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Some want iPhone tweaked before they buy

Apple Inc.'s upcoming iPhone is shaping up as this year's must-have gadget, but several perceived shortcomings are pushing some potential buyers to wait for an updated version.
Apple Developers
Apple CEO Steve Jobs talks about the iPhone at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco.Paul Sakuma / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Apple Inc.'s upcoming iPhone is shaping up as this year's must-have gadget, but several perceived shortcomings are pushing some potential buyers to wait for an updated version.

Worries over the high cost, slow network speed, and battery life are deterring some customers from ponying up a minimum of $499 for the device, despite the buzz across the gadget-crazed landscape of tech retail.

AT&T, the largest U.S. wireless provider, has an exclusive agreement to sell two versions of the phone, priced at $499 and $599, in the United States under a two-year contract.

The new phone features a touch screen and combines the features of a cell phone, iPod, digital organizer and wireless Internet device. The phones will go on sale Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. local time across the United States in Apple and AT&T retail stores, as well as on Apple's Web site.

But the phone does not work on AT&T's fastest network, which runs on so-called 3-G technology. That, some said, will make Web-browsing slower than phones running on other networks.

Kate Rockwood, 24, a graduate student at Northwestern University, is shopping for a new phone as her contract with Verizon Communications Inc. expires this month.

"I really, really, really had my heart set on an iPhone," Rockwood said, citing the phone's much-touted Web capability as its most attractive feature.

But she said a desire for faster network speed, as well as longer battery life, will make her wait for a later version. She said she is wary of investing big money for service with questionable speed.

"To me, that's a $600 gamble," Rockwood said.

Phillip Kaplan, 29, a graduate student in Chicago with a background in graphic design, said he would not even consider buying the first version of the phone.

"The whole idea for me is to not even think about the first version," said Kaplan, who believes that many glitches will be discovered once consumers actually start using the product.

First-version worries
Another area of concern is whether the iPhone's on-screen keyboard will be as easy to use as Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs claims. A wonky keyboard could turn off power users who write a lot of e-mail.

"Just like you don't buy the first model year of a car, you might not want to buy the first version of the iPhone," said Todd Dagres, a partner in Boston-based venture capital firm Spark Capital, which specializes in digital media and technology.

Dagres also said Apple has a track record of rolling out new, improved and cheaper models, such as the later versions of its iPod digital music and video players. Apple will likely do the same with iPhone, he said.

"Not many kids can carry a $500 phone, but a lot more would carry a $200 phone," Dagres said.

AT&T's network speed, however, poses no problem for Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research.

Wu said the iPhone's network and battery are competitive with what's already in the market. Apple says the phone will allow up to eight hours of talk time, six hours of Internet use and 24 hours of audio playback.

"So what if it doesn't run on 3G? Most other phones don't either," Wu said, adding: "The faster the network, the higher the cost."

Given the hype created by past Apple products that went on to become cultural icons, questions such as network speed and battery life may be moot, Wu said.

Some customers plan to camp out on Thursday night to ensure a place in line at stores. And on one popular Web community site, craigslist, customers unwilling to miss work on Friday were posting requests for people to stand in line for them.

"I'm sure Apple will sell every model they build," Wu said.