NY Times, Rumor Site: Mighty NYT Speculates About iPhone

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Date: Monday, August 19th, 2002, 08:41
Category: Archive

Will Apple be confiscating the New York Times’ press pass for Macworld? The Times today speculates that Apple may be working on an iPhone — and they have some heavy-hitting analysts to back them up. (Thanks, Christopher!) What’s amazing about this story is that the rumor is essentially a repackaging of the oldest Apple rumor in history (verging on being the longest-running, Cats-style computer rumor ever): the tired, old Apple PDA rumor.

There’s little new evidence in this article that most of us don’t already know: iPod software maker Pixo being included in a license for an unspecified second product, iPod features like a PDA, Bluetooth/iCal/iSync features in OS X 10.2, and so on. It’s certainly enough to get Apple PDA dreamers salivating.

But, we’ve been down this road many times before. Some parts of the article seem to ignore history. Apple under Jobs has been conservative about entering new markets where it could lose money, partly because the Jobs regime doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the spread-too-thin early 90s under Sculley. (Though the article does ignore overpriced, underperforming computers and the CEOs apparent boredom with the business as helping contribute to Jobs’ predecessor’s downfall.) iPhoto and iMovie didn’t compel Apple to make its own digital cameras. True, just as the MP3 market lacked a killer hardware device before the iPod, the super PDA/phone market lacks a mature device. But with iPod, Apple had a simple solution, whereas other technologies might need to mature for an iPhone to recoup development costs and be offered at a reasonable price.

In fact, if you look at the software in iSync, Apple may have again taken its preferred digital hub strategy: write software to make hardware more useful, sell more high-profit margin computers and leave the risky consumer devices business to someone else. In the case of the iPod, devices weren’t available that could keep up with Apple’s vision for iTunes synchronization. But iSync is designed to work with the iPod, Palm and Handspring devices (including Handspring’s own phone-PDA Treos), and Bluetooth Sony Ericsson phones. Apple’s getting awfully cosy with Sony Ericsson, once an extremely Mac-unfriendly company.

Now, of course, I’m happy to be proven wrong and have Apple come up with a brilliant phone/PDA that changes the way we think about these devices and gives us elegance in design we’d never dreamed of before. That may well happen when the market and the technology conditions are right: and why wouldn’t Apple get a two-device license with Pixo, just to be ready? But any Apple handicapping has to be on farther in the future, not sooner — even if Jobs himself wants a product. Remember, many internal product investigations at Apple wind up being shelved. The iPhone is probably inevitable in the end, but timing is everything. Mac websites have learned to play the waiting game. Now the New York Times may learn. And, um, if I’m wrong, a shiny new iPhone will probably ease the pain.

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