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Is the iPhone a Phone, a Computer? Or Both?

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In explaining why SlingPlayer for the iPhone won’t include 3G support, AT&T (s T) broke new ground, equating the Apple (s AAPL) device with PCs. “We consider smartphones like the iPhone to be personal computers in that they have the same hardware and software attributes as PCs,” the carrier told Engadget Tuesday night. The carrier defends its 3G blockade of the TV streaming app by pointing to its terms of service, which specifically prohibit redirecting “a TV signal to a personal computer.” However, the explanation departs from other handsets, such as RIM (s RIMM)’s BlackBerry Bold and other Windows Mobile phones that permit SlingPlayer, according to Slingbox.

So is it a phone, PC, or both?

Indeed, AT&T’s argument appears to go to the heart of our message earlier this week that the iPhone won’t destroy wireless carriers. AT&T has a love-hate relationship with the iPhone, acknowledging the handset is responsible for increased revenue, yet fearful its 3G network might crumble under the higher bandwidth from iPhone users. As MediaMemo interpreted AT&T’s statement, “If we give people the chance to watch TV on the iPhone, they’ll flock to it –- and our network can’t handle that.”

Along with questions about the sturdiness of AT&T’s 3G network, Kevin Tofel over at sister site jkOnTheRun feels the “crippled” SlingPlayer iPhone app returns us to issues of network neutrality.

But AT&T may have also inadvertently rekindled the argument over whether the iPhone is more like a netbook than an iPod with telephone features. Apple CEO Steve Jobs drew the original comparison in 2008 when the iPhone 3G was released, telling the Wall Street Journal “there’s been nothing on a mobile phone a fraction as good as what’s on PCs.”

This isn’t the first time carriers have wanted to rein in the iPhone. Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Microsoft (s MSFT) would ban VoIP applications from its upcoming Windows Mobile Marketplace, a move seen both responding to carriers and preventing a repeat of Apple’s episode over a Skype app available through the iPhone App Store.

18 Responses to “Is the iPhone a Phone, a Computer? Or Both?”

  1. danny id

    I think the key to this issue is that there has never been a computer with cellular phone capabilities. It has always been phones moving closer and closer to computing capabilities. That trend is why I think the iPhone is mainly a phone on steroids and not a computer with phone capabilities.

    • I agree with danny id! It is our mobile developer who want to embed the computer capability on our phones. We have seen great phones nowadays with facebook app, voice mail, internet email capabalities and games Mainly, i think iPhones is still a phone with a computer capability.

  2. ajolie11

    What do you think the iphone is when it has Berkeley Unix as its OS? The darn thing is a computer and it can be a server just like the one that’s running your site if it were properly hacked.

    Gadget head hit the nail on the head. AT&T is the problem because there would be no discussion about this if we had a pervasive, open tcp/ip based wireless network.

    I wish the carriers would go the way of Chrysler (or better yet). Why can’t this country get its act together on an open wireless IP broadband network? The carriers are killing innovation in this country.

    Carriers == Weenies

  3. On the topic of iPhone being a computer….
    I had my iPhone 3G taken from me on the bus two months ago. I figured insurance deductible, $500, not worth it….
    I called the insurance company up and they stated: “We categorize the iPhone as a computer, NOT as a phone, therefore it falls under a different class of insurance and your deductible is $50”

    I was very thankful the iPhone is viewed as a computer…

  4. Ted T.

    “Odd how places like Japan don’t seem to have trouble building 3G networks that subscribers can actually use.” Agreed. Europe can do it too. Can’t even begin to blame lower US population density because the worse 3G performance happens to be cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Pure incompetence on AT&Ts part (they can’t plead poverty if they can afford to buy rural networks from Verizon for billions of dollars.) Fixing their 3G in big cities has to be AT&T’s first priority.

  5. The whole idea of a smartphone is that it be like a little computer that also has a phone in it. Apple is just the first to have really delivered on this promise in a meaningful way beyond email. Odd how places like Japan don’t seem to have trouble building 3G networks that subscribers can actually use.

    • pooptheworlddotcom

      …a computer that happens to be a phone, iPod, media player, video game console.

      Judging by my year spent in Japan, and the fact that they tend to be a few years ahead…this is definitely the future. Don’t get me wrong…I would never give up my luxurious full sized macbook pro keyboard, but on the go, smart phones and cloud technology is the future (IMO)