Editorial - Was the Apple iPhone Announcement Really a Mistake?

Apple did something unprecedented at Macworld. They made the announcement of a major new product six months before it could ship. A detailed demonstration that lasted 80 minutes at the Macworld keynote revealed most of the operational details. Some publications think that was a grave mistake.

Maybe not.

One can have opinions about whether the feature set, compared to other smart phones, is complete enough. But as we all know, Apple agonizes over feature sets. In Appleis estimation, the ability to run an Excel spreadsheet is not as important as the killer app for a mobile phone: dialing out. One can also have an opinion about whether Apple can achieve one percent market share given that theyive tied their fate to AT&T. It wonit be the first time Windows analysts have underestimated how much customers will embrace a "pain free" device.

So what is the real issue? Did Apple give competitors a head start? Apple has applied for over 200 patents on the iPhone. There is no doubt that other manufactureris will move to a softkey, touch screen. But the path from design to bug free implementation, field ruggedness and reliability, and elegant supporting software that doesnit violate Appleis patents is a perilous one. Appleis mantra will be from the old TV ads, many years ago.

"Accept no imitations."

One has to wonder if the Apple iPhone will cannibalize iPod sales. Of course, Apple is master at avoiding that. To say that the iPhone will cannibalize iPod sales, as some analysts have predicted, is to not understand Appleis product line or its customers. The iPhone was cleverly designed to be the ultimate phone, not the ultimate iPod. There is no doubt that once the iPhone starts to sell like hot cakes that Apple will continue to bring out enticing iPods with 120 GB drives and a touch screen display for, perhaps, $200. Not many people will be able to resist having both. Or an iPod Shuffle for jogging. So letis put that one to rest.

Steve Jobs told gave us one reason why they had to announce the iPhone. Once Apple files for F.C.C. certification, the story is leaked anyway. And then, without Appleis guidance, all kinds of misunderstandings would arise. But, in fact, Apple probably made the announcement early for other reasons, reasons that we donit have access to. In my experience, the collective mind of the Mac Web is only fair at uncovering these hidden reasons. A single writer whose expertise is Windows has zero chance.

To be sure, the mobile phone manufacturers and carriers are in a panic right now. Perhaps thatis exactly what Apple wants for other purposes. Weill see cool new smart phones between now and June. Some people will buy them. Probably 99% of the customers will buy them. And they can have them.

The Apple iPhone will be the phone for the rest of us one percenters. And weill see where it goes from there. Iim predicting only good things.