On Monday 9 June Apple CEO Steve Jobs will walk on to the stage at the World Wide Developer Conference and reveal a new version of the iPhone that will totally blow the first away.
It’ll probably have 3G, more storage, support for Bluetooth stereo headphones and a much better digital camera and even video call support. And if current rumours are to be believed, O2 will make it absolutely, totally 100 per cent free. Sorry, how much did you pay for the iPhone again?
As new inventions go though, the iPhone has been kind to early adopters - thanks to incremental software updates that should still make it usable by the time fourth and fifth gen iPhone rolls around.
It’s also suffered few of the reliability problems, bugs and underachieving features that early adopters of other gadgets have had to put up with. We’ll look at those it has in more detail later, but for now let’s take a look some of other hardware and software devices you would have been wise to avoid:
Panasonic DMR-HS1 HDD / DVD recorder
A thousand pounds for what exactly?
In the days before BitTorrent, 4oD and the BBC iPlayer - you had three choices when it came to watching catch-up TV: record to crumbly old VHS, stump up for Sky subscription and get yourself a Sky+ box, or to sweet talk your bank manager into giving you £1,000 for this - the UK’s first DVD / HDD recorder.
Released just five years ago, the DMR-HS1 was cutting-edge for its time - it could record analogue TV to DVD-RAM or DVD-R discs, had a 40GB hard disk and a GUI that looked like it belonged in Windows 1.0. In it way it was marvellous... well for about six months or so until the DVD / HDD recorder market was flooded with rival recorders that could do more for less.
Within two years Panasonic was offering 160GB models that could also play DVD-RW discs, but by then it was way too late - we’d all fallen in love with personal video recorders. Another one for the early adopter attic.
Sony NW-MS70D Network Walkman
With this Atrac codec you are really killing us
No other consumer electronics company is as innovative as Sony, but for every PlayStation, there’s also been a Betamax, including the NW-MS70D - a flash-based portable music player that made its debut in 2003.
To be honest, the Network Walkman was doomed from the start.
Sony’s biggest mistake was its insistence on using Atrac, a proprietary digital audio codec that Sony had first used in for MiniDisc (another relative failure) - you couldn’t even play the wildly popular MP3s on it without converting them first. That was a a mistake Apple didn’t make with its first iPod, which also made its debut in 2003.
The Network Walkman was also damned by its lack of capacity - 512MB compared to the 5GB offered by the iPod. Perhaps the biggest error was the SonicStage software Sony insisted use to get songs on to the Network Walkman in the first place. It was ugly, bloated, buggy and a royal pain in the arse to use.
Unfortunately for Sony it didn’t give up on Atrac for another three years. You can guess what happened in between.
Fujitsu Plasmavision 42-inch plasma display
Well it's big, we'll give you that
This was the first plasma TV ever to go on sale in the UK, making its debut in 1997. Seeing it in the flesh was a bit like finding the Holy Grail, Shergar and Lord Lucan all in one go. (Lord Lucan if that’s you, give it up sunshine).
The Fujitsu Plasmavision had a huge - for then - 42-inch display, measured just 60mm deep and at £11,600 cost about the same as an entry-level Volkswagen Golf. It was immediately apparent, of course, that there were some things the Fujitsu just couldn’t do.
It only had a 160-degree viewing angle, contrast and picture quality were poor, and the Plasmavision’s image resolution was a laughable 852 x 480 pixels - not that there were any high definition sources you could feed it then, of course: you had a choice then of VHS, S-VHS, DVD or laserdisc.
Frankly for the money, you could buy a top quality CRT several times over. The Plasmavision didn’t even include an analogue TV tuner.
Other problems quickly raised their heads as well: within months owners were complaining about screen burn caused by TV channel logos (a problem common that plagued all early plasmas) and the display’s limited life span - 30,000 hours to half-brightness.
Today, of course it’s a completely different story: flat panels are finally getting good enough to truly challenge CRT, only it’s LCD not plasma that has emerged as the dominant force - and to prove the point last December Fujitsu announced that it was to stop plasma TV production.
Microsoft Windows Vista
It looks nice. Can I have XP instead?
There can be few operating systems that are so widely reviled as Windows Vista. Just as Apple tried to with Copland in 1990s, so Microsoft tried to do here. It wanted a bang-up-to-date OS that could compete with the flash and dash of Mac OS X. It appears to have largely failed in that ambition.
Microsoft had hoped that Windows Vista (originally codenamed Longhorn) would go from conception in 2001 to execution within two years, but the whole project was beset by delays, largely as the result of trying to cram in features like WinFS - a new kind of data management system that enabled files to by identified by type (picture, movie, etc).
By 2004 Longhorn, and WinFS were running into trouble, leading Microsoft to abandon both in favour of a completely new version of the OS now dubbed Windows Vista, which promised increased security, desktop search and a fresh new look dubbed Aero.
Windows Vista finally made its debut in Las Vegas in January 2007, with the catchy launch slogan “The Wow Starts Now”. It quickly came back to haunt the company.
Early versions were horribly slow and buggy, and many users found that the operating system simply wouldn’t work on their PCs in the way that they had been told - chiefly because Aero was graphically intensive.
Some Microsoft executives even admitted privately that they don’t get Windows Vista to run properly on ‘Vista Capable’ PCs. “We completely botched this,” Jim Allchin, the Microsoft VP responsible for Windows Vista wrote in an email. Another said of his Windows Vista cabable PC “I now have a $2,100 email machine.”
Worse for many home users was the news that the Direct X 10 graphics engine didn’t work properly, many hardware drivers were missing and that they were constantly being nagged by the User Access Control (UAC) system which was supposed to safeguard users from malware, but just became an annoyance.
Microsoft was also heavily criticised from coming up with no less that six different versions of Windows Vista, restricting the licensing terms and including Digital Rights Management (DRM).
Despite Microsoft continuing protests that Windows Vista has become one of its successful launches ever, many users and businesses remain unconvinced, clinging onto Windows XP for as long as Microsoft will allow.
The end could come soon: CEO Steve Ballmer may drop XP support by Monday 30 June. Many users, even Bill Gates, it seems, are now hoping that Windows 7 will get Microsoft out of the mire. It’s expected to arrive in 2010.
Apple Mac OS X 10.1
Click. Now watch the spinning beach ball
For all the Mac fanboy crowing over Windows Vista’s troubles, it isn’t that long ago they had OS problems of their own. In 1994 Apple announced an ambitious plan to completely rewrite its operating system, with the aim of taking on Windows 95.
Codenamed Copland, the OS was supposed to include all kinds of (then) whizzy features like pre-emptive multi-tasking (so you could run more than one application at once) and protected memory spaces (so apps didn’t steal memory from others, forcing them or the whole OS to crash).
The problem was Apple’s engineers just couldn’t build it. As with Longhorn, Apple was forced to abandon many ground-breaking features, while serving up others in Mac OS 8 (1997), and Mac OS 9 (1999).
By 1997, Apple - deep in debt - abandoned Copland and snapped up an operating system called OpenSTEP, which was developed at Next computer by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
By 2000 OpenSTEP had turned into the first version of Mac OS X - a ground-upwards rewrite of the whole operating system, that was built-on a Unix core and had a pretty new user interface called Aqua, that predates many of the visual effects used in Windows Vista.
Despite or because of its advanced features, Mac OS X got off to a very shaky start. The public beta which appeared in 2000 was grindingly slow, hardly had any third-party software running on it (existing apps had run under Mac OS 9 using an emulator), and lacked even basic features.
The first proper version - Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah - wasn’t much better. Arriving in March 2001 it was chiefly noted for its sloth-like performance and a continuing lack of features, including a completely inability to playback DVD-Video discs.
Things were so bad in fact, that Apple issued a free update to Mac OS X 10.1 Puma in September, offering a much needed speed and feature boost. Mac OS X didn’t really get good though until Mac OS X 10.3 Jaguar, which arrived in 2002.
Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player
At least the cinema shows you adverts while you wait for the movie to start
It seems a little unfair to single out Panasonic again, but the DMP-BD10 is a prime example of why the ‘never buy version 1’ ethos makes sense. You had to pay £1,000 for this Blu-ray player when it arrived in September 2006 and it was over-priced and under-specced from the get-go.
Its biggest sin, of course, was that out of the box the machine just wasn’t future-proof - it wasn’t compliant with Blu-ray Profile v1.1, let alone v2.0 - making it almost useless now for Blu-ray movie titles that boast interactive features.
It’s not a simple fix with a firmware upgrade either: as critics of Blu-ray pointed out a year or two back, the first Blu-ray players simply lacked the necessary hardware - an Ethernet port, persistent memory, etc - that would enable such features to be used.
No wonder Blu-ray owners were known in industry circiles as ‘beta testers’.
The DMP-BD10 was also heavily criticised for its badly designed, cheap-looking remote (poor in a product that cost £1,000 new), incredibly slow disc-loading times (30 seconds plus) and the fact that the faster, more capable, future-proof PlayStation 3 arrived a mere six months later cost just £425.
Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)
Dr. Kawashima will see you now
The PSP was a remarkable thing when it made its debut in September 2005 for it was a handheld that not only enabled to you play the latest games, but also to indulge your passion for movies and music as well.
Unfortunately the PSP also had some serious problems - the launch catalogue of games was unsurprising and users quickly got tired of Sony’s attempts to flog them copy-protected movies on UMD, the proprietary disc format the PSP used.
Instead many took the laborious - not to mention legally suspect - step of ripping their DVD collections so they could store the movies on to flash memory cards that the PSP also accepted.
The PSP also faced challenges in gaming and music too - Nintendo one-upped it with the launch of the DS Lite in June 2006, a handheld that could be quickly slipped into your trouser pocket and had a brilliant line-up of original and highly playable games.
The DS Lite’s battery life could also be counted in days, not hours, and DS games were quicker to load, chiefly because Nintendo adopted a flash memory-based format for its games.
Things were harder still on the music front. The iPod was well established by 2005 with a supporting infrastructure through iTunes that made Sony’s efforts with its Connect online store and MediaManager PC software look lame.
At least Sony had sensibly reversed its anti-MP3 policy this time around, enabling users to copy MP3 files from their PCs via USB. Support for AAC and other codecs was added later by firmware.
The result of all this, of course, has been that Nintendo has continued to dominate the handheld gaming space, with 51 million DS Lite’s sold by March 2008. That puts the PSP firmly in second place with 34 million PSPs sold (as of December 2007).
Sony tried to inject some new life into PSP late last year with the launch of the PSP Slim. This new version boasted more flash memory to increase UMD loading times and was 19 per cent thinner than its predecessor, but specs were otherwise unchanged.
I'd like an extra battery please. Oh
The iPhone is great at a good many things, but it’s far from an unqualified success. Sales of the first version are said to have been ‘inline with expectations’, which is another way of saying it’s not exactly been a a rip-roaring success.
If it had, Apple and O2 would have been hollering that fact from the rooftops. No wonder they had to slash prices to shift them. So what’s wrong with the first-gen iPhone. Six things:
- It doesn’t have 3G: That’s has been deal-breaker in many territories, not only in Europe where 3G is everything, but also here at home. You might be able to download or surf as much content as you want on O2’s iPhone tariffs, but if you have to do it on Edge? Erm, no thanks.
- You can only get it on O2: There’s nothing wrong with O2 per se, but many potential buyers have been put off buying an iPhone because it’s limited to just one mobile network. Sure you could hack it to run other networks, but why should you have to? The iPhone should be available to anyone whatever network they’re on. There are signs that this could change in future.
- It’s expensive: Yeah, so the 1G iPhone cost a lot of money to develop - but £269 for the handset, and then another £35-£75 per month line rental? That means the iPhone will cost you a minimum of between £899 and £1,619 over the first 18 months.
- Call that a camera?: The iPhone’s 2.5 megapixel camera never looked very good. Not even on paper. In the real world it’s rather pathetic, requiring lots of light to get a half-decent picture. Only the iPhone doesn’t come with a built-in flash or even a light. And 2.5-megapixels on a £269 smartphone in 2008 is so insulting it’s untrue - what’s this, the early 1990s or something?
- Bluetooth ADAP: have you heard of it? Oh yes, the iPhone has Bluetooth built-in, but you can’t team it with a pair of Bluetooth stereo headphones because the iPhone doesn’t support A2DP. You also can’t use it to wirelessly sync your contacts, calendar, etc with your Mac - even though Apple enables you to do exactly that using third-party phones and the Bluetooth chip in most modern Macs. Instead you have to use iTunes - which is rapidly turning into bloatware of Microsoftian proportions.
- You can’t replace the battery: Why does Apple keep making this mistake? You can’t change the battery on an iPod, you can’t do it with the iPhone, and you can’t even do it on the MacBook Air. True most people never have the need for a second mobile phone battery, but you will surely be peeved that Apple doesn’t even give you the option the next time your iPhone conks out - or you're forced to pay £63 to get an exhausted one replaced.
Now it's over to you: Are you a gadget nut who has to buy the latest thing, no matter how expensive or bad it may be? Or do you simply disagree with our choices. Your comments below please!