iPhone picture from Apple

Apple's new iPhone looks cool but will it fly in China?

Since I have a love-hate relationship with Apple products, I felt a little bit torn about the new Apple announcement. Yes, it looks beautiful but from my  experience of having a touchscreen phone now, the O2 XDA II mini, typing on a glass screen misses out on the tactile feedback of real buttons. I also dislike the microsecond lag between touch and response that most of these phones provide. For rapid SMS texters, you now need to see the screen rather than feel the buttons to do your covert texting. Otherwise, based on features, the iPhone seems to have features similar to current phones now. However saying that is like calling the iPod just another MP3 Player.I suspect the real gravy is in the interaction design underneath and all those Ives-ish details and flair.

 Time Magazine gushes about the new phone:

The iPhone breaks two basic axioms of consumer technology. One, when you take an application and put it on a phone, that application must be reduced to a crippled and annoying version of itself. Two, when you take two devices—such as an iPod and a phone—and squish them into one, both devices must necessarily become lamer versions of themselves. The iPhone is a phone, an iPod, and a mini-Internet computer all at once, and contrary to Newton—who knew a thing or two about apples—they all occupy the same space at the same time, but without taking a hit in performance. In a way iPhone is the wrong name for it. It's a handheld computing platform that just happens to contain a phone.

Although its hard to find a genuine Apple retail store in China, if any, they have an army of authorized dealers that look like Apple stores without the geniuses. The iPod is very popular in China among the rich and middle class segments, which in terms of numbers is larger than some European countries. However, Apple's real success here seems to be their low  and affordable Shuffle product.In the land of cheap MP3 players, the Shuffle provides a comparable value for its price as a player and storage device. Among the iPods, the Nano seems to be popular for its size, weight and slimmness.

The feature that will seem to make it popular here will be the beautiful touchscreen. Watching movies on small but clear screens still seems to be the only thing driving the popularity of the Sony PSP in China still  rather than its mild game offerings. However, high resolution touch screens will also mean that writing in Chinese characters or rendering more detailed smaller characters will also be possible.

Of course the deal breaker for mass acceptance continues to be the price point($499 for a 4GB model, $599 for 8GB) for the relatively expensive iPhone. I mean , thats the cost of a cheap new laptop here. However based on the shuffle and nano experience, what cheaper and more powerful versions lie in the pipeline by the time distribution to China is available will probably be critical.

For me, the ability to be a web browseable appliance holds a lot of promise, especially if you add in a bluetooth enabled keyboard in the mix. Maybe  it also holds the promise for a new type of gaming and entertainment experience as well. Since casual and  online games continue to be major entertainment channels for people here, games may be another must have feature for success of new products.

Joystiq  describes why they are excited:

Sure, it's pretty cool that you'll soon be able to make phone calls on the world's most popular MP3 player, but what we're really excited about is the gaming potential of the device. Why? Here's why:

  • Dual-touch: Imagine the Nintendo DS touch screen. Now stretch it out, design it for fingers instead of a stylus, and let it recognize two different inputs simultaneously. We can only imagine the gaming possibilities designers can create with this.
  • Accelerometer: Sure, Jobs uses it to simply switch between portrait and landscape modes, but we don't see any reason this feature can't be used for WarioWare Twisted-style games with tilt-based controls
  • Internet: Wi-Fi is already old news on the Nintendo DS and PSP, but since the iPhone is a cell phone, you could theoretically connect to your cell network and play online even without a Wi-Fi hot spot. The built-in web browser has the potential to allow for mobile play on thousands of free Flash games as well.
  • Built-in camera: This may sound a little silly, but we were really excited about the EyeToy-like functionality of the Gizmondo. Now that that's crashed and burned, the iPhone's built-in two-megapixel camera and detailed widescreen could bring the concept back.
  • Distribution: iTunes is already on millions of computers and has trained users to accept making micropayments for downloadable content. Oh, and it already has games. Dare we dream of downloading games-on-demand over a cell phone network?

Apple may have a potential winner in China as well if they are able to create the equivalent of an iPhone Nano for the rest of us in the middle kingdom.

-Frank Yu