Exercise iPhone Caution

For the first time ever, the biggest surprise revealed during CES this year wasn’t showcased there.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show – where some respected companies showcase their tech and more shady companies showcase forgettable tech – overtakes Las Vegas annually in January. The gadgets shown there are a preview of what to expect for the rest of the year from these companies. A cabbie on the strip told me once that it’s the largest convention of the year there, and I’ll take his word on that.

I actually had a press pass to go, but the $800 per night rate for Planet Hollywood (or worse, $300 a night for Golden freaking Palace) reminded me that this was a convention for big companies by big companies.

There wasn’t really a singular smash hit at the show. Sure, Panasonic’s new line of plasmas promise near Pioneer Kuro black levels and there were a slew of tablets to compete with the Apple iPad, but in our spoiled tech-centric generation, it just kind of all seemed ho-hum.

That is, except for the buzz that started during the convention: Verizon was going to get the iPhone and announce it next Tuesday.

And sure enough, they did. Leave it to Apple to steal a show that they weren’t even at (Apple doesn’t attend CES because they announce groundbreaking products on their own schedule, you see).

The Verizon iPhone looks practically identical to the Apple one. The volume buttons have dropped by “about 2mm or less,” which seems inconsequential –unless you are a case manufacturer. The main difference between the two phones is the cellular component; Verizon uses their proprietary CDMA technology, while AT&T uses a more global-friendly GSM chipset.
Before rushing to get a Verizon iPhone though, there are a few things you should consider.

First, what do you primarily use your phone for? The main complaint with the AT&T iPhone is call quality, and Christ, is it awful. However, if you’re like me, I use my phone for Internet and email (data) about 80 percent of the time. This is where Verizon is not as friendly. Verizon doesn’t allow for voice and data multitasking, so you can’t put someone on speaker while you look for something on Google maps, for instance. More importantly, AT&T’s HSPA+ 3G standard has higher peak data speeds than Verizon’s 3G EVDO standard. In short, the Internet experience is likely going to still be superior on AT&T.

Another question to ask yourself is: do I need a phone right now? If you really can’t wait and need a smartphone now, I suppose I would tepidly endorse considering a Verizon iPhone. That being said, the Verizon iPhone is poised to be the most infamous stopgap ever. The past four iPhones have been announced every June like clockwork. Even though we don’t know the specifics of the Verizon deal at the moment, there’s no way that Verizon would want to be six months behind AT&T every year forever in terms of iPhone releases. So, in short, expect simultaneous AT&T and Verizon iPhone releases this June.

And while the changes to the iPhone in June may be more akin to the 3G to 3GS upgrade rather than the original iPhone to the 3G jump, some of the rumored features like digital wallet functionality (which would allow you to pay for things by waving your phone over a sensor) and a larger screen sans-home button are enough to make me cautious.

Finally, you still should be asking yourself whether you want an iPhone at all. If you’re not already locked into a smartphone contract, there are many competitors out there who would love your business as well. The Sprint EVO 4G still has some features that the iPhone does not yet, including 4G network access, an HDMI output “and a freaking kickstand,” as the Opinion Editor of this publication opines frequently.

Also, many people don’t need the functionality of a smartphone anyway. Feature phones, which may allow for limited e-mail access and other, slightly better than dumbphone features are more than enough for most people I know. And may I also remind you that nobody needs a smartphone. Reframe your conception of need in terms of necessities like food, water and shelter, and you’ll remember that you’re deliberating about a first-world issue.

So while the Verizon news is exciting, put your wallets back and sit tight. While you may not care if there’s a new version out in six months, you will feel like a putz when you’re the last one of your friends carrying a physical wallet. Don’t be a putz.

Michael Boileau is a fifth-year political science major. He can be reached at mboileau@uci.edu.