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The Ongoing Efforts to Kill the iPhone

They never learn. Media pundits have this “bigger they are, harder they fall” philosophy when it comes to one of Apple’s hot-selling gadgets. So in the days when the iPhone was growing tremendously every single year, almost every pretender to the throne was touted as the one and only inevitable iPod killer. This was particularly true of the Microsoft Zune, which remains, to this day, an unmitigated disaster.

Of course few care about iPod killers these days. The conventional wisdom has it that the standalone digital media player has seen its day and now is the era for the smartphone or a tiny network computer, which is probably the category in which you’d place the iPod touch. Oh yes, Microsoft will supposedly have a touch killer this fall, in the form of a new Zune with a touch screen. Ho hum!

The iPhone has taken the iPod’s place to many as a cultural icon. You seem them on TV. Well, you see a BlackBerry too, and so far President Obama is not giving up on his specially tweaked version. But you never know where that’ll lead. Maybe the Secret Service is even now configuring an iPhone 3GS for the chief executive.

In any case, the original T-Mobile phone using Google’s Android OS was pushed as a sure way to beat down the iPhone. Now when Apple introduced the iPhone 3G and the 3GS, both introductory weekends produced sales of over a million units. Since November, the first Android phone has sold maybe one million copies. So much for an iPhone killer.

Now there’s a new version from T-Mobile, dubbed the MyTouch 3G. Well, it’s a nice name, and having Catherine Zeta-Jones back for the TV ads is a real plus. A story about the new gadget even made a lame attempt to pit it against the iPhone, by extolling the ability to move desktop icons and change wallpaper backgrounds. The author admitted you could do the former on an iPhone, but seems to have forgotten you can do the latter as well.

This isn’t to say that T-Mobile is a bad company or that the MyTouch 3G is destined to fail. Actually it’s a good company with high ratings for customer service and network reliability, but the availability of actual 3G service is even worse than on AT&T if that’s possible. Besides, some folks hack their iPhones to work on T-Mobile regardless, and those units might be the most consistent competitors to the MyTouch 3G.

I won’t say much about the BlackBerry Storm from Verizon Wireless. Chad, the manager at the local pharmacy we frequent, is a Mac user, but opted for the Storm because he was already a Verizon customer. When I’d come to pick up a prescription, he made a point of asking me about my iPhone. Just recently, he had is own iPhone in hand, and it was clear that the Storm didn’t suit his needs.

That takes us to another would-be contender, the Palm Pre. The media delights in mentioning that Jon Rubenstein, a former Apple hardware executive, now heads up Palm. Actually, other former Apple people work at Palm, and some former Palm people work at Apple. So be it.

But Rubenstein’s presence won’t guarantee the Pre’s success, and Palm desperately needs one to survive. Its first weekend brought an estimated forty thousand to fifty thousand units sold. I suppose that’s not too bad, considering Palm made their initial deal with Sprint, regarded by many (including your cheerful editor) as the worst wireless carrier in the U.S. Sprint also needs a winner, so maybe this is the marriage made in heaven for both companies.

Whether the Pre’s initial sales will pick up is anyone’s guess. You’d think the production delays and early hype would have helped move more product, not to mention the fact that it came out just prior to the WWDC, where the iPhone 3GS was launched. More to the point, the Pre has actually gotten extremely positive reviews, for the most part, although it’s Web-based operating system is not nearly as developed as the competition.

But good reviews don’t guarantee success. What’s more, the iPhone had a two-year head start, and a recent survey from ChangeWave indicated that 44% of the people who planned to buy smartphones in the near future placed an iPhone at the top of their shopping lists. Second, at  23%, was the BlackBerry. The Palm Pre was a distant third at 8%. Well, I guess you can’t argue with that, except to attack the numbers and the methodology, but I don’t think the media people who are desperately seeking iPhone killers are all that sophisticated about statistics.

In the meantime, in case you want to know, my transition to a black 16GB iPhone 3GS has been totally uneventful. The initial activation and sync processes were appropriately speedy. The enhanced performance is immediately obvious, and all my favorite apps work just fine, thank you. As I said previously, call quality remains consistently high, and I’ve had only one or two disconnects so far.

All this, of course, doesn’t mean that some company isn’t going to come along and blow away the iPhone in terms of features, usability and performance. But none of the products on the horizon so far stand a chance.