Monday, January 15, 2007

Apple, Inc.’s new IPhone will be a challenge both for the company and for the people who use it. But this could be a revolutionary device — if all works as planned.

I don’t doubt Apple’s claims. My understanding is based on media reports and demos shown on Apple’s Web site ( But after working with several brands of mobile phones over the years, I’ve found that things aren’t always as they seem.

There may be a bug or two, even though Apple is usually scrupulous about avoiding these on new devices.

At the top of the list of challenges for the IPhone could be its “predictive typing.” Such software isn’t new; it’s found on handhelds using Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Mobile, on some Palm Inc programs and in desktop software for PCs and Macs.

Predictive typing means the computer can guess what you’re about to type as you enter the letter: “Th” is most likely to mean “the” or “this” depending on the context; a truly “smart” predictive program will figure this out and suggest the word for you.

In order to make e-mail, messaging and other text applications work best on an IPhone, Apple will have to make sure the predictive typing works as advertised. This is something Apple can do, but it’s an important hurdle.

There’s a lot this device is advertised as being able to do: full Internet browsing, e-mail, short message service messaging, photos at 2 megapixels, mapping and GPS, and more.

Perhaps the greatest plus of this device is that it is powered by a mobile version of Mac OS X, the Unix-based graphical operating system that is one of the best for consumer use.

The operating system is rock-solid and is only getting better as Apple prepares a new version for release sometime this year. The phone itself is a multiband GSM-band phone that should operate in just about any country on Earth where there’s cellular service.

Despite these good steps, there may be drawbacks for some. Critics have noted that Apple isn’t allowing outside contributors to create software to run on the IPhone.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying he wants to make sure the phone works, as would the cellular network of IPhone retailer Cingular Wireless, reportedly soon to become AT&T Wireless.

While nothing I’ve ever put on a Cingular-based Palm Treo has done any harm to the network — as far as I know — I guess anything could happen. But not being able to slap on a favorite program may be a bit of a disappointment, especially because the add-on software market for Palm and Windows Mobile devices is a rather robust one.

Then again, the IPodlike functionality of the IPhone can’t be easily duplicated on a Palm or Windows Mobile device, however good each might be for toting songs and videos around. If the IPhone’s music and video experiences are as good as the IPod’s, this could push the mobile phone category into all sorts of new dimensions.

One thing worth noting: Apple will likely have the IPhone in stores on time or slightly ahead of its June debut. By contrast, I’m still waiting for a U.S. debut of Microsoft’s “Origami” handheld computer, which garnered a few headlines in February 2006, but which has neither a phone nor any noticeable market share in this country.

• Read Mark Kellner’s technology blog at

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