- 13 Jan 08, 16:18 GMT
‘”Do you know why this industry keeps failing to understand what consumers want?”, a mobile phone company executive asked me recently. ”Because none of us in the business pays our own phone bills.” The same could be said for many of the journalists who review the latest handsets – so I tried an experiment. I bought Apple’s iPhone, for a hefty £269, and spent the last four weeks playing with it – and paying for it – at home, and abroad.
Here are my thoughts:
First, the upside. As a mobile internet device it is simply the best I’ve ever tried, especially when connected to a wi-fi network. This morning I googled chart hits from the 70s, watched a few on YouTube, then downloaded tracks from iTunes as I lay in bed compiling a CD for a forthcoming party. And it was all very fast.
Special sites designed for iPhone make it easy to use, such as Facebook, Twitter or – my personal favourite – access to BBC podcasts on the move.
Away from wi-fi, it can be a bit of a struggle – the EDGE network is rather patchy even in London – but checking news feeds is still a lot easier than on 3g phones I’ve used.
While my £35 per month tariff only offers 200 minutes of calls, it does allow me unlimited data, and I chewed my way through a hefty 72 MB in just three weeks. But then I headed to the United States – and my problems started.
I had already read horror stories about the price of using an iPhone abroad – the editor of Wired took his to China and got a bill for $2,100 for checking his email. So I turned off data roaming – and immediately found that what I was left with was a not very smart phone.
Without the internet, you can just call and text - and these are the phone’s weakest areas. Just answering calls – you have to slide a finger across the screen – is a challenge, and I’ve not yet mastered one-thumb texting on the touchscreen. The camera is okay – for 2 megapixels – but make sure your subject is well lit and not moving. And I'm beginning to find video capture essential on a phone.
Things might have been better if there had been more – and cheaper – wi-fi in Las Vegas. The only time I managed to get online was while listening to a speech in the Las Vegas Hilton theatre, and I was soon surfing and sending pictures home.
I did turn on data roaming once – to use Google Maps to find a shop in the search for a present for my wife. I then worked out that the 300k of data involved in one search had cost me £2. Still, when you’re spending £10 on a tee-shirt, what’s another £2?
Back home, I found that just six days of calls had cost me £80, on top of my £35 monthly payment. On a couple of occasions I had tried using a Voip service offering cheap calls – but of course that involves going online and racking up extra data charges.
So what do I want to hear about iPhone from Steve Jobs in his Macworld keynote on Tuesday? Yes, I’d like a better camera, video capture, 3g, and one button to press to answer calls. But most of all I’d like a cheaper way of using my iPhone abroad. Given the way this global industry works to punish consumers who stray outside their own borders, I’d imagine that’s highly unlikely/
Clearly, my appetite for web browsing on the iPhone is shared by others. According to this New York Times story the iPhone is already one of the most popular devices on which to browse the web while mobile.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites