Monday Jul 02, 2007

Confessions of an iPhone Lemming

This past Friday, June 29th, I joined the legions of people standing in line to buy Apple's new iPhone, finally ending six months of anticipation and anxiety. Berkeley Breathed even drew a cartoon about me for last Sunday's comics:

It really wasn't that bad. Plan A was to camp out on Apple's on-line store until 6:00PM Eastern and blast away at the order form so I could get one in a few days with rush delivery. But on the 28th I formulated Plan B, which was to check the local AT&T store to see how long the line was. Seeing no one there, I came back on the morning of the 29th and to my astonishment, there was still no one in line. I asked the store clerk what was up and he said to come back at 4:30 when they would close, form a line, and re-open at 6:00. Just to be sure, I got there at 3:30 and only 12 people were ahead of me. By 6:30 I'd not only gotten my iPhone, but I'd probably gotten one of the last 8GB ones at the store. Not bad for a Plan B.

But why line up for this thing at all? After all, cyberspace has been full of iPhone poo-poo's:

  • AT&T is the sole carrier available for iPhone and their service is less than desirable (I complained that it took 3 hours to activate my phone until my friend told me his took over 24 and AT&T's portal to my account access is still not working over two days later)
  • AT&T's EDGE network is too slow
  • there are no third-party apps available for iPhone (although this is about to change)
  • there is no instant messaging capability
  • there is no GPS (especially nasty if you want to get the most out of iPhone's incredible Maps widget)
  • there is no Bluetooth sync capability
  • one should never buy version 1.0 of anything
  • the next rev will be out before the battery runs down
  • etc. etc. etc.

All of these criticisms are right on the mark, and completely beside the point. To these people I say: You just don't get it, do you?

I don't mean that in the mushy, kumbaya sense of participating in one of the biggest cultural events to come out of the Left Coast since last month or whenever. I am, after all, a senior technologist in the world's only other innovative technology company. What I mean is, these may be reasons why you shouldn't get an iPhone; they are not reasons why I shouldn't get one. Let me explain to you where I'm coming from.

  1. I use an Apple MacBook Pro for everything. Before iPhone, I used to sync my Treo 680 using Missing Sync, which is basically the only thing anyone should use to sync a Palm device. Still, it was a third-party app in the way between my phone and my native desktop.
  2. Speaking of third-party apps, when I first entertained thoughts of buying an iPhone and did an inventory of all the apps on my Treo that I would have to do without, I realized that most of them were little $15 or $25 widgets I bought just to manage the phone itself or replace missing functionality in PalmOS. Here's a sample:
    • I used the amazing and wonderful DateBk6 on my Treo for calendar management and to handle time zones, which PalmOS does not. This was crucial, since my customer travel schedule means I'm in a different time zone almost every week. But wonderful app that it is, chalk up another third-party piece of software. In the path DateBk6 -> Missing Sync -> iCal, lots of information got lost (time zones, icons, etc.). On iPhone, I've got MacOS, just like on my desktop, so everything important to me migrates seamlessly. And free software such as jsCalendarSync means I'm only one step away from Sun's calendar server, and I can make my updated calendar available to others when I want them to see it, not every time I change something (unlike other real-time SyncML solutions).
    • I used Contacts5 to get decent address book functionality along with photo support. But once again, in the path Contacts5 -> Missing Sync -> Address Book, all the information that made Contacts5 worth buying didn't carry over. iPhone has no such problems.
    • I used Pocket Tunes to play my iTunes music on my Treo's measly 1GB memory card. But I had to maintain a separate, dummy play list in iTunes just to do so and of course, my iTunes playlist data did not copy over. Ditto for photos and iPhoto, despite the Missing Sync's photo conduit.
    • ChatterEmail was great as far as it went, and was much better than the bundled Versamail, but mostly it made me not check e-mail unless I absolutely had to.
    • Don't even get me started on how much of a pain it was to convert all my videos to ASF to get them to play (poorly) on the Treo.
    • I also had third-party backup utilities, new application sandboxers, and other little system-management tools, most of which I'd forgotten about until I did my Treo inventory.
    The most staggering result of this inventory is what I discovered when I went into Quicken to see how much I'd spent on all this stuff in the last year: over $300, about $15-$20 at a time! The only thing I'll truly miss is my shopping list manager. Everything else I can pretty much do without. My handheld device should be a communications and multimedia portal ... period! I don't care if it doesn't do my taxes, pay my rent, record my many failures at dieting, or anything else the Microsoft or Palm people are telling you distinguishes their clunky platforms (talk about people who don't get it!).
  3. I don't mind debugging version 1.0 of almost anything that comes from Apple. Besides, all those third-party Treo apps I told you about didn't exactly play nice with each other, even after five and a half years of PalmOS maturity. The most egregious example of this is when my Treo kept rebooting when I was on a call and someone else tried to call me at the same time. That's probably worth the price of iPhone admission right there.
  4. It will be nice to update my iPhone software through iTunes like an iPod; not back the whole thing up, wipe the firmware clean, restore everything, and then go looking for the pieces that didn't make it, such as happened all too often on my Treo.
  5. I was already an AT&T wireless customer from the Cingular acquisition and despite all the whining about their lousy service, no one has ever made any compelling argument about how much better it is elsewhere.

In almost every respect, I come out way ahead of where I was three days ago before my purchase.

If all this sounds like a long-winded rant designed more to justify the $600+ expense to myself than to you, I really don't care. The iPhone is simply a beautiful combination of complex technologies, made all the more beautiful by its ability to hide their complexity. Like all Apple products, it just works and I wanted it. So iPhone, here I come. And when the next rev comes out in another year (or less) and is twice as good, I'll buy that one too.

In my next entry, I'll tell you what I like, what I don't like, and what I'll wish for in this magnificent little device.

Lemmings of the world, rejoice! It's a nice cliff and the water's warm!




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