The Futurist: Reading The Apple Tea Leaves or… What the iPhone Tells Us About The Future

From my absentee perch, the best I can gather is that CES this year seems a bit… underwhelming, shall we say? Chock-full of evolutions, this year´s gala seems notably free of true revolutions. Of course, the biggest bomb came from newly-rechristened Apple, Inc., where the they-finally-did-it iPhone is lurking just over the horizon.

Within this device lies a number of clues as to Apple´s grand schemes around the corner, and a couple of key clues into the ever-mysterious decision making process of Jobs and Co.

Click the jump to see what we can learn from the iPhone, and what´s next from Apple…


It may not be the MIA touchscreen ¨True Video iPod¨ that we´ve been promised for so long. Nope, it´s even better. A multi-input touchscreen (non-geeks may not realize just how difficult that is to pull off) and a video-capable 3.5-inch widescreen super-high-res display makes the iPhone one 60-gig hard drive away from fulfilling all our video iPod fantasies. Pack on enough stowage for a season of 24 and we´re set. The bottom line: This IS the mysterious Video iPod, or will be once it gets some serious storage.


Prognosticators such as myself had long worried that Apple would cripple whatever it threw into the mobile market in order to keep it from cannibalizing its iPod-proper sales (just look at that insulting 100-song limit they imposed on the Motorola ROKR.) Apple didn´t, and they likely aren´t fretting about any dips in DAP sales that their phone might usher. The reason: price.

The rumor mill has been spinning that Apple laid down the law to their carriers (for now just a very happy Cingular) not to subsidize the cost of the phone, as is standard practice in these parts. The obvious reason for this is Apple´s desire to keep up the appearance of a premium, luxury product (Sony took a similar tactic with their infamous price-setting scandals of decades past.) However, the REAL reason Apple doesn´t want Cingular chopping a few zeros off their phone´s price is that doing so would likely knock the price of the product under the price of an iPod. As long as the iPhone costs more than an iPod, Apple has nothing to lose from any product cannibalization. If any consumer chooses not to buy a regular iPod because they have an iPhone, Apple will smile all the way to the bank, having made even more money off the sale.


Of course, I haven´t had a chance to play with this sucker yet, but I am guessing that whatever stripped-down version of OS X Apple stuffed onto it is far nicer than the hated Windows Mobile 5 —it´s impossible to imagine Apple would allow such a shoddy, freezing-prone product on the shelves. With Windows Mobile fast becoming the dominant mobile OS, we should all be delighted to see a hopefully-superior product to relegate WM5 to the bins of bad memories if Microsoft doesn´t clean up its act and give us something we can use.


Next up, maybe even as soon as holiday season 2007, will likely be a stripped-down ¨iPhone Nano.¨ A smaller form factor, smaller price, and maybe only a gig or two of music (expandable by some sort of memory card) will likely be a grand slam for the mass market. Of course, lower prices mean lower profits, so that´ll have to wait until after the early adopters drop 600 bones on the iPhone.


A high-up source at a non-Apple cell phone company recently told me he utilizes a hack on his smartphone to disable its 3G capabilities–the added juice just sucks up too much battery to be worthwhile. Considering the intense music and movie demands that most consumers are going to be placing on their iPhones, it is my guess that Apple made a conscience decision that throwing 3G on it would result in a lot of people complaining about how fast their battery drains, while only minimally utilizing the high-speed network. The math is simple: HSDPA + constant music usage + occasional video playing = piss-poor battery life. Even if you could disable the HSDPA, a lot of people wouldn’t be wise enough to, and the product would probably develop a reputation for poor battery life. And, as Apple knows very well, reputation is everything in this business. Besides, it gives us something to look forward to for the next generation.

Seth Porges writes on future technology and its role in personal electronics for his column, The Futurist. It appears every Thursday and an archive of past columns is available here.