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iPhone and Apple TV Just Miss the Mark

- 2007.01.18 - Tip Jar

Last week I scoured the Web for Macworld Expo reports. As soon as it was posted, I watched the keynote in QuickTime. In the week that followed, I've poured over all of the commentary and reviews of Apple's new products. (iTunes users can download a higher resolution verison of the keynote as a free podcast. ed.)

I have to say that now that the shock of Apple TV, the new 802.11n Airport Extreme, and the iPhone has worn off, I'm left a bit disappointed.

No, it's not the lack of new Macs, which I'm fine with, as the current ones cover all bases except for ultraportable and tablet, where Apple just doesn't seem to want to play. It's not the lack of new iPods either, as the current ones are all quite recent.

No, what bothers me are the new products that were announced, and how, except with Airport Extreme (which I'm very enthusiastic about and will likely buy) everything else just seems to miss the mark.

Apple TV

Lets start with the Apple TV. This could have been great, but two omissions will make it more a curiosity than a success.

The first is the lack of record functions. I can see some product planner explaining to the marketing folks that anyone who buys this will already have a DVR, but this is supposed to be about convergence and simplicity. If Apple wants to leave the DVR functions out, that's fine, but at least design a way for Apple TV to interface with and control a DVR unit instead of being an iTunes-only proposition.

Second, and likely more important, why is the hard drive so small? Come on, hard drives are cheap, and this thing is meant to stream both audio and video, which both take up a lot of space - especially high-definition video, which will fill that tiny drive in minutes. A spacious desktop hard drive, say 360 GB, would go a long way toward making Apple TV a useful device, especially if it is to be iTunes only.

The iPhone

Storage is also my biggest complaint with the iPhone. Limiting the device to Cingular (now AT&T) is also an annoyance for non-Cingular users (I use T-Mobile), but 4 GB or 8 GB capacity is a bigger issue. Put another way, while an iPhone has been rumored for some time, so has a true video iPod, and the device released at Macworld was actually both devices.

I look at the iPhone as the ultimate portable device, combining everything I use a laptop for (except document production) into one small, light, and powerful device.

That's where storage comes in. The iPhone would make a superior iPod with its large screen and improved navigation, but even the top model won't hold half of my music collection.

More serious are the video limitations. 8 GB is a joke for a video device. The current video iPod starts at 30 GB, and you really need 60 GB if you want to watch a lot of movies and TV shows on it.

I understand the desire to keep the whole thing solid state, but how difficult would an SD or similar flash memory slot have been? Put your videos or perhaps a different playlist on a memory card of some type, and the storage issue is mitigated, if not solved. Even the ability to plug a large USB flash drive into it would be enough, and I hope it's implemented by release time, as the hardware is already in place (I assume) for USB sync with a computer.

It's the Battery, Stupid

My last iPhone complaint is one that it has in common with all iPods, and that is the lack of easily swappable batteries. Cell phone makers get this one right. Sometimes people use their phones heavily, and if a phone's battery won't got the distance, it should at least be replaceable in the field.

I'm not talking about the long-term durability issues, which are just as real, but about the ability to carry a spare and keep on talking when your five hours are up. Even worse is if you want to make an important call after your movie is over and your batteries are dry.

Brilliance with a Catch

Now before anyone thinks I'm turned off by the new products, nothing could be farther from the truth. I honestly see the iPhone as the first of an entirely new generation of computers - smaller, sleeker, more powerful, and more intuitive than anything that's come before. The interface is a flash of brilliance, and the capabilities are simply incredible.

The problem is that Apple TV and the iPhone are both completely new classes of product, and as such there really are no prior market mistakes to learn from. The first iPod was that way, too, with too little capacity and no Windows compatibility holding it back in its initial version. So too with iPhone and Apple TV.

Later I'm sure we'll have 30 GB or larger iPhones with 20 hour batteries, or at least a version with memory slots and clip-on battery boosters. Apple TV doesn't record video, but I'm guessing it will at some point - or at least control something that does. Perhaps an iTunes software update will add that capability, while a larger hard drive is probably just an email flood away.

Like everyone else, I was very impressed with what I saw last week. I just wish that the designers had put as much thought into mundane things like batteries and drive capacity as they did in making us all say "wow!" LEM

Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

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