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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

iPhone Review Concluded: Memo to Motorola…Whatever You’re Working on, Stop.

It just so happens I started my business the same week in 1994 that Marc Andreesson and Jim Clark incorporated Mosaic Communications. Mosaic was Netscape’s predecessor. Netscape introduced the Netscape web browser, which, believe or not, kids, didn’t exist back then.

Hard as it is to fathom in today’s highly connected world, there was no Netscape browser, no Internet Explorer, no Google and no broadband.

Information moved by telephone, FedEx and faxes.

And while at the time it all seemed terrifically fast-paced and modern, in retrospect it was unbelievably primitive compared to today. Yet I have to confess to not being a technology geek, or even an early-adopter.

I’m more of a mid-to-late adopter—and a very cautious one at that.

I don’t switch to new stuff as soon as it comes out just because it’s new: it has to work right. Otherwise, cool new stuff just gets in the way of what I’m already doing.

I still, for example, have the same cell phone number I’ve had since I got my first phone at Verizon. On the road, I still use a terribly clunky T-Mobile “Sidekick” internet device because it does instant messaging as if I’m sitting at my desk—and I run my business on instant messaging as well as email.

And I confess here that it took me four years to get an iPod—and then only because my daughters decided it was time to get me with the program and used their hard-earned dollars to buy one as a birthday present.

I switch to new technology only when I know it will work better than what I already have. And new stuff never works the way what you already have works. It takes one or two or three generations to work out the kinks.

Take the iPhone. I hate to say it, but the iPhone doesn’t really work better than what I already use.

Sure, it’s a gorgeous piece of metal and plastic that feels good in your hands. And, yes, the screen is beautiful: you can’t take your eyes off it when there’s a video playing.

And unlike most new-new things that come along, it’s really a piece of cake to figure out. Activating the thing took all of three minutes. I spent the next two hours going through all the different features and never once looked around for an instruction book.

Those iPhone TV ads that show the fingers flicking across the screen, moving stuff around, expanding and shrinking web pages? It really does work like that. The whole thing is sort of magical, actually.

Also, as a pure cell phone, it certainly beats the heck out of my Verizon LG hunk of plastic.

There’s no endless button-pushing to find a phone number: you just scroll with your finger, tap the number you want, and boom, it’s dialing.

Voice mail is even better. As everybody who cares already knows from reading the iPhone reviews, voice mail is “visual”: it shows up like email. You scroll through it with your finger, tap the one you want to hear, and listen.

No dialing into your voice mail and listening to that stupid synthetic voice:

“Please enter your password, then press POUND…I’m sorry, that password is not valid. Please enter your password, then press POUND…I’m sorry, I already told you, that password is not valid…” (I don’t know about you, but I usually hit the wrong buttons a couple of times.)

“You have…TWO…new voice messages…you have FOUR saved voice messages….you have THREE messages that we deleted without telling you…you have FOURTEEN messages just floating around the system…I’m sorry, did you WANT to do something PRODUCTIVE or would you rather LISTEN to more INANE statistics about your VOICE MAIL before we actually ALLOW YOU to LISTEN to your VOICE MAIL?…”

Text-messaging? No problem, once you get used to typing on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard that everybody who hasn’t got an iPhone seems to hate. (You do get used to it—the worst part is the first day or two when you’re typing user names and passwords for web subscriptions, because that’s when the character-recognition technology, which works great in normal sentences, can’t help you.)

And once you do get used to the virtual keyboard, you don’t miss those goofy old-fashioned telephone-type keypads where you have to click each button up to three times just to type one letter…then squint real hard to see whether the “k” you were trying to type is not actually an “l” or a “j”…then click the button again two or three or (if you’re like me) six or seven times, to get the right letter to get the right letter to get the right letter to get the right letter to get the right letter…

Just setting the alarm clock on the iPhone—here I’m picking an entirely mundane feature, I know—is fun. You touch the clock icon, the alarm clock button and the “edit” button, and up pops a virtual alarm clock with rolling counters, like the numbers on a bicycle lock.

You just start flicking the rolling counters to whatever time you want, and that’s it.

Changing the alarm clock on my Verizon LG hunk of plastic, on the other hand, takes nine clicks just to get going.

I am not making that up:

Click “OK.” Scroll past “Contacts” and “Recent Calls” to “Settings & Tools.” Scroll down to “Tools.” Click “Tools.” Scroll down past “Voice Commands” and “Calendar” to “Alarm Clock.” Click “Alarm Clock” Click “OK” for the first alarm. Nine clicks of the button and I still haven’t actually set the time yet. That takes another three buttons to change and set.

Oh—and the numbers on the iPhone alarm clock are big enough to actually see without squinting and holding the phone in a lightless cave.

There is, of course, a great deal more to the iPhone than the screen, the visual voicemail, the text messaging and even the alarm clock. So much more that my advice to Motorola, in brief, is this: Whatever you are working on, stop.

Whatever this-looks-cool-in-the-lab tinkering your engineers are doing to the latest versions of the RAZR or KRZR or any other embarrassingly un-cool acronym—however “hip” and “with it” and “gnarly” and “boss” you might think those new features could be—you should just forget what they’re doing, tell your engineers and marketing people to go buy a bunch of iPhones and play with them for a while, and start over.

I give this advice with as much sincerity as we here at NotMakingThisUp featured Dell’s terrible service problems well ahead of that company’s fall from Wall Street’s graces (see Dell Screws Up a Good Thing, January 24, 2006), and, likewise, described the empty lines at Home Depot stores across America more than a year before that company’s Board of Directors woke up to the fact that Bob Nardelli’s military-infused operational efficiency initiatives were systemically denuding the stores of customers (Tough as Nails or Merely ‘Bobaganda’?, February 26, 2006).

I honestly believe Motorola—and any other cell phone manufacturer that wants to stay in the business of making cell phones, for that matter—should stop what they’re doing, figure out this iPhone thing, and try to create something entirely new.

The iPhone is to a RAZR what color television was to black-and-white TV, and we all know what happened to black-and-white TVs.

A teenage friend of our daughters who merely looked at a video on the iPhone screen said, “I hate my phone.”

Which brings me to what I think may be the unheralded genius of the iPhone—the feature that, like Solitaire on Windows, makes it easy to get comfortable with an iPhone without knowing much of anything, and renders the whole experience contagious.

It’s YouTube.

Just touch the YouTube television icon on the front screen, click on a video…and the iPhone turns into a small, hand-held television with a beautiful picture, good sound and an I-can’t-take-my-eyes-off-this-thing quality that makes you want to hold it yourself and see what else it can do.

Among our panel of experts—teenagers—the YouTube feature was by far the most compulsively used feature. Tap the button, flick through some videos, find one you want to look at and boom, everybody’s watching TV on the iPhone.

It’s the Solitaire of the iPhone.

But it doesn’t always work. I said near the beginning of all this that the iPhone didn’t really work better than what I already have. And it doesn’t.

The problem is the network. As everybody who’s read a review of the iPhone already knows, it uses the slow 2G AT&T network, not the fast 3G network. And when you’re not near a WiFi network—which is most of the time—the iPhone’s internet often doesn’t work any better than an old-fashioned dial-up modem.

But when it works…it’s beautiful. And the next generation of iPhones will, I presume, be 3G. And the iPhone will be what Steve Jobs said it would be: the internet in your pocket.

I began this series by noting that we here at NotMakingThisUp had given the task of testing the iPhone to the most rigorous panel of consumer product users we could imagine—teenagers. Yet I have spent precious little time discussing the actual results of their actual iPhone usage.

The reason is this: the iPhone’s impact was instantaneous.

They all wanted to see it, touch it, hold it, take pictures with it and then look at the pictures by flicking their fingers across the screen. Being near a WiFi network, they were able to watch a YouTube video and post on somebody’s Facebook.

And that was just in the first hour.

Since then, and despite occasional frustrations with the slow network, they have found it easier to look up directions on Google Maps while driving instead of calling 411.

Also, they have started returning phone calls from their parents, because using voicemail is so simple they actually bother to check it, unlike normal cell phones which make checking voicemails seem, to a teenager, like entering Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell—something to be avoided at all costs.

But the most striking indication of whether or not the iPhone has met the high expectations of our impatient, demanding, technology-literate panel of teenagers is this: I can’t get the thing back.

Apple has done it. Motorola, start over.

Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up

© 2007 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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