Verizon Customer Retention, The LG Dare, iPhone Flaws

While we were in Denver visiting family we visited an Apple Store (it was the most crowded store in the Mall, of course) and, of course, started drooling at the prospect of replacing our aging Motorola Razr v3cs. “We’ll just wait until our Verizon contract expires,” we agreed, and continued wandering around. Then we stumbled across a Verizon store. “I’ll just go find out when our contract expires,” said my wife as she ran off, leaving me with the twins.

It turns out that our plans have already expired! “OK, let’s go to the Apple Store,” I said (loudly) at which point the Verizon reps (who outnumbered the customers in the store) tried to sell me on the virtues of the LG Dare which, they explained, is better rated by independent reviewers than the iPhone and is superior in most ways.

I won’t go into their sales pitch — I basically tried out the Dare’s web browser (which was an exercise in self-flagellation) and left the store — but I did check the LG Dare out online after I got home. (Of course, if I’d had an iPhone I could have checked it out on the spot.) Here’s the thing, the LG Dare does get better reviews than the iPhone from the likes of C|Net, but not from more critical reviewers such as Engadget. Indeed, MacWorld gave the iPhone 3G a four (out of five) mouse review.

It seems to me that this isn’t ┬ábecause a lot of review sites are anti-Apple, or that people love to criticize the iPhone — although both things are true — but because when you use an iPhone you suddenly start comparing it to what you imagine it could be, versus what it actually is, whereas when you use most cell phones you compare them to other cell phones (say, your current cell phone). The iPhone isn’t a phone, it’s a touchscreen computer that happens to be a phone. As such, its connection is kind of slow, its screen is kind of small, its performance isn’t always stellar, the virtual keyboard is kind of lame, and so on. It’s easy to imagine a device that’s better in pretty much every way.

I like my Razr — I just wish it had a slightly bigger screen, a better menu system (which let me customize shortcuts to, say, the calendar), better battery life, and synced properly to my Mac. I don’t wish it let me use iWork applications, support pen drawing so I could use it as a sketchpad, and let me play Grand Theft Auto. I don’t mourn the lack of an SD card slot that would let me grab pictures from my D50, or videos from my TZ3. I don’t wonder when there’ll be a decent image editor for it.

The iPhone 3G doesn’t deserve better reviews. It just deserves its own category.

Anyway, we’ve decided: my wife will get an iPhone. I’ll get an ordinary cellphone (possibly a disposable, since I hardly call anyone ever) and an iPod Touch. And that way we’ll be able to test our apps on both the iPhone and Touch and pay AT&T as little money as possible. I wonder if Apple will release a Touch with GPS.

  • Andrew

    Hmmm

    I’ve had my iPhone a shade over a week now and view it a bit differently.

    I suppose the main thing is rather than considering it a touchscreen computer (the technology), I consider it as a better phone (the use case).

    ie I carry a phone to be connected – although with normal phones it’s constrained by being voice calls/SMS/MMS – web is so crappy to be pointless.

    With the iPhone, a whole swag of other use cases are now possible while I’m out and about – you covered them pretty well in one of your previous iPhone articles – but they all pretty well revolve around being connected to information that previously I had to be actually sitting down in front of a computer.

    Perhaps that perspective is why I haven’t personally had any great desire for producing content on the iPhone – as sitting down at a computer is far more productive for producing content (for me at least).

    I can cheerfully go along with how things could be improved, but it’s pretty darn neat how I can just flip it out one handed and check my mail, see what’s new on Google Reader, etc irrespective of where I am – and I think a large part is that it’s in the form factor of a phone.

    Ultimately I wonder at the market for stuff that’s at an intermediate size between iPhone and laptop. ie once it’s bigger than pocket size it might as well be a laptop.

  • I’m a little puzzled about your comment about producing content on the iPhone… From my point of view it’s fairly obvious that you’ll want to send SMS messages and emails from the iPhone, which is producing content of a sort. The question is where will it stop? And why should it stop anywhere short of what’s logical or feasible for the form factor?

    E.g. being able to play with images. OK, precise drawing may be out simply because the display can’t handle styluses (perhaps a specially designed stylus?) but how about fixing exposure, sharpening, filters, cropping, etc.?

    The fact it’s a voice device begs for it to be usable as a dictaphone or audio recorder. And once you’ve recorded stuff there’s all the manipulations you might want to do to it.

  • Andrew

    My point is that sure I can create an email or SMS on the iPhone, but it’s always going to be the option of last resort – and that regardless of improvements, it’s always going to suck compared to writing an email on a laptop. So sure, there’ll be no end of competition for improvements in entering stuff like ‘kthxbai’ – but for writing lengthy emails, blog posts, etc you’ll just say ‘fuck it, it can wait until I’m at something with a decent keyboard’.

    Same sort of principle with image editing – why muck around trying to do a decent crop on the phone when I can upload the images to my laptop and have a vastly superior experience? (To say nothing of the fact that you’ve been taking pictures with a 2M camera with a crappy lens, etc)

    I’ll agree as far as the dictaphone/audio recorder/even video recorder point is concerned – there’s no reason why this stuff shouldn’t be core – though I’d probably still argue that manipulations can wait until the data has been uploaded to a device that isn’t bound by the form factor.

    A somewhat related concept is the thought that the iPhone/iPod touch represents the resurgence of the “Mac as an appliance”- none of the messy stuff like dealing with the Finder, explaining wtf the System Folder is, losing an overlapping window behind another one, etc. What would be interesting would be bringing this applianceness back to the Mac line, particularly for those people who just want to write email, view pictures, play music etc rather than have a crash course in system administration (and who freak out when the System Update dialog appears, etc).

  • OK, I understand what you mean … and I disagree. There’s no reason why the iPhone can’t aspire to be something other than a “last resort”, and there’s all kinds of “content creation” that might not rely so much on typing or drawing, starting with audio recording…

    There’s a pretty neat music making app for the iPhone (it was one of the Stevenote demos at WWDC) which, in my opinion, misses the real opportunity of the iPhone. What if I could hum or sing into the iPhone, have the iPhone recognize the notes, turn it into a track, and then let me instrument it?

    Another possibility is a paint program that is oriented to capturing and editing “napkin sketches”. I.e. I sketch something on scrap paper, photograph it, enhance it on the phone (fix the contrast etc.) colorize and label it if required, and it’s now indexed and databased.

    Several of the early iPhone apps are Twitter clients — content creation that makes sense as a *first resort* on the iPhone. If Twitter were better at handling GPS and picture data integrated with Twittering AND also did something like Loopt you might see some really interesting outcomes. E.g. I find a cool restaurant and start to twitter about it and — oh look — I have the option of attaching a photo and GPS location, both of which are automagically uploaded to google/picasa blah blah blah.

    Twitter suffers a lot from being kind of a broadcast medium, and I think that the market is wide open for a better tool that lets you accumulate friends and have conversations (that happen to be public) rather than being someone people follow or someone who follows people.

    I have some other ideas for apps but they’re sufficiently (a) commercial and (b) easy to do that I think I’ll shut up about them until my version is in the app store ­čśë

    So far my iPhone use is limited to using store demos and spending a few minutes on friends’ phones and I can already type reliably using just one thumb. I realize that my dexterity is not typical (I learned to juggle in five minutes) but it does imply that the iPhone can be a very capable input device if we just think about it in the right way. I think a keyboard that’s laid out in an arc around the left- or right- thumb might be a start.