Man, I simply don’t understand it all. The fervor over the iPhone has culminated into a painful hum that assaults my eardrums and eyesockets no matter where I turn or go. Every website in existence, no matter its base subject matter, has some sort of coverage or commentary or sniveling longing regarding this device; I turn on the TV to escape and CNN has become the 24-hour iPhone network. I change the channel—somewhere safe, like Animal Planet perhaps. In between ubiquitous iPhone commercials they have Bindi Erwin’s precious (precocious? I always get those two confused) mug demonstrating how she’s taught an orangutan to use the simple gestures-based navigation to check her email (email@example.com).
I shudder and retreat to bed, pulling the sheets high over my head despite the summer heat. Outside my window I hear a neighbor greet a passerby on the sidewalk: “Did you get your iPhone yet? Have you seen the visual voicemail?” They then squeal and giggle and I imagine they have drawn close together, slapping at each other’s hands and stamping their feet in spastic glee before smoothing their brylcreem’d hair and readjusting their power ties. Death does not spontaneously strike to relieve me.
The frustrating thing is that I’m usually right there with them: This is Apple after all, and my love for the company and their smooth industrial design contours is well known throughout the land. Make no mistake, among the generic media white noise directed at me only because I belong to the mercurial entity known as the public there has been a steady flux of pointed questions which all orbit the central query: “So. Are you getting an iPhone?” The assumption here is that my Apple devotion makes this a given and they direct their question to me in a wary, steeled manner that indicates they fully expect a sermon which elucidates point-by-point the wonders of an Apple-branded mobile phone.
They get a sermon, all right, and you are now subject to a digital representation of its finer points, so it’s not really what they expect. I guess I like to keep people guessing.
I, of course, realize the irony in adding to the din about this device with my own naysaying. But my status as a “hater” is not one I relish. Would that I simply drank the Kool-Aid like a typical Apple consumer, hands cupped over ears and nonsense pouring loudly from my vocal cords to mask the cries of those who would take my place. I find I’m even arguing with myself on occasion. “For all it’s shortcomings, it’s still revision number one,” I say, ignoring the startled looks from others in line at the bank who cannot discern whom I’m directing my comments toward. “Apple is known for underwhelming first gen devices. Maybe by this time next year you’ll sing a different song.” I find myself pleased that I’ve quickly moved to the front of the line, but dismayed that all windows seem suddenly devoid of tellers. Strange, that.
But even with Apple’s predictable track record, I still don’t find myself getting very excited by the prospect of a cell phone. I can see the appeal in a convergent device, that’s for sure. But consider the Cingular 8525 for a moment. WiFi, 2 megapixel camera, full qwerty keyboard, bluetooth, large and spacious screen: Check, check and check some more. So far we’re close in feature list to the iPhone. Then there’s the 3G, expandable micro SD slot and integrated flash for the camera which, you may note, are all things that the iPhone lacks. Sure, it doesn’t have the spiffy touchscreen (it does have a cool slide-out keyboard thing happening, though) and it lacks the hefty hard drive for all that music-playing joy.
But then again, it’s only $300 which means I could buy it, an 8GB iPod nano ($250) and a 1 GB micro SD card to store extra stuff like Windows Mobile apps (did I mention the iPhone has no third-party application support outside of browser-based ones?) and still save $35 compared to the iPhone. Since you can’t use your iPod songs as ringtones on the iPhone anyway, I’m not losing any features there and from what I understand I might actually be able to check my email on the 8525 without hucking it against the wall.
Yes, I know, the comparisons sound remarkably like the ones people make when Apple people (like myself, let’s not forget) start talking about OSX. Or the iPod. Apple fans love to wail about the user experience: “Interface is king!” We cry, trying to hide our cracking voices underneath a muffled cough. I certainly don’t want to undermine the arguments I myself have made in the past but in this case I just don’t see that Apple is doing what Apple does best. Touch screens? Really?
Is there something fundamentally broken about the precision of the well-used stylus? Is the vaunted iPod click wheel somehow already obsolete? Have we already grown weary of the arcane and ancient button with tactile feedback? Are these relics truly ready to be put out to pasture? Perhaps you don’t have to navigate the world with my stubby and greasy fingers, worn slick from years of nearly constant application of Kleenex to nose to stem the tide of my allergy-collecting nasal passages (yes, the collection has grown quite large, thank you for asking!) but primitive though I may be, I still like interacting even with abstractions like electronic interfaces via some tool. I hope the 8525 can withstand the abuse of being dragged, along with my knuckles, along the ground.
Naturally the iPhone does do something… uh, righter than the competition and that is provide a robust and long-lasting battery solution. Judging solely on the performance of my once-awesome and now hopelessly mundane RAZR, plugging a phone in once every two days sounds, when you say it out loud, like a pittance of a chore—it very nearly relinquishes its chore status when you put it that way. But I assure you that is only the case if it were possible to apply some degree of leeway to that requirement. When you use your cell phone as your primary (read: sole) means of voice communication, a dead phone is an affront to your ability to function in society. I don’t know why exactly this is so. But faced with the prospect of severance from humanity or eating lunch, I often find myself racing home with my stomach growling like that dog in Cujo, eyes flitting down to the blinking battery indicator on my phone, glowing an angry red (also like the eyes of the dog in Cujo) and marking the countdown to my dissolution as a modern person. There is no sustenance here save at the business end of a grounded, three-prong electrical outlet.
Is a nine-hour battery worth the media blitz that haunts my nightmares?
Is there any chance that I won’t, at some distant point in the future, own an iPhone and find myself filled with shame for the words I’ve written today?
No. And no.
I would have to say that, yes, styli and touch wheels are obsolete. I think the main thing the iPhone will bring forth is a series of touch screen devices. Be sure that the next iPod will look like the iPhone. I have a Treo and do almost all my random pointing with my finger, even though it’s not the most accurate. It’s right there. Why pull out a stylus for two clicks to launch an application and then put it away? The scroll wheel is nice, but the iPod UI needs updating. The Zune arguably does it better, and as our playlists or list of artists grows into the hundreds or thousands the UI of the iPhone with the ability to browse non-linearly is necessary.
I am also not getting one despite my fanboy status. But we were highly skeptical of the first gen iPod at its price, and we mocked the introduction of the mini at its price point. I have learned that I should probably not bet against Apple when it comes to successfully selling iPod-related consumer electronics. When v2 comes out with 3G and some of the kinks ironed out I’ll likely be on board.