Is the iPhone an Idiot Phone?

I have an HP iPAQ hw6965 Mobile Messenger, basically a smartphone that runs Windows Mobile. Previously I had a HP iPAQ hw6515 Mobile Messenger. So although I am not a very big fan of HP stuff (see “HP Pavilion tx 2000 Boot/Black Screen Solution“), I pretty much like the Windows Mobile part of the deal. The iPAQ comes with stripped down versions of MS Office applications like Word, Excel and Powerpoint. It also comes with a PDF reader and some other nice utility software.

I even write applications for my iPAQ. One extremely useful one is a key generator for my products which allows me to issue keys to my customers when I am out of home or office and do not have my notebook with me.

It is a fact that the iPhone has overtaken Windows Mobile based smartphones and is now second only to the BlackBerry. 9 million Americans now use the iPhone as their primary phone compared to about 15 million on Blackberry and 7.1 million on Windows Mobile based smartphones. Since more and more computing is going mobile, I figure that at some point (possibly in the near future), I will need to start developing for mobile devices and the iPhone will be high on my list.

I have an iPod Touch which I use mainly as a Walkman. The other day I laid my hands on Ron’s old iPhone 2G. Ron is my partner at Print3D and we are toying with the idea of building a Print3D iPhone App. So instead of buying a new iPhone for myself in India (read “Apple iCondom – Use and Throw” to see why I don’t want to) Ron suggested that I use his old iPhone as a starting point. The problem with iPhones in the US is that they are tied to AT&T. So I had to first unlock it so that I could use my Indian SIM card.

I set up my email accounts on the iPhone and copied my music. While playing around I took a picture using the iPhone’s camera and wanted to send it as an attachment by email. So I fired up the Email program and looked for a way to attach a file. I simply couldn’t find one. I asked Ron and he didn’t know either because, just like me, he uses a Window Mobile smartphone. Ron’s wife, who has an iPhone 3G, finally showed me the way. I had to go to “Photos” and then select the “Email Photo” option to send it as an attachment. This got me thinking. How do I attach multiple images to an email? Well, I’m not sure you can. Then I had another question. What if I want to attach a file that is not an image? I mean, some kind of data file like a PDF. This brought me to another question. How do I store data on an iPhone?

I did a few searches on the internet for answers to these questions and came up with startling results. As it turns out, you cannot store data on an iPhone. You need third party applications to do something as simple as that. The iPhone has tons of space to store movies but does not give you a way to carry your data around with you. How stupid is that? I carry a lot of my data on a 2GB memory card that I simply stick into my iPAQ. Apart from a SIM card you cannot stick anything into an iPhone. Freaking ridiculous.

I also came across this thread about attaching files to an email on the iPhone. I was appalled to read this ridiculous suggestion:

“The only workaround I can think of is for you to email them to yourself ahead of time, create a special folder for your pdf’s so they’re easy to find, then when you need to send them to your customers you can just forward them.”

This is crazy. Forget advanced stuff like multi-tasking, the iPhone does not even have the basic stuff that my iPAQ has. In my view, and as a long time iPAQ owner, the iPhone is one of the dumbest phones that I have every come across.

So how is it that the iPhone has surpassed Windows Mobile smartphones? Well, the answer is actually very simple. People just want a phone and use it just for that. At the most they send SMS’s and email pictures to other people. I could do that with my earlier Nokia camera phones years ago. I highly doubt that anyone uses an iPhone for anything serious apart from calling people, texting and replying to email. As far as functionality is concerned, the iPhone does not even come close to the iPAQ (not sure about Blackberrys). But here is the thing with Windows Mobile smart phones. Most users find it them too complicated, quite simply because they do not need or understand the extra functionality that comes with them. For most people the simplicity and dumbness of the iPhone gives them exactly what they need and that is why it has become such a big hit.

So to answer the question in the title of this post, “Is the iPhone an Idiot Phone?“, I believe the answer is no. The iPhone is probably the smartest phone for most people because most people need to do simple things. Personally, I believe that the iPhone is an idiot phone because I expect it to actually be a “smart” phone. So actually this is all relative. The good thing for Apple is that the vast majority of people are not power users like me and Apple is giving them exactly what they want.

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  • Avinash

    Hi Deelip,

    I do not completely agree with your post. I have been using an iPhone 3G for 1.5 years and have a different opinion. The thing is that no phone is perfect and it all depends on what you are looking for.
    – iPhone has the best user experience in the current gen of smartphones.
    – Browsing on iPhone works like a charm.
    – App store.

    Now get to cons. Most of it is s/w limitations and with regular updates Apple is ironing out the issue (e.g. copy-paste)
    – No Flash support
    – No file trf via bluetooth
    – Direct data storage on iPhone

    I did think of buying a windows phone but finally decided on this cause it does not need a stylus to operate.

    – Avi

  • DropBox. That is all. Goodnight.

  • OK, So after all the money I paid apple, I then need to pay for data storage in the cloud. And then pay even more for data transfer. Great!

    The now extinct Nokia phones I used years ago had memory cards. It’s a shame the iPhone cannot even do that, considering that they already comes with GB's of space. Something is seriously wrong here.

  • Then just use the free version like most people do – if you're storing more than 2.2gb (the free level of service) of data on your phone, then you're mental. It's a phone dude. If you want a memory stick, I've got 9 billion clogging up a drawer and I'll send you a bunch.

    I've been through them all. Handsprings and Palms linked to Motorola Timeports back in the day, Treos, Nokia Communicators, Blackberries. The iPhone, as most people realise, changed the game – why? because it works, nicely and does most things people want – and yes, it's slick. I never thought I'd say that, but it's true..

    But yes, there's an issue with installing your own apps – I've no experience of that, but if you sign up as a developer (the process for which is tortuous), you'll be able to develop and run your own app.. it's only $99 mate…

    Come on, you got the phone for free..


  • Oh. and what I found most odd?

    It actually makes quite clear telephone calls too. You know, where you phone someone…

    That bit is ACE!

  • I used WinMo since the beginning and agree there was not much I could not do on the phone but the call quality was horrible and the usability was poor. Using the web on it was painful and I just carried a laptop with me unless I wanted to challenge myself to actually be productive on any browser on WinMo.
    The iPhone did something unique, it made the entire market rethink smartphones and much of what we see today was sparked by it's launch.
    It is true, however, that applications make the phone. The simplicity of the phone makes a smartphone attractive to those that are not geeks like us. I would consider myself a power user of a smartphone but have been able to find ways to push this phone far beyond that of my old WinMo device.

  • Deelip,
    My theory is that people are all about cool and free ( So, iPhone is in “cool” category. Regardless how you can (or cannot) attach multiple files to your mail everybody will use it, since it is COOL….
    Best, Oleg
    PS. Use Dropbox or Google Apps – don’t send mails with attachments. This is 20th century :)…

  • What!? I need to pay Apple $99 to make free apps? Only $99? You sure? Wow! By Apple's standards that's freaking cheap. There should have been a few more 9's in that figure.

    You really wanna store GB's of data on the cloud and hope for a good internet connection (if you do manage to get one when you need one), when you could easily have everything on your phone, when you want it, wherever you want it. Stop making excuses Al. Its like saying that its ok for your watch not to have an alarm feature because you can carry an nice fat alarm clock wherever you go. Same with your digital watch not having two times because you can carry around two watches because they are cheap. That kind of thinking is mental.

    If I wanted a phone just to call people and text them then I should be still using my Nokias, right? In a smartphone, the phone is just an application. And that is the dumb part of the smart phone. The applications are the part that make it “smart”. And the iPhone hardly comes with much “smartness”.

    You think emailing yourself files just so that you can email them to others is smart, dude?

  • Hi Deelpi,

    I've been using a BlackBerry for last few years and I found it really impressive, although I have not tried the iPAQ, but have worked with iPhone 3G for few weeks, I feel Blackberry seems to hit the list in any part of the globe when you compare with iPhone, but not the case in US.

    I have lot more functions in Blackberry which I can get it free as compared to iPhone, but Autodesk seems to develop apps for iPhone . . .

  • based on this… it is an idiot phone… and why it needs to be…

  • Yes $99 – it's a bargain. For that you get to give away whatever you want on the App Store and maybe even make 30pence from each copy of whatever it is sold… it's BRILLIANT!

    Maybe I'm spoiled in having pretty consistent 3g coverage across wherever it ends up that I'm at – certainly in the UK and for the most part whenever I'm in the US or across Europe.

    And no. I don't email myself files. I've typically got what I need on my macbook. Things that I need to share are stored on DropBox and with the iPhone/windows/mac osx client, it works and works nicely – for zero outlay mate.

    LOL -and yes, I do carry two watches. Not for the purpose you describe, but because I can't decide which one to wear and usually take a couple of them with me – purely for purposes of style, rather than function. If I want to know what the time is, I'll look at my phone.

    As for the whole 'multi-tasking' thing, it's a load of old crap. It's a small device, why would you want to multi-task. Most apps retain what you were doing and you can swap between apps quite nicely. People get carried away with what they expect these things to be able to accomplish – like Lou says, for the power-user, that's maybe not enough, not enough complexity to make them feel like they're not part of the mass market and firmly ensconced in the alpha geek tribe..

    Come on Deelip, take the pludge and join the Rectangle Strokers gang. You won't regret it!


    PS: You KNOW a iPhone makes you look slightly less spazzy than whipping out an iPaq, right?

  • I agree. drop the hate. dropbox.

  • He! He! Yeah style has a lot to do with it. In that department alone Apple has nailed it. Their hardware look like pieces of art. Damn! Even my iPod charger looks sexy. The iPAQ charger looks like a piece of shit.

    About multitasking, actually I use that a lot on my iPAQ. I often find myself googling something in the browser while my email is being downloaded and tweeting in another window. I actually use my iPAQ as a computer. A simple example – when I get an order notification email in Outlook on the iPAQ, I need to fire up my key generator in another window, copy and paste the customer's host id and generate his key and copy and paste the key back into my reply to the customer. All this needs multi-tasking. But then I understand that there are very people who use the iPAQ the way I do. Hence my views.

  • Avinash,

    You are correct. The iPhone is more like a phone and that’s the beauty of it. The other smartphones do a lot more, most of which most users do not need. And that is my whole point. For most users the iPhone is a genius. For someone like me that uses multi-tasking, data transfer, etc. the iPhone would never suit my needs. Unless looking cool is one of my top priorities, above functionality.

  • Absolutely agree 200%

  • I once asked one of my prospective customers to send me a screenshot. He fished out his camera, stood 4 feet away from his monitor, took a picture and sent it to me by email.

    There is a reason why I try to dumb down my products as much as I can and create tutorials for something as simple as File->Open and file->Save As. In spite of that I still get questions like “I downloaded your software. Now what do I do?” And these are people who use engineering software.

  • Josh,

    You seem to answer the question in a better way by a video . . .

  • you can do that with the 3GS, no problems at all – I can't speak for the 2G, but if that's what you're doing, it'll work.. it's not like you can have two apps open, on screen at the same time..

  • Ah! Good to know that.

    I also noticed that the iPhone 2G that I have cannot do as dumb a thing as copy and paste. Copy and paste is so rudimentary that you cannot even call that a feature. It's good to know that OS 3.0 has it implemented. I am not sure how Apple even got it out without copy and paste in the first place. Smartphone, my foot!

    Here is another ridiculous one. My iPhone does not even have a speed dial feature. WTF? You said that it was a phone, right? People are actually writing freaking apps and finding workarounds to add speed dials to the iPhone. My compass box sized Nokia bricks a decade old had speed dial.

    Read this… and try not to laugh. I couldn't.

    Just goes to show the kind of people Apple is marketing this to.

  • tmay


    Apple has designed a family of mobile appliances. The Prime Directive is that the iPhone doesn't crash, and that it doesn't burn through battery power on some arbitrary background app. Right now, that means no third party background apps. That may change down the road.

    With regard to copy and paste, Apple didn't add that feature until it was apparent in test that it was a ubiquitous solution that works with all 3rd party apps. Data is stored with the application; there isn't a traditional file structure.

    With regard to the $99.00 application fee to become a developer; really, is this even a legitimate issue?

    Here's a freebee to make some money as a developer: There are now Apple sanctioned iphone 30 pin to serial interfaces. Take one of those, add some minimal DNC software, and sell me the app for $29.95 on the app store. You make $21.00 per download, and you will be paid promptly every 30 days. I get an inexpensive DNC device for my Haas machines.

    Lots of things that a developer can do with an iPhone, even with restrictions that Apple imposes, but all most all of this is to protect the hardware and the customer's experience.

    Seems to be successful.

    Couple of cool apps;

  • No, the $99 is not an issue for me. I was being sarcastic.I pay much more to CAD software companies as part of partner program fees.

  • get a 3gs mate – they're a lot more rounded out. it does have speed dial (favourite) but lacking a physical keyboard it doesn't make quite as much sense. One thing that would be ace is to be able to add someone's phone number as an icon to the home screen.

    I guess I'm not a power user man. I never miss speed dial. If you need to make a call that urgently, get up earlier 😉


  • It’s a pity Apple needs the third party programmers to write apps in order to make the iPhone into a “smart” phone.

  • The first thing I do when I get a new phone is to set “2” to call my wife, “3” to call my office and “4” to call my driver. I do not see the sense in scrolling up and down to find their names in my contact list many times every day. Simply Whip out the phone, press dial to start the phone application, press the speed dial number and start talking. Been doing this for a decade now.

    And no, waking up early does not solve my problem 😉

  • Norm C.

    Josh, thanks for the link, it made my day.

    I had to go read the original blog's comments for myself. Couldn't believe some people are so clueless!!!

  • Ron B

    iPhones are for Girls.

  • iPhones are for Girls (no offense lady's)

  • as they say “you can idiot proof it, but all that happens is they just bring you a better class of idiot”

  • I want an iBlackberry that is as functional as my blackberry, but does cool stuff like the iPhone and let's me browse the web like I want to.

    The answer is clear. I just need more pockets to carry multiple devices. Or some duct tape.

    Al Dean, who makes phone calls anymore? So last decade…

  • Jim, I think you just gave me an excellent idea. I will stick my iPAQ and BlackBerry back-to-back.

  • VirtualLife

    idiot phone is a good name. A phone that you pay more for less functionality just because it is idiot proof speaks for itself.

  • frank Joachim

    Iphone = Idioten-Phone, es kann noch nicht mal Telefonnumer von einer Simkarte auslesen weil die vorher in einem Samsung war! die Leute wollen einfach nicht zugeben dass sie viel **zuviel Geld** bezahlt haben für ein Idiotenphone, daher tun sie so als würden Probleme nicht existieren und **fehlende Funktionen** brauchen sie angeblich sowieso nicht!