Lines are forming around the world today as folks eagerly purchase the second version of the iPhone. I plan to purchase the new iPhone myself in a couple of weeks. Why the delay? Because the service contract on my small minimalist cell phone of the past few years won’t expire until July 19, at which time I will be far from home enjoying the cool weather of the Pacific Northwest. Only when I return to the wonders of late July in Oklahoma will I be able to join the iPhone revolution.
The new phone will be a leap in size and complexity for me. Some years back I picked my current Samsung SCH-a570 precisely because it was cheap, tiny, and feature-limited. No camera, no downloads, no ringtones, nothing but voice and text messages. I keep my phone numbers private, so I get few calls to boot.
So why in the world am I going to buy a vastly more expen$ive phone and, due to the change in carrier and necessary data and text messaging plans, more than double my monthly cell phone bill? Not for phone calls, of course, and certainly not for the mediocre camera in the iPhone. It’s for the internet, love.
I’ve written earlier about my desire for mobile, near-instant internet access. One of the cheaper versions of the newly popular ultramobile computers might be tempting, but they seem too much and too little. They are too much of a computer for what I want, since I really just want to browse the net and not mess with Unix or the painfully slow Windows boot-and-update routine, nor spend time managing the limited disk capacity. And they are also too little, since they mostly rely upon Wi-Fi for web access, lacking easy access to cellular data networks. My recent stay in San Antonio cemented my frustrations with the miserable Wi-Fi technology one encounters outside the home. A group of us went to the National Educational Computing Conference there and I stayed at the Hampton Inn downtown. The staff was extraordinarily friendly and helpful, but the hotel Wi-Fi simply did not work. I could only connect successfully to a local pay-far-too-much-as-you-go Wi-Fi service.
Leery of the costly non-hotel Wi-Fi service, I instead used my latest gadget, the Amazon Kindle, to check my email, compose some brief replies, and browse a few columns and articles. The Kindle only took seconds to make a connection to Sprint’s EVDO service – strong clear signal, no need to login, and absolutely free on the Kindle (at least for now). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading three complete books on my Kindle in the past few weeks, and am happily filling it up with both purchased and copyright-free texts. So, given my satisfaction with my Kindle, why would I invest $2500 over the next two years – about $1500 over and above my current cell phone cost – in the new iPhone?
The Kindle’s superb reflective e-Ink screen makes it a wonderful device for reading books and long articles, but it is not a practical internet browser. It lacks the necessary control interface and screen color and contrast to allow one to surf the net comfortably. Filling in text boxes and selecting links on the Kindle is cumbersome, and most graphics look awful in four shades of grey.
I plan to continue to save links to long web articles on Google Notes for later retrieval via my Kindle, since its screen is so much easier on my eyes than any backlit display. That approach is better than printing hard copies all of the time as I had been doing. But I need something that can display web pages in their original formats, with full color and zoom capability. And time and again when viewing an oddly-composed webpage on my Kindle I wished I could touch the screen, a la the iPhone, to scroll and zoom the image.
The new applications appearing for the iPhone are also quite appealing. Google and other websites are releasing free software to enhance the use of their mobile services on the unit, and I’ll be able to use my new iPhone as a remote control for my Apple TV. The iPhone can also, of course, serve as an iPod for acquiring and playing back music, video, and podcasts.
So in a couple of weeks I’ll have a plethora of digital gadgets: a touch-screen GPS unit for automobile navigation, my old push-button GPS for navigating in Canada (since the touch-screen unit only does the continental US), a Kindle for reading books and long text articles from the web, a Sandisk Clip dedicated to audiobooks, an iPod nano, and a new iPhone. I’m running out of room in my cargo shorts for all of this stuff, so I await a future in which all of those functions are combined into a single device with a superb display, long battery life, convenient size, and constant cheap connectivity to a wonderful wireless world.