June 26, 2007 -- TENS of thousands of people are expected to line up this Friday for themost hyped gadget of the decade - the iPhone.
Don't be one of them.
Oh, it's a technological marvel. But Apple's all-in-one handheld isn't the best cellphone - or even the best iPhone - that will be sold in the next year.
The iPhone crams so many different features into its slightly bulky form that it can only excel at one, and compromise on the rest. After spending some time, albeit briefly, with the iPhone, it's clear to me that Internet and e-mail are the parts that suffered.
The Web browser has fancy zoom and pan features that let you drag and pinch the screen with your fingers. The iPhone I tested performed those tasks well, and it's sexy to flick your digits instead of pressing too-tiny keys.
But the reality is that the iPhone has a very small screen compared to even the tiniest laptop. You can't read much of an article on a Web page without panning back and forth across. This is true of word-processing, too; at a size comfortable enough to read, you can't see either the full length or width of a document.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs was right when he said it's the best iPod the company has ever made. The screen quality is fantastic, and the movies pivot automatically as you rotate the phone.
But it's not an iPod. It's a $500 or $600 communicator that requires a two-year calling commitment. Monthly charges haven't been announced, but judging by comparable offerings from AT&T and other carriers, it should run you at least $50 per month in voice service and $40 per month in data service. That adds more than $2,000 to the iPhone's price tag over two years even before buying music or movies!
Consider also that Apple engineers already are hard at work on iPhone 2.0.
Modern cell networks use third-generation (3G) standards that are five to 20 times faster than that in the iPhone. Jobs said the chips to make a 3G iPhone weren't available when they designed the iPhone; but they are now, and are in some competitors' less-featured but faster phones.
It also skimps on storage. The $600 iPhone comes with 8 gigabytes of storage, enough for 2,000 songs or 16 episodes of "Heroes." A $250 video iPod can handle 7,500 songs or about 25 hours of movies.
You can bet that iPhone 2.0, probably available within the next year, will be faster and have more storage - probably for the same price.
Tech geeks and some business travelers will wait in line Friday (or pay someone else). You should wait for the next version.
Glenn Fleishman writes a column called "Practical Macintosh" from his Seattle home.