Apple misled iPhone users over internet capability

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The iPhone, the latest must-have gadget from Apple, fails to give users complete access to the internet, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rules today.

It said the combined phone, music player and computer is flawed because of the absence of two common website programmes, Flash and Java. As a result, the authority said Apple's claim that the iPhone gave access to "all parts of the internet" misled customers about its power as a web browser.

Users of the iPhone cannot access the graphics, videos and games on many websites, including the BBC's, because of the absence of Flash. Java's absence deprives users from making use of website shortcuts, typically the copying of personal details on order forms.

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In its ruling, the ASA said Apple failed to take account of the shortcomings in a TV advertising campaign. An iPhone owner was shown using the device to check the weather in Cape Town, a Heathrow airport map, hotels and a stock market site.

The voice-over said: "You never know which part of the internet you'll need. The 'do you need sun cream part'? The 'what's the quickest way to the airport part'? The 'what about an ocean view room part'? Or the 'can you really afford this part'? Which is why, all parts of the internet are on the iPhone".

Two viewers complained, saying the claim was mislead-ing. Apple said the aim of the advert was to highlight the iPhone's ability to offer availability to all websites, in contrast to other handsets which offered only limited web browsing (WAP) or sites selected by service providers. It argued that surfing the internet with an iPhone was similar to surfing from a home or office computer and the appearance and the websites were the same.

The ASA said: "We noted Apple's argument that the ad was about site availability rather than technical detail but considered the claims 'You'll never know which part of the internet you'll need' and 'all parts of the internet are on the iPhone' implied users could access all websites and see them in their entirety.

"We considered that, because the ad had not explained the limitations, viewers were likely to expect to be able to see all the content on a website normally accessible through a PC rather than just having the ability to reach the website.

"We concluded the ad gave a misleading impression of the internet capabilities of the iPhone."

The ruling is a blow to the iPhone's otherwise strong reputation. Reviewers have praised its slimline design, sophistication and versatility. Priced up to £159 each, the iPhone allows users the chance to switch instantly between voice calls, music and email.

But there have been two major criticisms. It is only available through an exclusive deal with the O2 network, meaning customers have to sign up to 18-month contracts, costing between £639 for the 8GB model and £1,350 for the 16GB model.

It has also been criticised for being slow to download web pages, although the latest generation iPhone uses faster 3G technology. The ASA ruling underlines the continuing problems that the iPhone and other mobile devices have in downloading web pages.

Cliff Saran, technical editor of ComputerWeekly, warned that – despite improvements – mobile phones were still vastly inferior to desktop computers for browsing the internet.

* The ASA ruled that an advert for Arm & Hammer toothpaste was wrong to suggest that it could help sensitive teeth through the use of "liquid calcium". After an investigation, the regulator said there was no scientific backing for the claim.

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