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Mossberg Weighs In on Apple's New iPhone

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Mossberg Weighs In on Apple's New iPhone

Digital Life

Mossberg Weighs In on Apple's New iPhone

Mossberg Weighs In on Apple's New iPhone

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Apple CEO Steve Jobs set the technology world abuzz Tuesday, when he introduced the new iPhone at the annual MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. Walt Mossberg, personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, talks about the new device.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington, and here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News.

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When Steve Jobs, Apple CEO, announced the new iPhone yesterday he put an end to months of rumors and guesses about what some Macalites called the Holy Grail of gadgets. The iPhone, of course, is a handheld device that combines a cell phone with an Internet browser, a video player, an e-mail device, and of course that ubiquitous iPod music player.

You can get a look at the iPhone and read some of the reaction from bloggers at our Web site: npr.org. Joining us now is Walt Mossberg. He's the personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal. And he's in Las Vegas where he's covering the Consumer Electronics Show. Walt, nice to talk to you again.

Mr. WALT MOSSBERG (Personal Technology Columnist, The Wall Street Journal): Nice to talk to you, Neal.

CONAN: And we want to hear from our listeners, Apple fans or otherwise. Are you planning to pick up the iPhone? What questions do you have about it or if you have questions about gadgets you've read about or heard about at the CES, give us a call. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

And I know, Walt, you flew to San Francisco yesterday and met with Steve Jobs at MacWorld. Did you see the iPhone? Did you get to play with it?

Mr. MOSSBERG: I did get to play with it, Neal, for about 15, 20 minutes. You know, my job is to review and test consumer products like that. I would never do a proper review based on 15, 20 minutes. But I can tell you I sat through the presentation and then I did work with it a little bit. It is a radical and revolutionary approach to a cell phone that I think will shake up the market considerably.

CONAN: Really? Radical in what way?

Mr. MOSSBERG: Well, here's the interesting thing. We all know about the iPod, the big success it has been. And everyone knew that Apple was working on two things. One was an iPod, which was combined with a phone in some way. And the other was an iPod that would have a huge screen and touch control so that you could devote the whole surface of it to being a screen.

What we learned yesterday to our shock was that they were merging those two things into this one iPhone product. And that's what's so interesting about it. You pick the thing up. It's quite thin. It's thinner than the thinnest smart phone today, like the Motorola Q or the BlackJack. It's much thinner than a Treo.

But it has this enormous, extremely high resolution, highly vivid screen that not only allows you to do things like photos and videos in a really pleasing way, but gives them the real estate and the resolution to make it look kind of like a Macintosh in your hand. You know, that beautiful user interface. Vivid icons, just, you know, anything, reading an e-mail, viewing a Web page, extremely sharp. And I think that was the big surprise.

CONAN: It sounds to me like what you're describing is that a three and a half inch screen doesn't look small.

Mr. MOSSBERG: It doesn't look small. Obviously it's smaller than what you would have on your laptop, but it's three and a half inches diagonally. It's high resolution, the highest resolution of any portable device I have ever seen. And it has an extremely high pixels-per-inch number for this kind of a device, which gives it a tremendous saturation and richness on the screen.

And that may not sound like it means anything to people, but what it means is they are able to produce a user interface which is so sophisticated because of the screen that it makes - I don't mean to sound like a commercial because again I haven't - I'm not endorsing it, I haven't reviewed it - but it really made my brand new Treo look primitive next to it.

CONAN: One complaint that we've heard already - and I have to say it was a similar complaint we heard about the early iPods too: battery life.

Mr. MOSSBERG: Well, I'm amused by these complaints, because nobody's tested it. Apple hasn't finished it. The reason they announced it yesterday, even though they're not going to sell it until June, is that they have to go for FCC certification, and that would have meant it would've leaked out.

But let me just talk about battery life for a minute. This is always a problem and the battery life on the iPod has not been a problem in terms of the amount of battery life you get between charges. The iPod has actually been fairly good at that.

Complaints about the iPod is that over a couple of years, the battery, if you use it heavily and recharge it all the time, the battery will fail - and that's just a fact of physics and chemistry, and that's going to happen on any of these things.

But what Steve Jobs announced about this iPhone yesterday was that if you were just playing music on it, just using it like an iPod, you would get 16 hours on a single charge, which is quite good. But if you're using it as a cell phone and mixing in some Web-browsing, some e-mail, some music, whatever, he gave an estimate of like five hours of talk time.

Now the truth is, that's really good for a cell phone, too. But the thing is so much more than a phone that it's going to be very difficult, I think, to figure out what a typical pattern of usage is, and therefore to figure out a realistic battery life. And when I get one to test, I'm going to test it in all these modes. But until then, I don't think you can complain about it because you don't know.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners' questions on the line. Again, if you'd like to join us, Walt Mossberg is out guest. He's the personal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Give us a call at 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. Craig(ph) is with us, Craig calling us from Portland, Oregon.

CRAIG (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Craig.

CRAIG: Yeah, my question is whether or not, since the phone runs on OSX, which is the operating system for Macintosh, whether or not it will run other applications like - well, the one I use is Panorama. It's an ultra-fast RAM-based database.

Mr. MOSSBERG: Well, it's a great question, and the answer is no. First of all, your point is extremely important. One of the things that makes this phone so unusual and so interesting is that it runs on a subset of a real computer operating system, not one of the kind of - what Jobs called, yesterday, baby software programs. But, it isn't the full OSX Macintosh operating system, which is enormous and could not fit in the memory of a phone.

So it's a subset of OSX. Now, even if that allowed it to run programs like the one you mentioned, Apple has made a decision that it's not going to allow you to load other programs on this thing. It's not going to let you use it as you would use a computer.

And there are some business reasons for that, there are some security reasons, but they are treating it like an iPod, which as you know, for the most part, is difficult to load outside software on. And you buy things from Apple, whether it's a game, or a song, or a video or audio book and load it on the iPod, but the iPhone, at least in the first iteration for June, is not going to be open to loading other programs onto it.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Craig.

CRAIG: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go to Jeff(ph), and Jeff's calling from Cincinnati.

JEFF (Caller): Hi, gentlemen.

CONAN: Go ahead, Jeff.

JEFF: Hi. I have a question about the phone provider. Are we allowed to just go on with the account that we already have, or do we have to sign up with Cingular or somebody like that?

Mr. MOSSBERG: Well, you know, part of this is an Apple answer, and part of is an answer that has to do with the way cell phones are in the United States. In Europe and in Asia, people are quite used to popping the little SIMM card, that little chip that's inside some cell phones out, and changing their carrier. They can keep their phone and change their carrier, or they can keep their carrier and change their phone.

In the United States, you can do it, kind of, sort of, some of the time, but not so much. So that's the background on this. Now then specifically, Apple has done a deal with Cingular wireless, and this phone in the United States is being designed in such a way that it will only work with Cingular wireless.

So if you have a Verizon account, a Sprint account, even a T-Mobile account, which is the same technology as Cingular, you're not going to be able to use this phone. You are going to have to go to Cingular.

If you take it overseas, you can pop the chip out and put in a SIMM card from one of the European phone-makers, phone companies. You will not have every feature, because some of the features on the iPhone are done in collaboration with Cingular, but you will be able to use it.

But in the U.S., at least until someone finds a way around this or hacks it, it is Apple's intention that it only will work with Cingular.

JEFF: Okay, thanks so much.

CONAN: Thanks, Jeff. Let me ask you a question about price, and as I understand it, again it's coming out in June. That's when it's supposed to be available to consumers in two versions, either $499 or $599, depending on how much memory you buy.

Mr. MOSSBERG: That's right, and that's very expensive. This is a BMW of cell phones, or a Lexus of cell phones. That's not unusual to Apple, at least when they start a product line. Remember, the iPod, when it came out in 2001, was $400. It was the most expensive MP3 player on the market, and yet it became the best-selling one.

So they're not trying to - this phone is not intended to compete with the free or $69, you know, flip-phone you buy in the store. It's intended to compete with Trios and Blackberry phones and some of the higher-end music and multi-media phones.

But even compared to them, it's a little bit more expensive. Now, I believe this is only the first of a series of iPhones, and just as with the iPod - you know, you can now buy an iPod Shuffle for $79 - I believe you will see a range at difference prices. But for a while, for probably a year or two, this is going to be a premium, high-priced phone.

And while we're on that subject, Neal, let me just quickly mention there are a couple of other obvious downsides to this that have to be mentioned. One is the touch screen. Apple's invented this really interesting new way of using a touch screen. They have all kinds of patents on it, but it's still a touch screen. And for people who do a lot of e-mail on the phone and who would want to sit there typing, it is a - there are a lot of people who don't like typing on a virtual keyboard on a screen.

Now, I found it to be, in my very short time working with it, pretty good, but I don't know whether over the course of two or three weeks doing a lot of e-mail, it would annoy me or other users.

Secondly, there are a bunch of different cell-phone networks in this country, and even any one carrier, like Cingular, has a number of different speeds and networks. The iPhone in its first release is running on a relatively slow cell-phone network, not the fastest one that Cingular does offer, and that's going to be a disadvantage, particularly when you're paying a lot of money and you have a lot of Internet-type capability on the phone.

CONAN: Particularly on that last point, I can hear teeth gnashing across the country.

Mr. MOSSBERG: Yeah, absolutely right, and I believe, and I can't say why I believe this, but I believe Apple will upgrade these phones or - not the first ones they sell, but there will be follow-on iPhones that will work on the highest-speed network. But the iPhone that is coming on in June will be on something called Edge, which despite its edgy name, is actually a slow network.

It's somewhat mitigated by the fact that this phone also does Wi-Fi. We all know about Wi-Fi, and that's much faster. So if you're in a - say, a Starbucks or an airport or somewhere where there's a Wi-Fi connection, the phone will automatically switch that connection if you like, and you can get much faster speed.

But it would've been nicer if this thing came out on the fastest phone network available, and it didn't.

CONAN: Walt Mossberg is personal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Maggie(ph) on the line, Maggie calling us from Walnut Creek in California.

Mr. MOSSBERG: Hi, Maggie.

MAGGIE (Caller): Hi there. I am curious about, since Apple is going into the consumer electronics so much more, I am curious how that's going to impact its computer industry, both for business and the quality of the computer.

Mr. MOSSBERG: Well, Maggie may be referring to the fact that yesterday, at the end of his presentation, Steve Jobs announced that he's changing the name of the company from Apple Computer to just Apple. And here's the deal. Right now, most of their revenues still come from the Macintosh computer.

Although it has a very small market share, this is probably the most successful period in the history of the Macintosh. They are growing at four times the rate of the rest of the computer industry, and they're profitable, and you know, you can just ask around, look around at your friends and neighbors, you will see more people switching over than probably you have ever remembered.

Now that's still a very small share. It's 5 or 6 percent of the U.S. market. So Apple is not getting out of the Macintosh business, at least that's what they told me. They have new models coming, they continue to invest in it, but they are clearly, and this is what's so interesting about them as a company, they are the company that stands most successfully at the juncture between the computer industry and this new digital consumer electronics industry, which requires a lot of the skills and talent, including very good software, that exist in the computer industry. And they are making this kind of…

MAGGIE: So you don't think it'll impact the quality at all?

Mr. MOSSBERG: They're not going to - no, I don't think they're going to drop the Mac. There's no intention to drop the Mac that I can detect there at all. And as you know, Maggie, if you're a Mac user…

MAGGIE: I am.

Mr. MOSSBERG: There are, in fact, about to announce or have announced and about to bring out in the spring a massive new Mac operating system. So no, the answer to that is as far as I know - I mean, Steve Jobs can do, you know, bold things at any time - but as far as I know in my conversations with him and other officials there, they have every intention of continuing to do Macintosh computer.

CONAN: Maggie, thanks very much for the call.

MAGGIE: Thank you.

CONAN: And Walt Mossberg, before we let you go, you're actually in Las Vegas, not San Francisco. You're at the consumer electronics show. Some guy named Gates made a big speech there also. What was he talking about?

Mr. MOSSBERG: Well, you know, Bill Gates and Steve jobs obviously are rivals, and they've known each other for 30 years. And interestingly, they both were talking about very many of the same thing about mobility and wirelessness in terms of the phones. You know, Apple announced this thing called AppleTV, which is an effort to take your digital content from your computer through the Internet and put it on your TV.

Bill Gates talked about exactly the same thing. There will be Microsoft-based products that companies will bring out that do some of these things, and Bill Gates is in the cell phone, the smart phone, market. Apple, in effect, is now wading again into the competition with Microsoft because many of these smart phones are powered by Microsoft software.

So they're both aiming at the same targets, which is the digitalization of the home, the digitalization of the cell phone experience, and we're going to - you know, it's going to be Chapter 999 in the rivalry between Microsoft and Apple.

CONAN: Walt Mossberg, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it. And have a great time in Vegas.

Mr. MOSSBERG: Thank you. Take care.

CONAN: Walt Mossberg, personal technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal, joined us today by phone, cell phone, from the floor of the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. If you'd like to take a look at that new iPhone, you can do so at our Web site, npr.org. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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