Info Tech

I don’t have an iPhone and won’t have one for at least a year or more because I live in Taiwan and iPhones are currently restricted to the worst US cell phone network: AT&T. I also need a phone which will run my Pleco Chinese Dictionary, and the iPhone doesn’t yet support third party applications (except for web-apps). However, having owned one of the first Apple Newtons (a device whose functionality surpasses even the iPhone in many respects), and having read all of the hype surrounding the Jesusphone, I feel obligated to chime in to the conversation, for I think a lot of people are missing the point.

The most important thing about Apple is that they have always been leaders. They weren’t the first to invent a GUI for computers, Xerox did that. Nor did they invent much of the technology behind the iPod; rather, Apple finds technology that hasn’t yet been widely adopted and makes it look so attractive and easy to use that everyone else wants it. Apple was the first to offer built-in wireless antennas for Wifi, it was the first to include Firewire cables for high-speed media transfer, the first to eliminate the floppy drive, etc.

Meanwhile, the important thing about the mobile phone industry is that it has been largely dedicated to limiting innovation. They lock your phones to a single carrier, they promoted camera phones as a way to generate revenue by getting people to send large image files over expensive data plans and did little to improve the basic functionality of the handsets. I’ve been looking at each new crop of cell phones for the past five years and have not been impressed with a single device. The only real success story is Blackberry because they focused on email functionality and delivered what users wanted.

As John Gruber has pointed out, No other cell phone is advertised by showing off the user interface.” But I think there is more to it that that. The reviews have emphasized how amazing the web-browsing experience is, and I think this is key. Just as the Blackberry focused on delivering e-mail to phones, the iPhone focuses on delivering web content (and web applications) to phones. Every single review exclaims how this is the best web browsing experience to be found on any phone. Even better, Apple has insisted that all the rate plans offer unlimited data.

Apple has raised the bar for interfacing with the internet on your cell phone. No matter what the iPhones failings might be, in a few years time every single high-end phone will be expected to offer a high quality web browser and unlimited data transfer. This is great news because with the spectacular growth of web-based applications, computers are becoming simply a way to connect to your info on the web. Your documents, address book, calendar, photos, etc. are all on the web and if you have a good enough web browser and a fast enough connection (the biggest weakness of the new iPhone, although it should be fast enough when using WiFi instead of AT&T’s EDGE network), you can do all your work from just about anywhere. If the new web browsing experience is half as good as people say it is, you can leave your computer at home and have your whole world with you on something the size of a wallet.

I may never get an iPhone, but I’m glad it exists.

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