iCamped for the iPhone

After enduring six long months of escalating hype and spending 17 uncomfortable hours waiting outside a Pittsburgh Apple (NYSE: AAPL  ) store, I have the answer to the big question about the sleek 3.5-inch gadget sporting a trio of Internet, iPod, and phone functions:

Does the iPhone live up to its buzz?

I must admit, I was a bit wary about whether my drive from D.C. to my hometown of Pittsburgh to camp out with a friend would be worth the effort and the $600 reduction in my bank account. Before my journey, I chatted on a slim Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) RAZR, ran to the tunes on my pink iPod mini, and surfed the Internet on my iBook laptop. But within 30 minutes of my purchase, I realized that these devices were no longer three separate entities. Within minutes of opening the box, my cell phone account had been updated with the added data service plan, my iTunes, photos, calendar, and email were synced, and I had full phone service and Internet capabilities without even setting foot into an AT&T (NYSE: T  ) store.

The success of the iPhone is obviously important for me and the thousands of others who lined up hours -- and even days -- in advance of the June 29 release. However, I suspect that Apple's shareholders are just as anxious about whether the phone will be a long-term hit. With a more than 30% run-up in price since Steve Jobs announced Apple's entrance into the cellular market, its stock is banking on the product being a winner with iFans and those not yet in the fold. As one of the first proud owners, I think I can vouch for most iPhone customers that this might just be the most revolutionary cellular device on the market.

And while Jobs and his team will have to continually innovate and build upon the first model in order to keep ahead of the smartphone competitors such as Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) and BlackBerry, I believe that they have certainly taken the mobile industry to a whole new level. I agree that other smartphones share many of the iPhone features, yet Apple's product stands out. Not only does it boast a svelte exterior, it lets even a novice smartphone user such as myself easily navigate around in a minimal amount of time. In fact, Apple didn't even include a manual with the phone, displaying its confidence in the phone's simplicity.

Many analysts and techies were nervous about some of the iPhone's features, such as the touch-screen keypad and the quality of AT&T's network. While I don't mean to brag, I'm feeling pretty savvy right now, as I can text almost as fast as I type on a computer keyboard. Additionally, I've been an AT&T customer for years, so I know the company provides excellent service. I'll be the fist to admit that the EDGE Internet AT&T offers is not quite as speedy as I might like, but considering I can access the Internet from anywhere, I think I can spare an extra 30 seconds to browse a Web page.

Despite a few virtually unnoticeable glitches, I believe the iPhone was worth both a day of living on the street with just a folding chair for "comfort" and its $600 price tag. As more and more people reach the expiration on their contracts with other providers such as Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S  ) , and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , I think a significant portion will switch to AT&T, as it is the only cellular service permitted to sell the iPhone for two years. Polls have shown that nearly 40% of those planning to buy the iPhone are not yet AT&T customers.

Apple is aiming to sell 10 million phones in 2008, which would give it 1% of the global mobile phone market. Additionally, the company is hoping the iPhone becomes its third leading product, behind its iPod and iMac computers. Judging by the reaction of my friends as they gawk at my new toy, I'd say it looks like the iTeam is off to a good start on beating original estimates. According to press reports, more than 200,000 phones were sold on the release date and nearly 525,000 were sold throughout the rest of the weekend.

Right now, there is a lot of success baked into the share price, but from the past three days of being an iPhone user, I believe Apple has significant room to grow revenue and capture a greater market share in the cellular industry.

For now, I need to catch up on my sleep, as I missed an entire night's rest camping out. But I'll leave you with this: I truly feel this phone allows Apple to enter a whole new playing field; my brand-new iPhone has redefined the cellular industry.

Fool contributor Kristin Graham is long shares of AT&T, but has no financial interest in any other companies mentioned. While she enjoyed her short-lived celebrity lifestyle after being interviewed on several local Pittsburgh news stations and quoted in a number of newspapers, she's glad her days of being mobbed by the media are over. She's back at her desk as a Foolish research associate, impressing her colleagues with her latest purchase.

The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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