which may be more accurate due to its lack of digitiser drift, but it's less precise at the same time. It's got to cope with a big, grubby thumb and process things accordingly, compared to resistive screens, where you use a far more accurate stylus - or a pen, or a fingernail, or any sort of relatively pointed expedient. Actually, what's the deal with having to press flesh to screen plastic anyway? I don't know if anyone at Apple ever considered that some of us don't like getting fingerprints all over our screens, but if they did, there must be some real sadists over in their design labs. Only about thirty seconds is enough to turn the screen into a smudgy mess and myself into a neurotic wreck.
It wouldn't have seemed like such a design flaw had they bothered to include a separate hardware-based keypad, like almost every other phone prior to this point, but they decided to be arrogant and commit themselves to a completely touch-screen based interface. Cue frustration as the lack of tactile feedback thwarts your attempts to type on the on-screen keyboard, and let's not forget the smudgy mess that your phone will soon become as you lay flesh to screen. They seem to be forgetting that the iPhone isn't an iPod Touch, which manages to get by on the same hardware specifications by virtue of its target market, and that the iPhone is competing with venerable Symbian OS, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry platforms.
But it isn't just the hardware that's flawed. Oh, by no means. With the iPhone, you buy one of the most disappointing mobile operating systems ever witnessed on a smartphone, full of compromises and cut corners. The iPhone OS is based on Apple's Mac OS X, a UNIX variant which works well on the desktop, even if it is occasionally over-simplified, frustrating and underpowered by UNIX standards. However, what works on the desktop doesn't necessarily work on mobile platforms, and the iPhone OS displays that principle completely.
So, you're talking about a UNIX which manages to forget one of the original principles of the UNIX operating system; it can't multitask. At all. That brings it somewhere near the sophistication of Palm OS, but that's not really a fair comparison, because Palm OS was first developed in 1996, back when mobile devices didn't have the processing power to effectively multitask, whereas iPhone OS competes with fully pre-emptive multitasking operating systems of considerably more sophistication.
The included software is often lacking and/or plain crippled as well. The web browser has no support for Flash or Java, the camera application has absolutely no functionality past point-and-click, the Bluetooth functionality seems to have its metaphorical legs taken off, having no facility for file transfer or A2DP support, there's no cut-and-paste functionality and no office document editor. Basically, they've given a very limited base package with the phone, one that is decidedly unimpressive.
One of the key features of smartphones is the ability to expand their capabilities with additional software, but Apple have once again shot themselves in the foot in this regard (one would imagine that their lower legs resemble a colander by this stage). To go with the hermetically-sealed hardware goes a software download service you could use as a quarantine tank. Unlike every other smartphone operating system, all of the applications for the iPhone must be downloaded through the App Store - at the same time, you can install Symbian OS applications directly off the internet, just like a PC. The App Store basically amounts to a form of DRM, which has led to a Defective by Design campaign against the iPhone, and as an open-source advocate alone, I'd be inclined to agree with them, even if it weren't for those other objections I have.
Escaping the world of open-source, people might point to the success of the App Store by looking at the amount of applications programmed for it; about 15,000 at last count. But that count means nothing if the applications aren't worth downloading. Sure, there's a lot of dross for Windows Mobile or Symbian OS - I distinctly remember a disproportionately large amount of freeware Koran readers for Symbian S60 - but I can't think of any other mobile operating system for which there are more than 100 applications dedicated to making farting noises - and no proper office suite. I especially can't think of another mobile operating system where even one would be considered worth having, let alone the flood of applications on iPhone OS. Perhaps that's because most smartphone users want to get things done.
At this point, you may be thinking, "What if I just jailbreak my phone? Surely I'll be able to get all sorts of applications then!" Well, apart from the fact that Apple has deemed it illegal, it would only be worth jailbreaking a phone if it has a halfway-decent OS. Funnily, all of the phones falling under that category don't need to be jailbroken, because they have OSes produced by people who understand the importance of third-party applications and open development. Yeah, even Microsoft. Strange, that.
Not that you'd be getting many good applications from jailbreaking even if the iPhone OS wasn't a terrible bit of execrable proprietary bloat. Many of the best freeware applications for mobile operating systems tend to be open-source, or at least produced by people who want to push the hardware beyond the normal limits. Open-source developers may enjoy subverting proprietary systems, but their core ethics prevents them from going to prison for it, preferring to ignore or protest against the platform in question. Cue, once again, the Defective by Design campaign against the iPhone.
Or perhaps, you're asking yourself why you'd want third-party applications in the first place. The answer to that is simple. Apple haven't provided a lot of functionality with the phone as standard, with a sub-par web browser incapable of using Flash or Java, no office suite and a camera feature list that roughly amounts to nothing. And that's before I get to the cool yet functional things I can do with my phone. You may want to realise that I'm writing this on my Nokia E71, a phone with a working office suite straight off the bat, and I'm multitasking it with a web browser. And I'm using the copy-and-paste functionality to post it on the internet as well. There are three places where the iPhone hasn't got functionality which I use on my phone.
Let's wrap this up with a look at the things that you might want to do with an iPhone, and the phones or devices that do it better - because, really, I can't think of a single thing that the iPhone does that isn't done better elsewhere. The iPhone is completely worthless as a business device. The lack of copy-and-paste functionality frustrates, and the lack of an office suite renders it useless for business applications. The BlackBerry phones by RIM would be the obvious choices here, but don't count out the fantastic Nokia E71 or HTC Touch Pro. Because of this woeful lack of support for simple business applications, you can't even use it as a work/leisure hybrid, an area where the Nokia E71 once again shines, along with multiple Windows Mobile smartphones.
Perhaps you're just looking at the iPhone as a media device, somewhere where it admittedly finds success, but why don't you just buy an iPod Touch? Or, maybe seeing as Samsung provides Apple with their audio processors, you could buy a Samsung i900 Omnia. Or maybe even an F480 Tocco, which has a far superior 5 megapixel camera to boot. Even in this most crucial of sectors to Apple, you can get smartphones which match it, and also provide better performance in other areas.
And if you want it for fart applications or accelerometer-driven beer wallpaper apps? Then you're a blithering moron or a child and therefore do not deserve a smartphone.
But hey, at least the iPhone looks pretty, right?