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June 26, 2007

The Point at Which I Stop Being the Perfect Consumer

You know, I'm as gaa-gaa over tech as the next geeky, overfed American nerd, but at a certain point fiscal restraint kicks in and temps down my need for the next new hot thing. Thus is my ardor for the iPhone suddenly cooled when it's revealed that the low-end phone plan for the thing is $60 a month. Add that to the $500 minimum cost of the phone, resulting in a minimum $1,200 cost for the gadget in the first year, and I'm all, eh, I can wait. My current cell phone cost me $40, and I piggyback on my mother-in-law's service plan for $10 a month. That's about right for me.

I know, I know. Since when should I let practical issues get in my way? Anyone who's getting a first-gen iPhone is signing up to be a guinea pig anyway; practicality shouldn't enter into it. Fair enough, and I wasn't exactly camping out to get one anyway. But I feel the same way I did when the first iPod came out, actually. When it happened I watched all the cool kids stab each other in the eye to get to it, and meanwhile I, who had had a CD-player-sized Creative 5GB Jukebox for over a year at that point and had paid substantially less to get it than what the first-gen iPod went for, thought it would probably be best just to sit out the fracas for a while with my perfectly serviceable, pre-existing alternative.

I guess what it comes down to is that at then end of the day, I don't care to be one of the cool kids if it just costs too much to do it. I'd chalk it up to rapidly-approaching middle age, but I've always been like this. Of course, there's a simpler way to put it: I'm cheap.

Posted by john at June 26, 2007 01:05 PM

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Janiece | June 26, 2007 01:10 PM

John, John - don't say cheap. Say frugal.

The byproduct of a less than privileged childhood, I would imagine. Most people I know who have lived on the knife's edge of poverty are pretty careful about how they spend their money.

Shawn Powers | June 26, 2007 01:11 PM

I agree the pricing is steep -- but at least you get unlimited data on the plans. For me, that would help justify the cost.

Of course, since AT&T has no wireless coverage in my area, it's really a moot point. (as if I could shell out that much for a phone and actually carry it around anyway...)

Mike Cane | June 26, 2007 01:15 PM

I don't understand this. How can you give up your position as one of the Arbiters of Cool.

Oh, wait, is this Secret Diary of Steve Jobs site?

PixelFish | June 26, 2007 01:20 PM

This is why competition in the market place is a good thing. So nifty cool's price point drops for everybody.

Of course, there are some folks for whom cool is defined by inaccessibility and saturation is the death knell to cool, but to them, I say bah.

David | June 26, 2007 01:29 PM

It bears mentioning that AT&T's taxes and fees will hike any rate quoted by 25% or more.

That's the reason I dropped them for long distance and cell service.
Cost of service for long distance was ~$20 for zero minutes used.
Cell phone service was even worse; their family plans charges for each phone you add!

I'll wait for the 3'rd or 4'th-gen cheaper, faster unlocked so I can maybe use it on t-mobile
but probably not cause I really need a keyboard anyway version.


Adam Rakunas | June 26, 2007 01:31 PM

The prez and VP of my company are both champing at the bit for their iPhones to arrive. I figure, hey, if they want to be alpha testers for Apple, let 'em.

Also, today's PVP is appropriate.

John | June 26, 2007 01:37 PM

I'm right there with you, John. I had a Creative Zen player that was half the cost of an iPod and 2x the capacity. Of course, it was ugly as hell and the interface was like something designed by a first grader, but hey, it played music.

I would be much more interested in the iPhone except for two things: 1) the initial cost of the phone which I think is a little outrageous but more importantly 2) the fact that you MUST use AT&T. I have no wish to tie myself to any particular provider. Making the hardware dependent upon a particular service provider is a mistake, I think.

Max Kaehn | June 26, 2007 01:41 PM

Unlimited data plans are pretty pricey right now, but oh so convenient; I have a Treo 700P, and find it very handy to be able to access Google Maps from the car and LibraryThing from the bookstore.

Steve Buchheit | June 26, 2007 01:52 PM

Cheapness has saved me oh so many times.

Paul Guinnessy | June 26, 2007 02:08 PM

We're paying $60 per month JUST for for unlimited data cards with Verizon. And you have to have one mobile phone connected to the account for $40 per month on top. A $60 voice and data plan seems very attractive by comparsion, particularly if you could share the connection with your laptop.

Skip | June 26, 2007 02:18 PM

I still fail to see what the market is for the iPhone outside of the apple fanboy crowd. No tactile feedback on the keys, and a screen that's going to be smudged approximately 100% of the time, and scratched up badly within a few months, for $500 and a high rate plan?

No thanks.

Ryan | June 26, 2007 02:19 PM

If you don't already make uses of the various features of a "smartphone," chances are the iPhone wouldn't be a good fit. But as someone who pushes the limits of his Treo (and spent $500 on the phone and pays $80/mo. for a maxed out data plan), the iPhone is not only appealing, it's competitive.

I got the Treo to combine my cell phone with my Visor Prism. Now I can stop carrying a separate iPod, too. (8GB isn't much, but it'll hold my podcasts, which is what I listen to most, anyway.) Sweet.

Of course, buying a first-generation device is asking for trouble... and that's where the Reality Distortion Field comes in. For that, I have no good excuse!

julie | June 26, 2007 02:24 PM

I'm SO with you. AT&T coverage is lousy where I live as well. So why spend all that money if I can't even use the thing? Hey, it looks cool, but there's a limit.

Joe | June 26, 2007 02:37 PM

Just saw the iPhone commercial last night and it looked too cool to be true. The commercial sort of reminded me of some of the cool stuff in Minority Report... If it works .5 as well as it was advertised it may be worth it for those with the funding. Alias, I tend to the frugal side of the consumer index and don't have to worry about the the ROI on those type of discretionary consumer items...

Sam | June 26, 2007 02:39 PM

How fast would the data be transmitted to your Iphone. I've seen commercials where that thing plays YouTube Clibs, whats the frame rate on that phone.

kero aka kevin | June 26, 2007 02:56 PM

The data plan is more affordable than I thought it was going to be after looking around at other smart phone data plans. Of course if you are used to cheap phone service it will seem pretty steap. My Cingular phone bill now is pretty close to $60 a month with not much data.

yoshi | June 26, 2007 03:05 PM


There is one thing that annoys me more than apple fanboys saying this thing is a gift from god. Its people who rip the phone apart when the darn thing hasn't even begun shipping yet. Everything said about the phone to date outside of an apple press release has been innuendo, rumors, and out and out guesses. Wait for the darn thing to ship, try it out, and then rip the thing apart.

I, for one, will pick one up. I already use AT&T, I need a new phone, the monthly service price is -less- than what I am already paying and its a business expense!

Old Jarhead | June 26, 2007 03:11 PM

Well, I have the skinny-wallet childhood box checked but its been a long time since that so I don't think that is the motive for my agreeing with you, John. Even if price is no serious object I have an automatic aversion to being a first adopter when I can live easily without it.

Besides - people are already posted outside my house waiting for my choice on the blu-ray or HD DVD issue. I am legendary for making the wrong choice whenever there is a technology competition. I was "Mr. Beta" and following that came an unbroken strong of wrong choices (wrong as to eventual winner, not necessarily quality).

So I'm not reaching for an iPhone. Although I do have an iPod, when I go running I take my Rio because it has better volume and uses an easily changeable AA battery. My iPod Nano battery starts running down with the first press of a button and I can see the damned green shrinking.

BTW John, when are you going to use your powers to whip up a riot over cell phone taxes - only in car rentals have taxing authorities been worse in tacking on fees completely unrelated to any costs incurred.

Mr. BetaMan

Jemaleddin | June 26, 2007 03:19 PM

@John: Comparing the price you pay to be added into a family plan to the full rate for one phone with unlimited data is a little unfair. DaringFireball.net had the family rates and they were also very reasonable.

Then again, comparing an iPod to the Creative Jukebox is silly - it's like comparing an Edsel to a Porsche. Hopefully you've gotten an iPod since then and learned the error of your ways. =-)

I'd love to get an iPhone, but:

a) I don't have $600 that I shouldn't be spending on something more important,
b) I can't use a cell phone at work, meaning that it's only useful for 2-3 hours a day, and
c) I'm tied to Verizon for another 18 months after buying an LG Chocolate for my wife at Xmas.

But I'm still tempted. When was the last thing you saw a consumer electronics product that was sold on the basis of its interface?

Miko | June 26, 2007 03:33 PM

I can't help but wonder if it'll go the way of the Playstation 3.

S Andrew Swann | June 26, 2007 03:56 PM

Apple taught me not to be an early adopter. I have a first gen iPod-- the battery has since blown, and even if I got it fixed, there isn't a single iPod accessory that'll work with it, since they changed the docking interface.

Talk to me after market saturation now.

Michelle K | June 26, 2007 04:14 PM

$60 for a single phone?!

We pay $136, but that's for five people with free roaming and high minutes because my grandmother uses more than 800 minutes a month. (We got her a number local to where she lived before she moved in with us, so everyone could call her without long distance charges.)

Yes, my grandmother uses more minutes than me, my husband, and both my parents combined.

Pablo Defendini | June 26, 2007 04:39 PM

Disclaimer: I'm a die-hard Apple fanboy —but not an apologist, mind you— as anyone who's been to my house can tell you.
Man, I've been looking forward to a phone from Apple for at least three or four years, so I hate to admit that I'll be one of the early-adopting chumps in line at the 5th Av. Apple store on Thursday night (I can't believe some dudes are camping out there since yesterday! That's just insane— do these people have lives? Jobs? Loved ones? World of Warcraft sessions at the very least?), despite my knowing full well that buying a first-generation anything, and particularly an Apple product, is flirting with disaster. The only thing that keeps that from being too much of an issue is Apple's historically fantastic customer support (at least for me).
I've been saving up for the phone itself since it was announced in January, and am very happy to see that the cheapest service plan is exactly what I pay now (NYC ain't cheap! I also have AT&T, so the cancellation fee isn't an issue), so that part won't be a hit to the wallet, at least.
Scuttlebut on the internet is that, according to the people who have seen the phone in action, it performs just like on the TV ads and the little videos that Apple has been posting all this week. And there's the real reason for all the hoopla over the so-called 'jesus phone': Apple has a rock solid track record for designing products that, aside from being beautiful to look at, are simple and straightforward to use. Cell phone interface designers need a swift kick in the ass in terms of designing usable interfaces, and I think this is where the iPhone will be a home run, particularly once they start dropping the price of the phone itself, the same way they did with the iPod when it launched. I own a regular, run-of-the-mill Motorola cell phone right now, and even though I'm a very gadget-and-tech-oriented guy, I don't know how to use half of its features, and the ones I do know how to use are a pain in the rear. The fact that from just watching those little videos on Apple.com, I already know how to do pretty much everything the iPhone does is a huge selling point for me.
So come Thursday night, I'll be there. Waiting. Drooling. Being a damn fanboy, singing 'cumbayah' or whatever it is that Apple fanboys do in line for a product launch. Ugh. And then I'll be alpha testing for like four other people who have expressed interest in the iPhone, but are way, way more sensible than I am.

Pablo Defendini | June 26, 2007 04:42 PM

Wow. I apologize for the long post. I get carried away. . . .

cathy | June 26, 2007 05:08 PM

I don't have a cell phone, so I'm not chomping at the bit to by an iPhone. On the other hand, my 3d generation iPod was the best purchase ever as far as I'm concerned. Although Apple Co. was a moron for thinking people would treat a $300 product as disposable and just buy a new one when the battery died. I paid $20 for a new battery and installed it myself. I now get twice the palying time before I need to recharge. It was totally worth the mutiple puncture wounds I sustained getting the ipod open.

Graeme Williams | June 26, 2007 05:13 PM

The problem with $60 per month isn't the $20 per month all-you-can-eat data plan -- it's the $40 voice plan it's sitting on. I have a prepaid plan from Virgin which starts at $20 per quarter, or about $7 per month. I'd happily pay $27 per month for a few voice minutes and all the data I can use.

As for the cost of the device, I guess it's in the eye of the beholder. With a cheaper plan, I'd be sorely tempted. At $60 per month, I can wait a looong time for the price to drop.

Jim Wright | June 26, 2007 05:26 PM

Just what the world needs, more idiots surfing the net for the nearest seafood joint (mmmm, calamari) while swerving from lane to lane. If Apple wanted to impress me, they'd make sure the damned thing wouldn't work at speed-over-ground > 2mph.

Personally, I'll wait for Microsoft Zune Phone //sarcasm//

Kathryn from Sunnyvale | June 26, 2007 05:47 PM

I rarely use my smartphone in the car at over 40mph, but when I have, it's been for maps and airport schedules- important and immediate things.

Yes, of course I'm always the passenger when doing that.

Skip | June 26, 2007 06:14 PM

@Yoshi - 2 of the 3 things I said are indisputable - that it has no tactile feedback, and that the screen will be consistently smudged. Now I suppose they may have some new screen material that nobody else has used, and the screen won't scratch, but somehow I doubt it.

Look, I'm not an apple hater. I'm on my 4th IPod right now. I've bought 2, and had both of the ones I bought replaced within 60 days under warranty for being defective. If I were an apple hater I wouldn't have put up with that. The IPod interface itself is great. It's an example of a minimalistic interface that handles almost all my needs. It's the best device I've found for listening to audiobooks while working out and such.

JC | June 26, 2007 06:26 PM

Skip, what is in dispute here is not whether or not it has tactile feedback. What is in dispute here is whether or not the lack of tactile feedback is relevant. The only way to know for sure is to get your hands on one of those things and try it out.

I think that was all Yoshi was saying.

Nathan | June 26, 2007 07:25 PM

My GF just got home from the Apple Store in Soho.
Only 3 loons are camped out so far. Two of them have light sabers.

Omaha Lisa | June 26, 2007 08:34 PM

OK, now I feel like an Uber-cheapskate.

I have a Virgin Mobile pay as you go. I average about $6.00 per month. I got the phone free when I bought $20.00 worth of time.

Like so many, I'm at work most of the day, and only really use the cell phone on weekends and then only for a few minutes at a time.

Omaha Lisa | June 26, 2007 08:40 PM

Graeme, Nice to meet another Virgin Mobile user. I just saw your post. If you have Target in your area, watch and the phone cards go on sale for 25% off.

Lizzibabe | June 26, 2007 09:08 PM

Me, i tend to find a feature I like and stick with it. I'll pay the money for the item that has the features that suit me, and then i'll stay with it for as long as I can. I used an ancient IBM workpad C3 PDA that we got off Overstock.com for $100 for simply *ages* until it went kerflooey. To replace it, I got a Palm Z22. Pretty little thing, but it's alarm feature was so quiet, I couldn't hear it when it was in my purse. Dealbreaker. I use that PDA to run my life, man. if I have to remember something, that has to remind me. so I returned the Z22 and bought a Dell Axim. I like it.

John Mark Ockerbloom | June 26, 2007 10:01 PM

On the "cell phone taxes" thing: if the monthly-plan bills are like my landline bill, many of those "taxes" aren't taxes you have to pay, but junk fees added by the provider.

On the Virgin Mobile thing: Just got one of those a few months ago (our first cell phone), and yes, I love the $20-every-90-days prepaid plan (which currently gives us all the minutes we need to use). I didn't know about the Target 25% discounts though: when or how often do those sales tend to happen?

Anna N. | June 26, 2007 10:26 PM

Being a guinea pig is WAY overrated. Much better to let other people deal with that crap and wait for them to fix (some of) the flaws.

Omaha Lisa | June 26, 2007 10:32 PM

John, the last sale I found was last September. I think they do it about once a year, so I stock up. Also, check to see if Virgin Mobile still has the "add $90 and you don't have to top up for a year" sale. I stocked up last year; now I don't have to top up till Sept.

David "The Longtime Lurker" | June 26, 2007 10:42 PM

I still have my 1st Generation ZEN (40GB). It's all I've needed for going on 4 years now. Big? Probably... but so is the capacity... and I've not felt the need to watch tv shows in the car yet, so... As for my phone... well... let's just say it has *voice capability*.

JonathanMoeller | June 26, 2007 11:24 PM

My cell phone's on its last legs, so I've been thinking about getting a new one.

But hell would have to freeze over, pigs would have to fly, and George Bush would have to become a Democrat before I drop $500 (and $60 a month) on a bloody cell phone. Even if it can play music and browse the web. For $500, that phone has better be able to freaking teleport me from place to place.

Anonymous | June 27, 2007 12:14 AM

I have been on the bleeding edge only once, when I bought a computer in 1977. Since then, I wait until other people have found the problems, and said problems have been fixed in newer models. I don't plan to start bleeding edge now, although I am nore likely to have an iPhone eventually than to have an iPod ever.

Chang, for rizzle. | June 27, 2007 09:17 AM

What kills me about this is that the GD phone is on the front page of our local paper on a day when there are many other more important world events going on.

A phone.

A fricking phone.

Laurie Mann | June 27, 2007 10:27 AM

Much as I like the look of the iPhone, the base cost and the monthly fee will prevent me from getting it. We have a family cell plane through Cingular/AT&T that runs about $82 a month for three of us.

We are rarely early adopters of anything anyway.

Josh Jasper | June 27, 2007 10:48 AM

OMG, the top of the line new product release that everyone wants is ... higher priced than average?

Say it ain't so!

Josh | June 27, 2007 10:49 AM

If you don't already make uses of the various features of a "smartphone," chances are the iPhone wouldn't be a good fit.
The thing is, I actually make use of the features of my smartphone and that is one of the huge reasons I am uninterested in the iPhone. At best it is a feature phone, not a smart phone, as it doesn't have any tie-in with exchange (sadly work likes for me not to have a life), doesn't allow third party applications (uh, the whole "You can write a ghetto web 2.0 web page and call that an application" shtick that Apple has really doesn't cut it, and moreover the definition of a smartphone is one in which you can install additional applications on), and doesn't even have games (how am I supposed to entertain myself in the 8 million meetings I get dragged to at work? Sure I could listen to music, but it is a lot easier for me to claim I am just checking my email when I don't have earbuds in).

I dunno, all the hype has me put way off on the device and I can't help but think that I am better off buying a media player and a cell phone seperately even if the interface isn't as snazzy (and as an added bonus, I can lend out my media player to my girlfriend and not be out a phone). Worse still, AT&T is the freaking devil. After the whole NSA stunt and their recent announcement that they are going to start monitoring all data traffic in their networks for possible pirated content I'd sort of rather have a provider that doesn't assume I am a criminal.

David | June 27, 2007 02:18 PM

Yes some of the fees are junk and can actually be removed for a year if you call
and threaten them with calling your local regulatory agency over it.

But even so they factor in to any cost comparison and the point is really AT&T charges more than T-Mobile for the same thing.

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