iPhone, therefore I will…

I’m not one to go gooey eyed over technology. Nor am I one to laud a single device, well not usually. I’ve also been fairly resistant to the charms of mobile telephones. I first purchased one in 2003, not so much late adopter as almost didn’t adopter. But lest this descend into solipsistic nonsense let’s talk about Apple’s latest offering (coming to a mobile phone shop er…well, sooner or later…).

The iPhone as a piece of design is really something else. If the interface and the styling work as advertised, and to judge from accounts from Macworld journalists who saw it this appears to be the case, the iPhone is a significant step forward. I’m generally fairly immune to the keynote product announcements which usually have all the charm of a cross between an Oxford Street Christmas car boot sale shop and a revivalist meeting but Steve Jobs presentation of the iPhone is an exemplary bit of showmanship which can be found here (although it’s worth noting that when Jobs used the video features the screens cut to pre-shot footage so perhaps that has yet to be ironed out).

The idea of the smart widescreen, with the phone switching to that mode depending upon how it is held is one of those things which once thought of has all the inevitability that any great concept contains, as is the switch to touch screen. However, how is this to impact upon the iPod? Or is the long term gameplan to shift away entirely from single function to multi-function devices? For those of us who’ve just sort of kind of got to grips with text messaging will the iPhone give us the more ‘traditional’ key interface (and it’s worth noting it’s not 3G enabled)? Which sort of defeats the purpose of the exercise…I know.

And yet, in the same way as the various iterations of the iPod generated a self sustaining ‘ecology’ of accessories, and arguably kicked the MP3 music market into real life, the iPhone could be the missing link between hand held sub computing devices, MP3 players and telephony.

Certainly a further crucial issue is the way in which Apple has finally dropped the ‘Computers’ element of it’s name and has come out as an unashamed technology corporation.

An interesting point about the delayed release schedule, it hits the streets in June 2007, is that it probably is designed to give customers locked into contracts with telephone companies time to move from them. But then what happens to those who hold back from purchasing an iPod when they can get the – admittedly – lower spec iPhone. And do we then have to expect a widescreen, touchscreen video iPod as well? It’s confusing.

I’ve been an Apple user since the late 1980s, and stuck with them through good and bad. However, I’m no evangelist (although I note that the rather excellent Karlin Lillington in the Irish Times is becoming more and more an Apple partisan). Some things they do very well indeed. The integration of OS and hardware has broadly been second to none (bar the flakiness of the latter stages of OS9 where they largely seemed to give up trying too hard). But it took me until last year to finally get an iPod, and I wouldn’t touch the iTunes store at all (too low a bit-rate, too mainstream a selection). So I’d wait and see anyhow. In fact I’m still waiting and seeing in terms of jumping over to the Intel Macs.

Finally I can see some interesting future directions. For a start this utilises OS X as the operating system, so theoretically aps from the Apple stable should be able to run on it. Now, thinking about this (and I’m sure I’m not the only one to make this point), if one has a video line out of some description isn’t it feasible that one could run Powerpoint or Keynote from it? Such a port on the iPhone has yet to appear, sure the iPhone has yet to appear full stop. But why not? It’s a logical next step. I do seminars where I have to lug a Powerbook around. Now it’s not the worst thing in the world to carry, but I worry about it a tad when I’m cycling home of an evening. Much handier would be a simple plug and play option for a file from an iPhone, and if that’s just one potential application for it there must be many more as it becomes a convergent device.

And it kills me to say this. But a year or so down the line, if and when it hits the Irish market I’d be very very tempted indeed to purchase one because this does seem like a distinct shift – despite the Jobs rhetoric, the showmanship and the crucial lack of product in the shops – towards new and perhaps definitively styles of interfacing with various devices. Or perhaps I might start a fund on the net so others could contribute towards one for me.

Hey, whatever works…

Ciarán Swan

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