I got my hands on an actual iPhone over the weekend, and I'm now buying into the hype. It's not so much the phone itself that deserves the hype as the UI.
My response: of course, of course, of course. Most of the critics and some of the fans miss the point: the iPhone doesn't really perform all that many functions not already performed by other phones. That's not why it's important - indeed, revolutionary.
Remember, it's not as if the original Macintosh was so amazing because it ran applications or performed functions that no computer had ever performed. It did pretty much the same stuff as an IBM machine running early DOS did. It's how it did it. And the how effects the who and the future what. (I'm thinking of Trademarking the 'future what'.) Because of the way the Mac did what it did (because of the mouse and the GUI) the personal computer revolution was possible. Now almost everyone uses computers, and they use them to do things almost unimaginable 25 years ago.
With the iPhone all this means that so-called smartphones that were once the preserve of geeks and Business-Types (different kind of geeks), will go mainstream (but please let us hope we stop calling them 'smartphones'). The device is revolutionary because at a certain point down the road everyone will think it is normal and necessary to check your email, surf the web, and watch a movie on your 'phone'. And we will do all sorts of other things on our 'phone' that I can't really think up right now, but with the iPhone UI in place I'm confident that lots of other clever people will think up.
I also wonder if we can't speculate about the iPhone and its followers in their capacity to eventually encroach on the laptop market. For people that don't write a ton of text, there will no longer be any reason to have the laptop with them when they go places. It's thus conceivable that the iPhone will replace the personal computer for many people for many tasks.
Much of this gets lost in the hype, because the hype focuses so much on marketing, sales, and money, on the one hand, and on the personal consumer choice to buy an iPhone, on the other. But the revolution that the iPhone is launching will go ahead whether or not Apple makes billions of dollars on it, and it will go ahead whether or not your or I buy an iPhone. Most importantly, these three dimensions (1. Apple sales 2. consumer choice 3. revolutionary status) must be separated when judging the iPhone. I can only speculate wildly about the first as I don't know the ins and outs of the phone market, of Apple's business model, etc. I'm sure Ryan could give us a guess that is much better educated. My guess is that they will make tons of money, but there are a million ways that they might not. And I want them to make money simply so that Steve Jobs can invest it in the next great thing he's dreaming up. As for the second, I doubt I'll buy an iPhone within the next 8 months, as I don't want to pay the price premium, and as I remarked earlier, my current uses for such a device are extremely limited. I know that the fly won't buy one within the year, and I'm sure that many people's parents will never buy one.
But I'm confident about number 3. One day in the future folks will wonder how all of us ever got on with life without the ability to tap and pinch and drag our fingers on our 'phones'. (Also be sure to check out Dan's great iPhone-related entries, here, and here. It's probably not my place to out the guy, but I have to tell you: 12 months ago he'd never even owned a Mac.)