iPhone battery life, virtual keyboard concern early testers

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Though confident in Apple's iPhone strategy, financial experts at American Technology Research issued a report Monday that highlights some of the more prominent concerns facing early testers of the the multi-functional handset ahead of its release.

"There are about two weeks remaining before Apple launches its highly anticipated iPhone in both AT&T and Apple retail stores nationwide on June 29," analyst Shaw Wu wrote in the report. "While we remain very upbeat on iPhone's prospects and find the product revolutionary and landscape changing with its multi-touch interface, full page web browsing, widescreen video Pod, and tight integration with iTunes, we wanted to offer some balanced perspective and analysis."

Virtual Keyboard

For starters, Wu said he's picking up on some concern from beta testers and supply chain sources that the device's "virtual keyboard" technology may present early challenges for some users.

"On the positive side, using this design allows Apple to maximize its 3.5-inch screen and to limit clutter," he wrote. "However, customers who are accustomed to a physical keyboard may find typing on a screen to be less certain and accurate than on physical buttons and face a learning curve."

Still, the analyst said he's not overly concerned as he believes users will likely spend the majority of their time on navigation-type tasks, such as scrolling through menus and surfing the web. "We believe one overlooked advantage Apple may have over other smart phones is that when making calls, its virtual dialer has no extra clutter, and it is likely easier to dial unprogrammed phone numbers than on fixed QWERTY keyboards," he explained.

Battery Life

Another concern for early iPhone testers, Wu said, is battery life. Apple says iPhone will deliver up to eight hours of talk time (6 hours of Internet use, 7 hours of video playback or 24 hours of audio playback.) The company also claims the iPhone will feature up to 250 hours-more than 10 days-of standby time.

"We hope those times are accurate, but some of our sources have indicated iPhone's active use battery life may be closer to around 4-5 hours for heavy use, similar to other smart phones," the analyst told clients. "However, because an iPhone also serves as an iPod, unless Apple's claims on performance specs are accurate, 4-5 hours of video playback may not be enough for usage such as on international flights, and for phone use afterwards."

Wu said he'd like to see Apple move to a replaceable battery design at some point, similar to its MacBook and MacBook Pro product lines. "We believe this gives customers more flexibility and could even create a lucrative, aftermarket battery marketplace for Apple with its licensing partners," he wrote.

More photos of the iPhone's software and hardware

Corporate e-mail works

On a more refreshing note, the American Technology Analyst cited sources who say that iPhone is indeed compatible with corporate e-mail systems based on Microsoft Exchange. However, it will not be as robust as push technology offered by Research In Motion's BlackBerry.

"We believe this may deter usage among some corporate users; however, for consumer users, it is not likely an issue as iPhone works well with popular consumer e-mail systems from Yahoo! and Google," he told clients.

On the other hand, the analyst said, the iPhone's Safari web browser may offer an advantage over other smart phones. "Accessing corporate e-mail through 'Outlook Web Access' from Microsoft could prove to be a usable solution and eliminate the task of synching (web outlook has native access to Exchange and Outlook)," he wrote.

Wu, who maintains a buy rating on shares of Apple, reiterated his $145 price target on the Cupertino-based company, citing potential for additional upside to that target in the coming months.

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