Steve Jobs, legendary CEO of Apple (formerly Apple Computer), has been described as a master of RDF. The Reality Distortion Field is an attempt to describe his power to say everything and nothing in a keynote speech and have people spend hours in bliss before they begin to realize what they didn't hear. Tuesday's keynote speech at Macworld 2007 is a prime example.
Opening with a report of amazing continued success with the iTunes Music Store, Jobs announced that Paramount movies will now be available for purchase.
The Apple TV (previously code-named "iTV") will be shipping in February, and contains everything previously announced and a little more. It has an internal hard disk and syncs with one Mac and can accept streaming content from up to five others.
Then the iPhone is announced, and the markets go wild. Rim (makers of the BlackBerry) and Palm stock plummeted as Apple stock soared. Listening to the speech, it is easy to think that this isn't really a phone, but a new Mac in a tiny form factor. It runs OS X, the operating system that powers my iMac and my wife's MacBook! It's got a lot of custom software and an intriguing touch interface, as well as some other nice bells and whistles, but isn't it really a full-fledged hand-held computer?
No, it's not.
First let's talk about what wasn't announced. No new software whatsoever. No iLife '07, no iWork '07, no OS X "Leopard," nothing. Does this mean we won't see these updates? No, it means that this show was about one thing only: the iPhone.
There were other brief announcements. Jobs did counter the rumor that the iTunes Store had seen a slowdown in sales. It may have seen a slowdown in traffic — which is what the rumor was based on — but sales continue to rise steadily. Jobs also announced the Paramount partnership, and as the first movie company in which Jobs doesn't hold 7% of the stock, that's a good sign. Jobs also provided a bit more detail — and a release date — for the Apple TV, which he announced last year. But that's it. Everything else — eighty minutes of the 108-minute speech — was about the iPhone.
It's interesting to speculate about the choices that went into this announcement, but so far, that's all it is — speculation. Would Jobs have announced Paramount if he had not needed to address the iTunes slowdown rumor? Would the Apple TV have made the schedule had they not pre-announced it last year? Did they pre-announce it last year because they weren't ready to announce anything else?
The reality is this: no shipping products were announced. None. OS X "Leopard" is still a future event. iWork and iLife updates are still future events. Apple TV won't ship until next month. The iPhone won't ship until June — assuming all goes well between now and then.
The reality is this: the iPhone is not a 3G phone. Jobs announced that Apple intends to make 3G phones in the future, but not yet.
The reality is this: despite the claim that the iPhone runs "OS X," reports from Time (page 2) and Jupiter Research say that you won't be able to download or run standard OSX applications from anyone but Apple. Sure, you need a special version of Safari to browse the web on a tiny screen, but surely there are plenty of developers champing at the bit to get their apps running on the iPhone!
We don't yet know what processor is running inside the iPhone, nor how stripped-down the operating system is. Is it "OS X" like "Windows CE" is "Windows," which is to say in name only? How many different processors does OS X run on now? Even the technical specifications at the official iPhone web site are sparse and not very technical. Presumably more details will slowly be released now that the secret is out, especially as the FCC approval process progresses. Since the iPhone isn't yet shipping, there's actually plenty of time for some of the details to change, too.
Will we eventually see the iPhone work with any carriers other than Cingular? Jobs described them as Apple's exclusive partner. It sounds as if Cingular had to do some work to enable the email-like view of voicemail that is a strong selling point of the iPhone. Since you won't be able to buy an iPhone without a Cingular contract, the $499 sticker price probably reflects substantial subsidies from Cingular already.
On the stock market, RIMM and PALM have been hurting since the announcement, while AAPL is soaring. But will the iPhone really take over the market from these "smartphones?" The forced coupling with Cingular could hurt it here, though many people in the early-adopters market won't balk at the expense.
One other big question: how will the iPhone sync? To succeed, the iPhone will need to sync with Microsoft Exchange running on Windows, something Steve Jobs didn't mention. It's hard to believe Apple doesn't know that, however, so for now I'll assume that Jobs didn't want to mention Microsoft during his big speech. I don't think syncing with iTunes is going to cut it.
At 42:48 into the keynote address, to demonstrate the iPod features of the iPhone, Steve Jobs chooses the Beatles. Given the long history of legal issues between Apple Records and Apple Computer (now Apple), this is either a sign of thawing relations or a serious poke in the eye.
At the time of Steve Jobs' keynote speech, Apple and Cisco hadn't yet signed paperwork on an agreement allowing Apple to use the name "iPhone," currently in use for some Linksys products. The paperwork was in Apple's hands, however, and has presumably been signed by now.
As the Time article reveals, initial development on the new touch interface was done for a possible Mac tablet computer, presumably one better than the third-party ModBook announced this week. So far what we've seen is a very small and constrained Mac tablet — the iPhone. Will the next-generation iMacs or MacBooks make the mouse and keyboard optional?
Will we see hard-drive based iPods later this year or next year with the same touch interface, minus the phone features? If the iPhone price reflects major underwriting by Cingular, it could be a while before the multi-touch interface makes it into lower-end iPods.
The Bottom Line
For software releases and iPod updates, we'll have to wait. But not long, I think.
The iPhone is one of most beautiful products I've ever seen, a product that could only come from Apple. Two hundred patents notwithstanding, every other company with any connection to the market is now rushing to see how much they can do to make their own iPhone knockoffs. I suspect Apple will be able to keep ahead of the competitors with the iPhone, though, just as they have with the iPod. The iPhone will be a huge success.
But while it's a marvelous and unique combination of iPod and phone, with Internet features, it's not yet a handheld computer in any real sense. It has built-in Wi-Fi, but can't download and run programs. It's a marvelous idea that this hand-held device is running OS X, but until it's more open — either officially or unofficially — it's just an idea.