As the release date nears for the long-awaited Apple iPhone, analysts are split over whether the first-generation mobile phone and MP3 player can satisfy the expectations set by the computer maker's marketing machine.
Along with delivering innovative design, Steve Jobs and Co. has few equals in building a buzz around a new product. As a result, the iPhone, which Apple said Monday it would release June 29, is the most highly anticipated consumer electronic product so far this year.
But as a first-generation product, and the first mobile phone for Apple, the iPhone could have bugs in any of a number of areas, such as the touch screen, which is unique for such a device; battery life; call quality; and software stability. A serious problem could lead to negative publicity on the many Web blogs dedicated to Apple products and cause consumers to run for the hills, particularly since the phone will cost either $500 or $600, depending on the memory configuration. That's considerably more than smartphones that can be bought through wireless carriers at a subsidized price.
Michael Gartenberg, analyst for JupiterResearch, acknowledged that no device is perfect but said he expects Apple to deliver a satisfactory phone. "The level of functionality and quality that they deliver is going to be sufficient for first-generation buyers," Gartenberg said.
The iPhone has been under development for years, and Apple has a track record of delivering decent new products. "Unless there's some catastrophic bug that totally escapes Apple when they release the product, I don't think they're overreaching" with the marketing, Gartenberg said.
Samir Bhavnani, analyst for Current Analysis West, agreed, saying Apple gave itself six months to work out any kinks. The company introduced the product in January at Macworld in San Francisco, which marked the start of Apple's turbo-charged marketing engine.
"My independent, objective opinion is, yes there's a possibility that the bar may have been set too high," Bhavnani said. "But my experience with Apple is that it will deliver as advertised."
On the side of the skeptics, however, was Rob Enderle, analyst for the Enderle Group. "It's way out of line with what the phone is going to do," Enderle said of the hype. "This is not a great phone. It's an interesting design."
Despite its ability to play music and video, the iPhone is still a phone at its core, and its use of a touch screen could prove problematic, Enderle said. Touch screens are not known to be very good at text message or dialing.
Also, the iPhone ships with a rechargeable, lithium-ion battery that can't be replaced. Such batteries often fail after being recharged about 300 times. If a person recharges their phone every day, then that amounts to less than a year of use, Enderle said. "The battery life just drops off dramatically [with recharging], and you can't replace it."
Other potential negatives include the size of the iPhone, which is larger than many smartphones, and, of course, the high cost. Enderle, however, expects Apple to release the second version of the iPhone quickly to correct any problems, which was the same strategy the company used in releasing the iPod in 2001.
Nevertheless, like any other device, the general rule of not buying first-generation products applied to the iPhone, Enderle said. "You don't want them to learn from you."