iPhone – eyewash

iPhone – EyewashAmid the usual hype and razzmatazz the Apple iPhone was launched yesterday. The marketing will ensure this pointless gadget does well of course but really there should be a limited market for a device which really has no innovations and does not even offer any significant improvements on the tools we already have to do the same job.

The iPhone claims to be a fully functioning mobile communications device with “touch screen” internet browsing, a built in MP3 player capable of holding up to two thousand songs and incorporates a digital camera. Wow.

So you are expected to part with $500 for the entry level model and also throw away perfectly good cellphones, MP3 players, Digital Cameras and PDAs in favour of this little usurper which according to reviews does all things but many of them not very well.

The “touch screen” functions more like the annoying and inaccurate scratch pads on modern laptops, a definite retrograde step from the scrollerball on my old 386 Laptop which was totally controllable. Back in the early 1980s , before IBM had used financial clout to make their flawed and clunky PC architecture the de facto standard, Hewlett Packard launched a touch screen PC with a proprietary WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mouse, Pointer for the benefit of the young) Operating System with the slight but revolutionary difference that the mouse was a human finger. Touch an icon on the 14″ screen and it would open up, either going straight into an application or open a menu of files. That HP system was one of many, including desktop systems from Xerox and Digital Equipment (DEC) that were many years in advance of the IBM / Microsoft products of the day. But the eighties were the decade in which hype triumphed over judgement.

Fingers are ideal for hitting a specific spot, after all we have a million years or so experience in pointing at things (I want THAT one.) Fingers are not so accurate when used to scratch a piece of plastic in order to move a little arrow around a screen.

The point is Hewlett Packard’s operating system was designed specifically to work with a touch screen. The iPhone OS has to be compatible with Windows and with Internet Browsers.

Typing on the iPhone is by touch rather than key. This is going to cause a lot of heartache for many users as will the slow and clunky internet access. There is a wireless interface but unfortunately more and more wireless users are learning how to secure their networks and prevent freeriders grabbing their bandwidth.

The hype that will sell this new Apple cash cow is the implication that it has found the philosopher’s stone of personal communications, integrating into a single device web browsing, e-mail, phone, text music and DVD and makes them useable while on the move.

This does not stand up to examination of course, firstly Music and DVD are not really communication. Those still cursed with the power of independent thought will at once se that Music and DVD are not truly communication and that reading web pages and watching video are not really an enjoyable experience when done on a three inch by two inch screen.

When I was in hospital a few years ago and bored out of my mind with counting the ceiling tiles my family bought me a mini TV with a five inch screen. It saved my sanity but also made me aware of the inadequacies of a small screen. News, talk shows and soaps were fine but sport, epic dramas like Sharpe or nature programmes were not very watchable at all. So who would really want to watch Lord of the Rings on a PDA screen.

Similarly with MP3s. MP3 players may be cool or even “kewl” but they do not deliver the sound quality of a Walkman or discman. Added to this, the very high compression ratios used by commercial digital music vendors lead to a very poor sound quality. An MP3 player cannot deliver the quality of a Walkman or Discman. but they do deliver quantity. And again enough people will fail to ask “how much music do I need to carry with me?”

Added to all this is the ridiculous obsession with being “connected” while on the move. Does anybody really think it is possible to e-mail, browse, or watch a video while driving, walking or riding a bike? A laptop is a much better tool to take on a train journey, nobody goes by ship now and digital communications devices are not allowed on aircraft. And then factor into the equation the sheer intrusiveness of mobile devices on our quality time.

The nerds, geeks and webheads will be queuing up to tell me I am a dinosaur now but they would be wrong. I worked in technology and as a consultant a large part of my job was to ask “where is the benefit?” DVD technology is a big improvement on VHS for many reasons, just as VHS video recorders were a huge advance in home entertainment. E – mail got us communicating by writing to each other again until spam spoiled it. Mobile phones are very useful for home and business and a must for disabled people like me when we are out and about. We must not forget that there is no law forbidding us to switch them off however.

The inclusion of a digital camera in a mobile phone is good. Picture quality is not as good as a digital SLR but is adequate and of course you always have a camera with you. But a mobile that sends texts and takes pictures is as far as that technology can usefully go.

There will be those of us, the truly cool who don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us, who will not be taken in, but of the people who have to pursue “kewl” through acquisition of the latest fad gadgets the iPhone will just be another opportunity to max out their credit cards.

Apple’s survival against the bullying might of Microsoft has always been due to the way it produces a mix of style and hype to blind people to the ordinariness of its products functionality. This in turn has bred an almost religious level of zeal into Apple fans. Let’s hope their fanaticism does not blind them to the failings of the iPhone.

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2 Responses to “iPhone – eyewash”

  1. Janine Farley Says:

    greenteeth.wordpress.com’s done it again! Great writing.

  2. Bud Mcmullen Says:

    If only I had a penny for each time I came here! Great post!

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