Wait! Don't buy an iPhone for the holidays!

December is a terrible time to purchase Apple products. Why not buy your loved one flannel pajamas instead?

By Farhad Manjoo

Published December 3, 2007 7:02PM (EST)

Computerworld's Tracy Mayor is agonizing over a major life decision: Should she buy an iPhone for her loved one this holiday season, or should she wait?

Probably one or two others across the land are similarly vexed. The iPhone is the coolest gift of the season. Your favorite techie has been dropping hints about it for months, and you're fairly certain that were you to buy this person anything else you'd find a lump of coal hurtling at your head on Christmas morning.

But don't do it. The iPhone is a terrific product. Someday, your loved one -- and you! -- should have one. But now is not the time to buy.

For starters, December is a terrible month to purchase most Apple products. Apple traditionally introduces its newest things in January, at the Macworld convention in San Francisco. (The exception is the iPod line, which made its debut in October and which is usually updated in the fall.)

CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone at the last Macworld, and the product went on sale at the end of June. So it's possible that Jobs will put out a major revision of the phone at the next Macworld, just a couple weeks after you buy today's version.

You might regard a January update as unlikely, and perhaps you're right. But this much is guaranteed: A major upgrade to the iPhone will come sometime during 2008. And because the iPhone locks you in to a two-year AT&T contract, your loved one will be stuck with the old version while everyone else is frolicking with the new.

But hey, you say, that will always be true with technology! A better iPhone -- a better anything -- is always around the corner!

True enough, but the next iPhone will offer a particularly important upgrade, one that justifies waiting: 3G wireless Internet capabilities.

When you're away from a WiFi network and want to use the Web, today's iPhone will take you there over AT&T's Edge network, which is agonizingly slow. But AT&T also offers a faster networking service, 3G, which is is substantially faster than Edge. It's currently available in hundreds of major cities around the country, and the company is expanding coverage all over the place.

And as Randall Stephenson, AT&T's CEO, acknowledged to reporters last week, Apple will release a version of the iPhone that's capable of communicating over 3G some time during 2008.

A lot of what's in today's iPhone can be upgraded. When Apple puts out new features for the iPhone, you'll get them on today's version through a software update. But 3G networking requires a hardware upgrade, so the phone you buy this month will never be able to match the capabilities of iPhones coming out next year.

But hey, you say, what if Apple adds something else to the iPhone -- namely money? Two months after it launched the iPhone, Apple dropped the price of the 8GB model from $599 to $399. But what if that was only temporary? When it adds 3G to the phone, what if the company also goes back to its original price?

Well, that's a risk, of course, but it seems unlikely. As Wired News' Bryan Gardiner points out, Apple is aiming to sell 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008. A price hike isn't going to help it make that number.

So what's your rush? The iPhone's fantastic, but it is, today, fundamentally crippled: Its best feature -- the wireless Internet -- doesn't work as well as it should. Apple will fix this problem soon.

So have some patience. Your loved one may hate you for not buying an iPhone now. In the long run, though, your decision will look wise.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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