With the launch of the Apple iPhone,  it seems that many people have their opinions on the device.  Either it’s a “Wow!” factor, or it’s a “Existing technology in new clothing” stance, but each have to wait and see what features the phone will have over the next 2 years.

Apple has promised to continue to update the software on the iPhone which could potentially unlock common features such as MMS, additional Bluetooth profiles, File Browser, custom ringtones, and the list goes on and on that were left out of iPhone 1.0.

The common cry of the iPhone owner and/or iPhone Fanboy is “It may not have those features now, but just wait when Apple releases a new firmware”.  Unfortunately,  firmware upgrades that give the features you may want are never guaranteed.

I lived through the Verizon Samsung A310 which had the potential to be a cool, customizable phone in it’s time, never utilize many of the locked features of the phone.  I spent many hours “playing” with the Motorola v710 and e815, trying to unlock features which were locked out of the phone by the carrier.  Rumored firmware updates were supposed to add those additional features, but many never came to reality.

So now we have the iPhone in it’s wonderful snazzy GUI, but certainly short on features.   The potential is there for Apple to add many of the things the phone lacks through software updates, but what if the iPhone doesn’t sell as well as they hope?  What if over the next 2 years, Apple only releases bug fixes, and doesn’t add those features, and new ones?

One of the bigger downfalls of the closed system of the iPhone is, that it doesn’t appear to give the end user as much choice as you would have with a PC.   If I wanted to chat with someone via an IM network,  I can install and run one of the many IM clients for the various networks (This is true for Blackberry OS, SymbianOS, and Windows Mobile), but Apple currently has the phone locked down for the consumer to go out and add the features that were left out of the 1.0 release.

Apple isn’t the only one putting a product out, and hinting at future abilities of the product.  If we look at the Microsoft Zune,  we can see some great potential, but no real feature enhancements since firmware v1.1 (Which gave you wireless transfer).  I now have a Pantech PN-820 cell phone which runs Windows Mobile 5 Smartphone.   WinMo 6 standard was released shortly after, but I doubt I will ever see the vendor or the carrier release an upgrade, though the potential is there.

In a world of software updates,  it seems you just have to put a product on the market that CAN be upgraded to evolve over time.  The pitfall in consumers buying such product, is that the product may never live up to the same potential that may have been the reason for them to buy it in the first place.  I think updates will definitely come, but I question if these updates will be tokens of features which should have been included at launch, or if they will really expand the platform.  Is this another case where the Vendor (Apple) knows what’s good for you with limitations, despite many of the competing platforms giving more choice?

Maybe it is this centuries Henry Ford philosophy,  where instead of “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”, we now have “Think different and buy what you like, as long as you think like Apple, and buy what Apple says you can have.”.

In previous generations,  products had limited “upgrade ability”, but then you had a product feature complete, so you knew where you stood when deciding to purchase it.   Adding the ability for a product to evolve over a lifetime is a good thing,  but maybe there should some way to convey the chance that the potential will ever be reached in the products lifetime.  It is far to easy to use marketing to entice a consumer with what COULD be done with the product, instead of what WILL be done with the product.  In an ever evolving market,  I doubt there is much consumers can do, but gamble on the vendors willingness and ability to deliver on the potential without forcing them to buy another version.