In Line for the iPhone

Apple's long-awaited iPhone goes on sale today, and tech fans across the country have been camping out to get their hands on the pricey new multi-media device. Tech contributor Mario Armstrong has been in line since yesterday, waiting to get his hands on the gadget.

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TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox, in for Farai Chideya.

Thank God it's I-Day. That's the tune that folks across the country are singing today as they anticipate the commercial release of the long-awaited iPhone. The sleek, new device from Apple is the wunderkind of modern cellular technology. It's a phone, it's a camera, it's a multimedia player, and it offers lots of Internet services.

And those are just the things that we know it can do. iPhone fever has already infected lots of tech fans. Thousands have been camping out at stores around the country, waiting to shell out five or $600 when the iPhone goes on sale later today.

Joining us now from a tent outside in an electronics store in Baltimore is NEWS & NOTES tech contributor Mario Armstrong. Hey, Mario.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hey, Tony, how are you?

COX: Man, how long have you been online?

ARMSTRONG: I have been in line since 3 p.m. yesterday, so almost 24 hours already, and the phone actually doesn't become available until 6 p.m. this evening.

COX: Oh, man. You know, I'll tell you what, Mario. If the hype - if the phone is anywhere near as effective and good as the hype and the advertising around it, I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: Steve Jobs is the mastermind. His company knows how to bring attention. He knows how to get the media's attention and get people excited. You know, my initial recommendation on this thing has always been to hold off. Do not purchase first-generation technology. It's always been wait for second generation because it's typically better.

However, this is a little bit of a different case because it's revolutionary. We've never seen anything like this. Nothing has ever come out of the wireless industry like this. And Steve Jobs being an outsider, with huge success, with over 100 million iPods sold, I kind of put my bets on him that he might be on the right path with this iPhone.

COX: Well, explain to it - to people like me and others. I mean, I have a cell phone, I know how to turn it on, turn it off, I know how to answer calls, and I know how to do a few other things. But beyond that, I don't really use it for a lot of other stuff. What…

ARMSTRONG: (unintelligible) most.

COX: What does the iPhone do that makes it so revolutionary?

ARMSTRONG: Well, what makes it revolutionary isn't really what it does more than how it looks and how it integrates all of its workings together. First and foremost, it's - there are no buttons. This is all-touch screen. You use your finger to move around the screen. It also allows you to watch video, listen to music. It's just like having a video iPod or a music iPod. It also surfs the Internet and can do e-mail, and surf the Web and do all the things that you're used to doing or in some other cell phones.

But because of its integrated applications coming from Apple and the way iTunes has been very successful with their online music service, it's going to seamlessly work with applications that you typically don't have access to.

So - it still remains to be seen, though. I haven't tested the device. Only four media journalists across the country have been able to hold, test and review, and publish their reviews of this device. So you know, I can't really vouch for what it's going to do until I actually have it in my hand.

COX: Of those reviews that you've read, what are they saying are some of the areas, since it is first-generation technology that they're concerned about, if there are any?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, there are some. I mean, first and foremost, some people are going to be concerned about cost. Five hundred dollars for a four-gigabyte model, which is the amount of memory it can hold or you can double that amount of memory for $600. It's pretty pricy for some folks and for many folks, although there are cell phones that are available today for $750.

But some of the other concerns that other people have been talking about are the fact of no keyboard. And if you're used to typing on a Blackberry or a Treo, or a keyboard device with your thumbs, there is no keypad. So the keypad is actually a visual on the screen. So you're actually typing on the screen. And that may be something that people will have to take a little bit of some time of getting used to.

Other than that, the main thing that a lot of folks are talking about are the data network. This is when the phone actually starts the Internet or receives e-mail and downloads attachments. It's on a slower version of the AT&T network, and some people are having problems with that. Although some of the media journalists have said they haven't had any issues with the experience.

COX: How big a phone is it? Would it fit in your pocket? Is it the same size as the iTunes, iPod, or is it like the Nano? What is it?

ARMSTRONG: Yes. Think of it as a great question. The Nano's a lot smaller. The Nano's like the size of, maybe, a little bit bigger than a credit card. And think of a regular iPod like the video iPod, which is a slim device. It - you will be able to be carried easily in your pocket.

One thing that's really unique to note about it is when you're watching video, you can actually turn the phone landscape and it will automatically change its orientation for the viewing experience. The videos on this phone that I've seen online look pristine. Everyone's been talking about how great the clarity of the images look and how great the video looks on this device.

COX: What about the audio? Have you heard anything about how good that is? Do you have to hold it to your ear to be able to hear it or what?

ARMSTRONG: Well, so you have two ear buds just like you normally would with an iPod, and so you could be listening to music with your ear buds, and if a phone call comes in, there's a little button on the cord that you click so that you can pause your music and answer the phone call. And when you hang up, you can go right back to your music.

So there hasn't been any discussion about it being a low quality sound device. Everyone else has been saying - well, at least the journalists have been saying, it sounds just as good as what you would expect an iPod to sound like. So it…

COX: Well you know, - I'm sorry. And, Mario, if they can do all of those things, you know, what scares me about what you just said is that maybe the battery's only going to last 30 minutes or so. How long is the battery life?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, yeah. They initially came out and said the battery is going to last a few hours. I believe the number was six, and then a little closer to the release, they're starting to say it's more like eight hours of battery life. Now, it does depend on your usage of the device.

But they have it on apple.com, all the different types of ways you may use the device and how you may end up draining the battery. So if you're playing a lot of video that will have a different impact on whether you're just making a lot of phone calls.

But, you know, that's what car chargers and wall chargers are for. And quite frankly, Tony, all of the cell phones that I have?

COX: Mm-hmmm.

ARMSTRONG: You know, they don't hold a good charge anyway.

COX: Anyway. I guess you got a point there. I want to ask you another question.

But before I do, have you moved any in the line to sleep and talking? No. Right?

ARMSTRONG: I'm in the No. 1 position.

COX: Oh, you're in the No. 1 spot?

ARMSTRONG: I am numero uno in Baltimore. I'm the first in line. I'm happy to have my slot, and so I'm just waiting for six o'clock to show up so I can be the first in the store.

COX: All right. Let me ask you this. Apple teamed up with AT&T to put out the iPhone. Now, AT&T is the exclusive cell network for the device. Talk a little bit about the deal that they struck and what sort of compromises and costs would be involved in terms of the service connected to the…

ARMSTRONG: Yes. Good point. This is an interesting scenario because some people have been e-mailing me saying, hey, Mario, wouldn't it be smarter if Apple was to make their iPhone available for all the carriers?

And the truth of the matter is, when you develop a cell phone, you have to develop different interfaces for different carriers. So it's not always feasible, especially something as revolutionary as this phone, that you can make a one-size fits all.

So they already had - Apple already had a relationship with AT&T for an earlier phone called the ROKR, and so they wanted to expand upon that relationship. And then the second main component, why Steve Jobs - because apparently, I'm being told, it was Steve Jobs' decision as to who to go with is the network.

The AT&T network is a GSM network, which is a - around the world, a globally accepted standard for wireless communications. So those are the two reasons I am being told. I can't get - I haven't been able to get any information as to any of the stipulations or any of the deal-makings other than those two points at this juncture.

COX: Hey, Mario, all of this information is great. Hold on to your place. Just do me one favor, will you? Just pick up one for me. I'll take care of you later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: Will you take care of me, Tony? You know, in public radio, we don't make a lot of money, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Just joking. I'll take care of you later.

ARMSTRONG: I'll hold a slot for you.

COX: Thank you very much. Mario Armstrong is NEWS & NOTES tech contributor. He also covers technology for member stations WYPR and WEAA in Baltimore.

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