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The iPhone Cometh

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The iPhone Cometh

Technology

The iPhone Cometh

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  • Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Just 51 hours 40 - 54 minutes left at least on the East Coast, that's when a few dedicated shoppers will finally get their hands on the new iPhone. The hype has been relentless. Fans call Apple's answer to the cell phone the Jesus Phone. And people are already on line outside of stores in New York City. Part iPod, part phone, part computer, the iPhone doesn't look like any cell phone you've seen before and it isn't priced like one either. For $500 and up, it will let you take and store photos, play movies and videos, surf the Web, check your e-mail, and, of course, there's still room for nearly a thousand songs. And maybe the biggest selling point, it looks very cool.

But do you need a gizmo that can do all of that? How much is too much? What happened to the phone that was, well, just a phone? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK.

We're going to focus first on the iPhone. So call now if you have questions about that. But then, we're going to discuss what do you want your cell phone to do? What do you wish it could do? E-mail us, talk@npr.org. You can also comment on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Later on in the program, our regular Wednesday visit with the political junkie. If you have questions about the new ads the candidates have of about the revival of the immigration bill, send us an e-mail. We're also going to talk with one of the reporters on the panel at a candidate's forum at Howard University tomorrow night. What question do you want them to be asked? E-mail us, talk@npr.org.

But first, what do you want a cell phone to do? And we begin with that iPhone and Ed Baig of USA Today, he's one of a handful of tech reviewers who actually had a chance to use the iPhone. He joins us now from our bureau in New York. Ed Baig, nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. ED BAIG (Columnist, USA Today): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And what's your verdict? Is it worth it?

Mr. BAIG: Okay. How about a qualified yes? No, actually, it's a terrific, terrific device. Is it worthy of the hype? Is it a Jesus phone? Is it going to, you know, cure cancer or, you know, solve global warming? No, it's not going to do that. It's still a cell phone and an iPod and an Internet device, but a really nice one.

CONAN: And the aspect of cool is not to be overlooked?

Mr. BAIG: Absolutely not. I mean there's something to be said for, you know, having the first - you know, being the first one on the block to have one.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BAIG: I can't tell you, once people knew I had it, you know, I felt like I had groupies. I've never been more popular in my life. It's remarkable.

CONAN: Well, one of the things that you and other reviewers have said is just fantastic about this new device is that video screen small as it is?

Mr. BAIG: It's a lovely screen. It really is. It's the best screen I have seen on a handheld device of this type. I mean, you know, movies that you sync through iTunes look terrific. Pictures, you know, still pictures look just great on this device. So is the screen, it's wonderful. I could - you know, the real test is trying it outdoors in the bright sun…

CONAN: Uh-huh.

Mr. BAIG: …and it even passed that test.

CONAN: Really? So you can actually…

Mr. BAIG: You could see it, I mean, yes, it gets a little washed out, but it's definitely better than most devices I've seen or if not all.

CONAN: Yeah. I have to sort of contort myself to find out what time it is on mine. A lot has been made of the fact that there is no separate keypad.

Mr. BAIG: Right.

CONAN: Is it tough to type?

Mr. BAIG: Definitely a learning curve. You know, I think Steve Jobs himself has said, give it a week. And I think that's a fair assessment. It - you know, I like to feel like I mastered it in three or four days. The idea is to kind of start with one finger, and then you can graduate to two thumbs. There's definitely a learning curve. But it is an intelligent keyboard, or keypad, depending upon what pops up when you need it.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BAIG: In that it actually can guess what you're going to type next, and it fixes mistakes on the fly. Maybe the toughest thing you have to do is actually to trust it. You know, resist making fixes in the middle of your thought, come back - you can come back later and do it if indeed you made a mistake. But it corrects a lot of your mistakes on the fly. But it - there's definitely a learning curve.

CONAN: And as you look at the various features of them, what worked well and what don't work so well?

Mr. BAIG: Well, it's a wonderful iPod. So I'd start with that. It's a widescreen iPod, no other iPod, at least to date, is a widescreen iPod, which is great, you know, for watching movies in the aspect ratio that the filmmaker had in mind, you know, the theatrical aspect ratio as they call it. So that looked great. I didn't miss the scroll wheel, virtual or otherwise. I thought I might, but I didn't. And instead, you use your fingers for really everything. You know, you tap to get to - you tap on icons to get to artists and songs and videos and so forth.

CONAN: And you pinch. What's this pinching?

CONAN: Well, it's just what it sounds like. You literally put your two - you know, my thumb and another finger on the screen, and you pinch to enlarge, let's say, a picture that's on the screen or make it smaller or move to things around. It's really kind of need stuff. And the other thing I was going to mention just quickly in the iPod is this thing called Cover Flow, which iPod users will probably know through their iTunes software, it's where you can quickly scroll through your albums by looking at them, actually, looking at the album covers. And you take a flick of the finger, and there go your album covers, and, ah, that's the one I want to hear you tap on. It brings up a track list, and there you go.

CONAN: Hmm. Now, you have written that there are some things that this can't do. For example, you cannot buy songs wirelessly over the air.

Mr. BAIG: Yeah, that surprised me a little bit. I mean this is a traditional iPod in that it's a tethered device through USB on to a PC or Mac. You connect it like any iPod to transfer your music and audio books and podcasts and what have you.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BAIG: I thought they might come out with something where you would do, you know, over the air purchases through the iTunes music store. I guess there's nothing that would stop them from doing that in the future. I think Apple - my sense of it is that Apple feels if it ain't broke don't fix it. The iTunes store model - it works really well. There's also some pricing issues. For example, another thing you can't do here, which I thought they might make available, is actually using your iTunes library for ring tones. You cannot do that right now.

So there are couple of things on the iPod site that I might have expected to see or would like to see in a future version.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. What about battery life? This is a big question for a lot of people.

Mr. BAIG: Right. It's doing okay in my very unscientific test. I mean I tried to use this like a real person uses it, you know, a little bit of video, listening to music, obviously making phone calls, the battery held up. I would charge it, say, the night before, which I would do with any cell phone anyway. And I got a full solid day's use out of it.

A couple of times, I purposely didn't charge it the night before to just see what would happen, and kind of by the end of the day, especially if I had done a lot of stuff on it, I started to get low-battery warnings, which started with about 20 percent of, well, 20 percent of battery juice left on down until you finally run the battery out.

I would have loved to have seen a removable battery here. But again, they followed the iPod model like the regular iPod, there's no removable battery. So ultimately, when it finally poops out, you'd have to go to Apple, or presumably some third party, get them to swap the battery for you.

CONAN: We're talking with Ed Baig of USA Today about the iPhone. And what is it exactly that you want your phone to do? If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Let's start with Esra(ph). Esra with us from Athens in Ohio.

ESRA (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi there.

ESRA: So I'm really excited about this new phone. One of the reasons I am is I'm - I've been a longtime Apple and Macintosh supporter, probably since I was about eight years old.

But for me, what makes it so great is the Wi-Fi capabilities. So you walk into a coffee shop and you don't have to pay your Internet service provider in order to surf on the Internet. I think that's pretty revolutionary in a handheld device.

And then I'm thinking, looking forward - I just purchased the new Apple laptop in the size of a camera to use video chat on. I'm imagining that in the future, you're going to see one of those cameras on an iPhone. So you walk into a (audio gap) and you'll look down at your screen, and then you can actually have a video chat with somebody.

The videophones that we see, you know, in the future and all of these future movies, it's going to be attainable within the next five years because of this device. I'm just wondering what you thought about the future implication of this.

CONAN: Dick Tracy two-way TV, wrist TVs. Yeah.

EZRA: Right. Exactly. Yeah.

MR. BAIG: Well, you know, it's interesting you bring both those things up. To take your former question about Wi-Fi. Yeah, there is Wi-Fi. And that's great. And Wi-Fi - it really comes in handy because, frankly, this runs on AT&T's EDGE network. And without getting too technical, there are - nowadays, there are so-called 3G or third generation networks that, you know, kind of give you something resembling wireless broadband. This ain't one of them.

This is a - the EDGE network is a pokier network, and coverage with that was very spotty. So if you're in an area where you have a Wi-Fi hotspot, it really, you know, it can be a lifesaver. So, I agree with you on that. As far as the camera, this is one of the areas where the camera that's on there, two megapixel camera, actually does not shoot video, which I thought, again, they might do, nor is there any instant messaging on there.

You mentioned iChat, I'm a little surprised that they didn't bring iChat there or even AOL or some other popular instant messaging programs. I would imagine it's a no-brainer that they'll get around to that. A lot of features on the iPhone can be upgraded from software. The network, unfortunately, is not one of those things that could be upgraded.

EZRA: Right.

MR. BAIG: So when they do get around to 3G, you'll have to buy a new phone. But presumably, they can add the instant messaging piece of it. Video, I suspect, would also require a new device.

EZRA: But do you think we'll ever see a videophone?

MR. BAIG: I wouldn't be surprised. I wouldn't be surprised. And I think if anybody will get that right, Apple would.

CONAN: Ezra, thanks very much for the call. And we'll be looking at you next time you call.

EZRA: Thanks a lot.

MR. BAIG: So long.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Tracy(ph) on the line. Tracy's with us from San Francisco.

TRACY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Tracy. You're on the air.

TRACY: Hi. I have a 3-year-old phone. I don't automatically go get new technology. And one of the things I like about it is that I carry it everywhere, and occasionally I drop it and it's fine. How sturdy is the iPhone for $500?

CONAN: Yeah. I mean, you got a free one, did you kick it around and bounced it, Ed Baig?

MR. BAIG: No. I was very careful. You know, these things are hard to come by, so I was overprotective I'd say. I actually have a 3-year-old daughter and a 5-month-old son, so if anybody is going to break technology they - well, I shouldn't blame it on them. I'd probably be the one to break it. Is it sturdy? I didn't step on it. I didn't drop it. I was careful. But like anything, you know, you got to watch out.

The screen itself has this protective glass. So while you'll get fingerprints on it, and it might smudge a little, it's easy to wipe away. And actually, I didn't find that bothersome at all. And Apple says it's scratch resistant. And in fact, well, in two weeks of having the phone, I haven't managed to scratch it. So in that sense, I think they've done a nice job. But, you know, durability is one of those things that we'll see over time.

CONAN: Tracy, good luck.

TRACY: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye. And you did say in your review that you found it a very handy device, light, easy to hold, easy to touch, easy to use.

MR. BAIG: Yeah. Yeah. It was surprisingly easy to use. Again, that virtual keyboard or keypad takes some getting used to. But - and I thought the camera was a little awkward to take pictures. But generally speaking, it was easier to use than I thought. You know, this is maybe the only cell phone out there that doesn't have a physical keyboard or keypad. And I was worried about that. You know, I like to have the tactile feel of making calls.

CONAN: Yeah.

MR. BAIG: But I was able to make calls quite easily, even when I, you know, had to dial the virtual keypad, it really was pretty easy. I didn't make any mistakes.

CONAN: So, it's a pretty a good phone, too. Amazing. How about that?

MR. BAIG: It's a pretty good phone.

CONAN: Ed Baig, thanks very much for your time.

MR. BAIG: Sure.

CONAN: Ed Baig writes the "Personal Tech" column for USA Today. He joined us from our bureau in New York. More on what do you want cell phones to do after we come back. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Here are some emails we've received. This from Sophie(ph) in San Jose. I want my cell phone just to be comfortable to use as a phone. I don't need any of those features that are offered now. It's actually quite annoying that it's impossible to find a simple phone on the market now.

And this one from Don(ph) in Northern California, I'm 62 years old. My eyesight never good, it's getting worse. I have a little hearing loss. Here's what I want from a phone: big letters and numerals so I can read them, volume control that allows me to turn it up enough so that I can hear it over background noise, voicemail for miscalls, since I live in an area with scanty coverage, I want a phone that can pick up the weakest signals, and I don't care about text messaging, e-mail, photos, music-playing capability.

So what do you want in a cell phone as the new iPhone gets all the attention this week? What do you want yours to be able to do? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, e-mail us talk@npr.org. And you can read whatever listeners have to say at our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Joining us now is Declan McCullagh, a correspondent for CNET News.com. He's with us from the studios at CNET in San Francisco. And, Declan, nice to talk to you again.

Mr. DECLAN McCULLAGH (Correspondent, CNET News.com): Why, hello there.

CONAN: Hi there. And while the iPhone is new and looks very different, it's not the first phone that can do most of these things, is it?

Mr. McCULLAGH: It isn't. It's one of the first phones to, sort of, put everything together and slap a gorgeous user interface on it. But independently, a lot of these features have been out there before.

CONAN: And, so therefore, I mean, when manufacturers look at this devices, they seem to be getting more and more complicated all the time. Does anybody still manufacture something that just makes phone calls?

Mr. McCULLAGH: You'll get something for, you know, a few dollars at your local AT&T or Verizon store, it would be included if you sign up for a plan. They're pretty simple phones, they don't have a whole lot of the high-end devices. But nowadays, manufacturers are just - they've got the sort of - in computer science, the term is feeping creaturitis, right? Or - you get the idea.

CONAN: I think I get the idea.

Mr. McCULLAGH: There are features that keep on growing. It's sort of like Microsoft Word. New things are going to be in there in every version even if you don't need them.

CONAN: Even if we don't need them. Or in fact, if we don't - I mean, does customer research suggest that people actually want all of these things? I mean, I'm one of those people whose VCRs still blinks 12. I still have a VCR.

Mr. McCULLAGH: You still have a…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McCULLAGH: People want a good phone that is reliable, that has good battery life. That has features like a camera. There is one downside of all of these phones that we've seen so far, almost all of them is that tying everything together hasn't happened that well. And so, Apple says that the iPhone is the first of a new generation. And, you know, well, sales will tell, but they might have a point.

CONAN: All right, let's see if we get some more listeners on the line. If you'd like to join me and Declan McCullagh in our conversation about what we want our phones to be able to do, give us a call. 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org. Mike(ph) is on the line. Mike, calling us from Oklahoma City.

MIKE (Caller): Hi there, yes.

CONAN: Hi.

MIKE: I'm calling from a Cingular 8125, which for me, that's everything I need in a phone. It also connects to the internet. I can put music on it, I can write - it has the same, all of the same functions as a pocket PC, so I can use the Palm Graffiti, take notes in a meeting, have that indoor work document. I can use this phone as a cellular modem on my laptop. It does more than the iPhone, and I've had it and using it great for months now.

CONAN: I keep expecting, Declan, somebody to tell us it folds his laundry, too.

MIKE: No, unfortunately not.

CONAN: He's right. That model and others, I gather, can do just about everything the iPhone does. What do you think is - Apple says this is revolutionary device? What makes it so special, Declan?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Well, let's answer the question by looking at the downside -downsides. You can't use songs as ring tones, it doesn't have instant messaging, it doesn't have video recording, it doesn't have voice recognition, you say what…

CONAN: Mm-hmm, doesn't have GPS.

Mr. McCULLAGH: …person you want to call from the phonebook. Doesn't have GPS. It doesn't have a stereo Bluetooth output. It doesn't have 3G, a fast interface for wireless connectivity when you're not using Wi-Fi. So, you can go through all of these downsides and say, well, why would someone buy it? I think the answer is the interface. I want my mother who's a bit of a technophobe to get this thing so then she can finally do mobile computing on a robe. Like look up addresses, directions, things like that. And so, people said the same thing about the iPod way back when, oh, who would ever want this? It doesn't do all these things that the existing mp3 players did and, well, the rest is history.

CONAN: So, Mike, it doesn't sound like you're online at the Apple store.

MIKE: No, not really. Although, I do have both my home and work e-mail synchronizing on a schedule to this phone, it also has a camera that will take video. It is on the EDGE network, not the G3 network, that's the upgrade I didn't want to pay for.

CONAN: At least you had a choice. You don't get one with the iPhone, at least, not yet anyway. Mike…

MIKE: I've been able to…

CONAN: Go ahead.

MIKE: I've been able to hand this phone - I hand the phone to my son, I hand the phone to different teenagers, they always pop out the keyboard and they're able to check their MySpace and check whatever. Do instant messaging. I tend to just stick with the Palm Graffiti, because I've been using Palm since about 2000. But it's the thing, the last point, though - to make though, is I also work for a hospital network here in Oklahoma and the thing that all the doctors want, they don't even want the what I have. They all want BlackBerry.

CONAN: Hmm. All right. Mike, thanks very much.

MIKE: All right, thanks.

CONAN: So long. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Mark(ph). Mark with us from Minneapolis.

MARK (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

MARK: I'm a pediatrician in Minneapolis. I'm also interested in the Palm features. As a doctor, I use the medical database as I carry on medical textbooks. And my Palm, which I'd…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MARK (Caller): …much rather have on my phone, as well as prescription databases, and, you know, as well as the other Palm features that maybe you can do with the Apple thing, such as this thing(ph), you know, maintaining a, you know, address book and…

CONAN: Yeah, sure.

MARK: …all of that. I just wish that Apple and Palm could get together on them.

CONAN: These are like fantasy baseball trades, Declan McCullagh.

MARK: Maybe so.

Mr. McCULLAGH: There is - there are a lot of applications out there for the Palm that I - and I've had one as well - a Palm that is - that are just aren't out there in other platforms. And so, this is a problem with getting - sort of two-fold. First, getting enough developers interested in making similar applications or bringing over the Palm applications and Apple has to do that. The second problem is that some of the applications need access to the iPhone's innards, the guts if you will, and Apple, so far, has been very reluctant to open up the iPhone enough to allow those Palm applications to be ported over.

CONAN: Hmm.

MARK: I just wish they do it. I carry around a pager, a Palm and a cell phone now, and I just love to have one device at some point.

CONAN: Maybe in a little chip that's inserted in your neck.

MARK: I'd go for it.

CONAN: All right. Mark, thanks very much and good luck.

MARK: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. Let's go to Bobbie(ph). Bobbie's with us from Detroit.

BOBBIE: Hi. How are you guys doing?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Hi.

CONAN: Oh, good.

BOBBIE: Yeah, I have the Cingular 8525, a guy was on about the 8125, and I do have that 3G, but again, I just - I don't see what the big deal is about for the Apple…

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

BOBBIE: …because it's like, I got this purposely so I wouldn't have to have a separate music device and movie device, and a phone, and a pager, and it surfs the Internet, and it does that videos, and it takes pictures, and you can even put pictures that you get and take with your phone on it, you know, because it synchs so well. I mean I am a tech geek, so I like being able to do everything. But there's no new features that I'm aware of on the Apple phone that I don't already have on my current. I just wish my phone was cuter.

CONAN: And we maybe getting to it right there, but go ahead, Declan.

Mr. McCULLAGH: You know, the caller's right. The Cingular 8125 is a very handsome phone, at least it's now about a year and a half old. So for it's time it was really great. It has a lot of things that the iPhone does, and it has an expandable memory slot. It has - so you can add gigabytes of storage if you want. It has a keyboard, things like that.

BOBBIE: Yes. Yes, two gigs in memory and I have the 8525, so they had a newer one since the 81.

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. McCULLAGH: But I think people are going to still, I mean, they're lining up for the iPhone. We've been writing stories on crave.cnet.com about it with photos. They're doing this because they believe that this is a phone that ties everything together and doesn't, or does - and doesn't have sort of the clunky Windows interface that the Cingular 8125 does.

CONAN: And it has that - what everybody says, is that marvelous screen.

BOBBIE: Yeah, perhaps the screen is the big thing. I don't know, I don't know. Is it HD or something? Does it have - I don't know.

CONAN: I don't think so. I don't think it, I don't think it shows anything in cinemascope.

Mr. McCULLAGH: No, it doesn't.

CONAN: Well, we'll await your verdict on the new iPhone when you get a chance to see it, Bobbie.

BOBBIE: Okay, thanks.

CONAN: Thanks for the call.

BOBBIE: Bye.

CONAN: This is from Pavo(ph). I threw away my last cell phone three years ago and I've been in a cell phone celibacy ever since. It might not last forever, tough. I'm excited about the iPhone, but I'm afraid it might be too early to go for one. Isn't it better to wait for half a year or more so that all the bugs get worked out? How long should I wait and when's the right time to go for it?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Oh, now that's a good question. There is a long-standing rule of thumb in the software business. Don't buy version 1.0 of a new version of an operating system or word processor, or something like that, just because it is buggy. There's - Apple has tried to get around that by first, they're not reinventing the cell phone, as much as I'd like to say it. They are building on 10 to 20 years of cell phone development. So it's not really 1.0 in a traditional sense.

The second thing is that this is going to be software upgradeable. And it's going to be easy to upgrade because you just sync it with iTunes. And so even if there are bugs in the first version, if they're not hardware bugs, if they're software bugs, then it's just a matter of slapping that thing in the dot, clicking update and you should be set. If you want to wait, the reasons to wait would be things like 3G wireless, maybe Stereo Bluetooth. Things that are hardware-based and can't be updated through iTunes.

CONAN: Now, for those of us still in an analog world, what's 3G wireless?

Mr. McCULLAGH: It's - they're two ways you can access the Internet with the iPhone. The first is with a Wi-Fi connection. It works just like your laptop when you take it to a coffee shop or something like that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. McCULLAGH: And the speeds are comparable. The second way is with Cingular's EDGE network. And that is not as fast. It sometimes called 2.5G Network. And it's not as fast as some people would like it to be. And so if you really need that and you're desperate to have that, so you can do things like browse Web pages faster, download video, then probably wait for the second version.

CONAN: So the G stands for generation?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Yes.

CONAN: All right. We've solved the problem. Anyway, let's see if wan get another caller on the line. This is Jennifer(ph). Jennifer with us from Greensborough, North Carolina.

JENNIFER (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

JENNIFER: I am one of those people that just wants to make a clear phone call. I went on a little rant yesterday, because this is just a really timely subject. I had one of those awkward cell phone calls. See, my manager, where I'm talking and I'm not sure if he's still there, I'm checking in, are you there? The phone got cut off. You call me back. I'm calling him back. I'll trade it every little bell and whistle feature to have a phone that doesn't drop calls and has the clarity of a landline.

CONAN: Hmm.

JENNIFER: I'll get back to the phone in a bag. You know, the old phones.

CONAN: Yeah. The brick.

JENNIFER: I mean, why not? They have great quality of sound. And I have the network that supposedly has the fewest drop calls in the nation…

CONAN: I think they advertise that on TV. Yeah.

JENNIFER: They do. And it's been just a little bit of a problem. But, you know, if there's an important call, a serious call, I'll tell people call me on the landline so I can hear you.

CONAN: Right. And certainly, Jennifer is not alone. Declan McCullagh, and the iPhone, you're not only buying the phone, you're buying AT&T.

Mr. McCULLAGH: That's right. And so a lot of the issues dealing with wireless and voice are really outside of Apple's control. I mean they're partner with AT&T. And so the quality of the voice communications and the data communications when you're not using Wi-Fi is as good as AT&T's network. Of course, I mean, use a landline for anything important.

But the argument on behalf of the cell phone providers - which are often maligned and I do it, too, when my calls are dropped - is that we've become so much more demanding. We used to be okay with just having cell phone connectivity in major cities. And now, we want it when we're in the countryside, rural areas, the beach. And so it takes a lot of work to build all of these towers. I mean, they spend billions of dollars on it and they're just not there yet.

CONAN: Jennifer, we wish you good luck and we sympathize with you.

JENNIFER: Well, thank you so much.

CONAN: I appreciate the call. We're talking about what you want in a cell phone. Give us a call, 800-989-8255.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go to - this is Ryan(ph). Ryan with us from Sacramento.

RYAN: Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

RYAN: Is this Neal?

CONAN: Yes, it is. Go ahead please.

RYAN: Hi, Neal. So no technology, in my opinion, you know, has ever increased the accessibility more than the telephone and get it. It can be very obtrusive. So what I was thinking is I'd really like to see a cell phone have a schedule sort of function that you could program in your school schedule or your work schedule ahead of time, and then it knows to turn itself on silent during those times and it turns itself back off of silent afterwards.

CONAN: That's sounds like a handy-dandy thought there, Declan.

Mr. McCULLAGH: I love that idea. And this is something that can be done with software trivially as long as Apple opens up the interface enough to let that thing happen. I mean, the reason you can do all these wonderful things that computers can do is that Apple and Microsoft make these things possible by letting programmers get under the hood. But if they keep it closed, you're not going to see that kind of software until Apple, maybe in five or 10 years, decides to make it possible.

CONAN: Hmm. Great suggestion, Ryan. Patent the device and then call us back when you're a billionaire.

RYAN: Thanks.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much. What about video and audio streaming? Is that going to be possible on these phones?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Well, this is - it's limited by technology. Right now, even 3G networks are not as fast as DSL. The performance can suffer when a lot of people are using them, that kind of thing. And so we're probably going to have to wait a few years until you can get good quality, reliable streaming video.

Audio, on the other hand, takes a lot less space. I mean, you get audio and you listen to a phone call.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DECLAN: And so it takes much less bandwidth. And that's something that I hope to see happen pretty soon. But video, good quality, still a few years off.

CONAN: Let's get one last caller in. This is Bill(ph). Bill with us from Excelsior Springs.

BILL (Caller): Yeah. I was kind of interested in these phones. I'd like to see it to where we can talk all over the world and not have our home phones all the time. Other countries are already doing it. My wife's brother is in Thailand. And he calls us all the time. It comes in very clear and everything. And I don't see why we just don't go ahead and use it. We don't need all these towers all over the country when we got satellites in the air.

CONAN: Hmm. Well, it's different technologies. But Declan McCullagh, are we going to get around - is this going to mean the beginning of the end for landlines, which I guess are beginning to end already.

BILL: I think that's already beginning. And…

CONAN: Yeah. Yeah. Declan?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Oh, it is beginning to happen. But in terms of satellite phones, I - one of my more embarrassing moments was writing a cover story when I was at TIME magazine about 10 years ago saying the age of satellite phones is dawning, and I was really enthusiastic. And it turns out that that didn't exactly happen, that companies went bankrupt and so on.

You can still get satellite phones. They're about $500 and about $1 a minute -Global Star is one, Iridium is the other. But the downside with satellite phones is that they have to be larger, the transmitter has to reach a low Earth orbit satellite. And the second thing is you have to be on a rooftop or outside away from trees. So, yeah, that's not going to really happen right now. We're still stuck with mobile terrestrial phones.

CONAN: Declan McCullagh, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Thank you.

CONAN: Declan McCullagh, a correspondent for CNET NEWS.com and he joined us from the studios there at CNET in San Francisco. When we come back, the political junkie. Today, new campaign ads and new life for immigration and the Lugar's speech on Iraq. You can give us a call now. 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org. This is NPR News.

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