This is a fine day: I have a column in today's New York Post, the premium tabloid in this fine country of ours. Through a couple of colleagues they tracked me down because they wanted to run an iPhone piece by someone who had touched one. Apple has kept access to the iPhone more guarded than any other preannounced device--usually, companies either don't pre-announce and put everyone under nondisclosure who sees gear, or they pre-announce and offer fairly broad access at trade shows and elsewhere. Apple slipped the kimono in January, allowing a few dozen press people, including me, to hold and play with an early prototype. The prototype clearly had most of the basic functionality in place, because what I spent time with looks and works identically in the features I tested to what's shown in a long 20-minute video on Apple's site now.
It's a bit of an overstatement to call this a "first review," as the Post does, but it's a set of conclusions I've drawn from the physical experience with the device coupled with everything I've learned and seen since. It's a great device, but it's probably going to be overshadowed by its next model. Because AT&T hasn't released pricing for the data plan [update below], and whether Wi-Fi access at hotspots will be included, it's really unclear how much time people will spend with iPhones using the Internet over EDGE, which runs as fast as about 150 Kbps, but can run much slower; and that's downstream only, with upstream rates much slower.
Wi-Fi hotspot backhaul ranges from low broadband (768 Kbps/128 Kbps) to T-1 (1.5 Mbps/1.5 Mbps) and even higher. 3G services from AT&T can operate as fast as 3.6 Mbps with HSDPA, which they don't have rolled out everywhere, and that's a top possible speed; average speeds are below 1 Mbps downstream, and perhaps a few hundred Kbps upstream. That makes 3G and Wi-Fi at hotspots (versus Wi-Fi at homes that have high-speed cable service at 6 Mbps/1 Mbps, and so forth) relatively comparable.
It also means that EDGE will seem painfully slow as iPhone users roam on and off Wi-Fi hotspots. Apple says that the Wi-Fi/EDGE data roaming will be seamless, but that may just be frustrating, too: One minute, you're zooming along; the next, crawling.
Update: Apple and AT&T have released their voice and data plan prices, and Wi-Fi isn't mentioned. I have a long screed about this over at Wi-Fi Networking News. Individual plans with unlimited EDGE data start at $60 and existing AT&T subscribers like myself can add iPhone service (including unlimited data) for $20 per month per iPhone. The early reviews critique EDGE's speed and availability. If you're going to use the iPhone effectively, you're going to wind up paying perhaps Boingo $22 per month for Wi-Fi access all over the U.S.
And, man, are some people angry about this "review." Read David Pogue or Walt Mossberg or Ed Baig's take on the matter--they generally like the phone, but they are also critical of the EDGE network choice.