iPhone-free - and Happy

Multitasking is nice, but paying to be subjected to indentured servitude is not.

I am not the target customer for the iPhone, and that makes me happy.

I came to this realization earlier this month, about 15 minutes into the announcement of the next release of the iPhone OS. That was when Apple CEO Steve Jobs admitted that the multitasking features of the new operating system would be available only on the iPhone 3GS, as well as on iPads and newer iPod Touches.

Even though I've been an Apple aficionado for more than 25 years, nobody's going to mistake me for a fanboi (a hopelessly devoted fan). That's because even when I'm impressed by the latest creation, I'm looking for the fly in the ointment, and, to date, the history of the iPhone has had a farmyard's worth of flies.

Think about the device cycle for a minute: The original iPhone lasted for about a year in the market, and it was made obsolete by the iPhone 3G, which debuted in 2008. A year later in mid-2009 came the iPhone 3GS. This effectively means that unless you're the sort of person who gets a new phone every year, you're not the target customer. (Remember that AT&T insists on a 2-year contract for the iPhone, so in many ways, an iPhone becomes obsolete halfway through your agreement with the carrier.)

Since Apple apparently doesn't differentiate between the 3G and the 3GS models in its publicly disclosed sales figures, it's hard to say exactly how many devices will be shut out from the multitasking features of the 4.0 OS. But let's take Apple's figures for the quarters since the original iPhone was released, and do some speculative math.

Apple sold roughly 6,124,000 units of the original iPhone during the five quarters of 2007 and 2008 that the phone was available. For the three quarters that the iPhone 3G was the only option, the company sold (again, roughly) 15,046,000 devices.

Between the introduction of the 3GS and the end of Q1 2010, the company sold 21,312,000 units-a figure that combines the 3G and 3GS models. Let's say for the sake of argument that for every four of the 3GS model Apple sells, it also moves one of the older units. Given the love of shiny and new among people attracted to Apple products, I don't think that's too far off base.

That puts us in the near neighborhood of 20 million 3G iPhones and 17 million 3GS iPhones. Let's further assume that by the time the new OS is released this summer, the proportion of devices able to take advantage of multitasking has flipped. Who else but Apple would be able to cut off almost half of its installed base like that?

Being a child of the auto industry, planned obsolescence is a terribly familiar concept to me. But when Steve Jobs said that the older iPhone hardware "simply didn't support multitasking," he asks us to accept something else altogether.

I concede that I am stodgy about some things (OK, many things), and I am notorious for my habit of using mobile devices for four or five years at a stretch. But suggesting that customers- whether businesses or individuals-purchase new devices every year or two and, in the process, push the end of the contract out another few years, is getting awfully close to indentured servitude in my book.

My innate frugality and my dislike of being tied to a carrier with lousy service aren't the only reasons why I'm still nowhere close to loving the iPhone. The iAd will give me a third reason to balk. But my rant about that "service" will have to wait for another day and another column.