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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Duck Taped by Apple in California

Why is the brilliance of the new iPhone 3G so intangible? When I try and explain why I've replaced one 3G, GPS enabled, touch screen smart phone (a TyTN II) with another I get blank stares. When I show people how it works, they nod and smile as if to say that this is just what they expected - all perfectly normal.

So how come I feel like I've made such a technical leap forward - how come this simple device blows me away?

Last week I could browse the internet, I could watch videos, play games, listen to podcasts or my favorite albums, I could read my email and even make phone calls if I had to. Last week I could do all the things that I can do this week, but this week I have a smile on my face as I do them. Why?
That was me that was :-/

It's taken me a week of thinking about it to come up with an answer. I think its exactly because I had a similar device before that the iPhone seems so incredible. In 2003 I opted out of consumer mobile devices. I replaced my Nokia handset and aging Palm V with a PocketPC PDA (the HTC Magician) and have been using a variant of PocketPC ever since. I was always impressed by the technology crammed into them, but friends of mine weren't. They'd look at the clunky phone interface and compare it to their latest handsets, raise a disappointed eyebrow at the media player and point out their iPod, or shrug in apathy at the simple games that were available before picking up their PSP.

In short the PocketPC was a jack of all trades, but master of none. There was no way it could compare with the single function devices in the consumer electronics market. It was a generic computer doing its best.

And this is why the iPhone blows me away. Because its the first all-in-one device that genuinely competes with other consumer electronics. Its not a generic computer at all, its a single box with a phone interface as good as any handset, an mp3 player as good as an iPod, a games engine as good as a PSP (well - as good as a Nintendo DS anyway :-), organisers as good as a PDA, and its piece de la resistance - a web browser that's actually as good as a desktop client. Imagine 5 or 6 consumer gadgets all duck taped together and you're about there.

That's why when you show it to your friends they will shrug, whatever application you show them will be of the same standard that they are used to on their dedicated devices. And its also why some techies don't get it, because on paper the iPhone is no better than the devices that have come before - and in their eyes it might even be worse (after all it only runs on one hardware platform, doesn't allow you to multitask properly, and its all a bit too tightly controlled by Apple).

But after five cold and lonely years I have returned to the consumer electronics fold, and on reflection it's nice to be back.

The iPhone is a jack of some trades, but master of them all.

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