Saturday, November 6, 2010

On the iPhone, pt2

Previously, I've spoken a little bit about the iPhone, its place in history and impact on modern communication, which can be found here. To get all my ideas out about the iPhone and why I’m a complete fanboy of the device (and to be honest, of most Apple products), I hope to expand a little here and possibly more down the line along the device’s evolution with this segment simply titled, “On the iPhone.”
Tech isn’t so “techy” anymore
You geeky son-of-a-bitch. Yeah, you know you love your phone. It’s okay; we do too. The thing is, tech isn’t so geeky anymore, so be proud of it. The 21st century Fonzie uses an iPhone -- style, fashion and social status today include both the devices you carry and the brands that define you. Are you a Mac or PC? Android or Blackberry? Playstation or Xbox?
Modern geekism, as I see it, has more to do with phones than anything, as phones are everyone's device and the most personal tech we own. And Apple, having always considered beauty and style in their products, are responsible for the new age of stylish gadgetry with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.
Smartphones have evolved. Initially created for business professionals, the smartphone was nothing more than an excuse for guys in suits to carry around expensive, complicated-looking gadgets.
Well, that may be an exaggeration, but in all honesty, having used Windows Mobile devices from the early 2000s, I can vouch for smartphone uselessness beyond fancy contacts management a digital calendar. Mobile internet, which was finally starting to mature in devices like Blackberrys and the Palm Treo, was essentially still a baby. The Treo, Blackberry and a few Nokia products were certainly key devices in a pre-iPhone world, but until the platforms could be rethought and reinvented for use by mere mortals, nobody cared.
But why prop up the iPhone?

Well, because, if it wasn’t for the iPhone, your Motorola Droid simply wouldn't exist.
Android, Palm and now Windows Phone 7 -- platforms based on the touch-experience -- are all reaching full maturity and offer plenty competitive alternatives. But regardless of whether you believe the iPhone is still king or have instead found a better fit for you, no one can deny that Apple truly catalyzed a new generation of really personal, really smart mobile devices and software. Facing many obstacles, they created something so radically different and did it so well, that the iPhone introduction will go down as a historical upward shift in portable computing (not to mention that the MacWorld 2007 keynote given by Steve Jobs was awesome and sure to be talked about for decades among us Apple nerds. Gotta give kudos when kudos is due (what is a kudo, btw?)).
The iPhone’s backstory is really the most compelling part of its introduction. And though Jobs likes to claim revolution for the products he introduces, for the people that own iPhones, use them and love them, the overall consensus on whether or not the iPhone is truly revolutionary amounts to an assertive “hell yes.”
Read this piece from Wired magazine, The Untold Story: How the iPhone Blew Up the Wireless Industry. This is the best piece I’ve found on the device, the landscape of the mobile industry and how it was flipped upside down in 2007.

It’s all about emotion

Talk with iPhone users. They love it. They make sure to use the word.
It’s just a phone -- an electronic gadget. So why the emotional connection? How can a person become so floored with a phone, of all things?

Well, making calls isn't it. The phone part of your iPhone doesn't make you fall in love. Especially if you have lots of dropped calls, sometimes you might be inclined to throw it across the room. However, the process of making the call, the fluidity and ease involved can overall make for a relatively enjoyable experience. That is what it's all about: the experience, the enjoyment one receives in its use with minimal frustrations.

Emotional connectivity with a phone comes in the sense that the device simply fulfills and need. Or more appropriately, it creates need, whereas technology, in its nature, broadens connectivity with the world by providing new avenues for information and entertainment, and then fulfills it. The iPhone platform, in form and function, exists to satisfy that need and, in turn, influences the "bond" a person will perceive from its use.

Just as an interesting side-note, we are only talking about a phone, in case we need to be reminded. We talk about the iPhone experience like one might talk about a religious experience. But I'm sure one's choice of technology might come close to a religion. They call 'em fanboys for a reason.

So, let's first discuss design. It's no secret that Apple has a great design team; they've won awards and sold enough product to prove it. Apple stuff is often described as "pretty" or even "beautiful." But why? It's nothing by a hunk of shiny metals and glass. To answer, you might look at these objects in comparison to what others manufacture. Take, for example, any slew of Nokia handsets or Windows Mobile phones from last year. Other than, in my opinion, the Palm Pre and a few HTC handsets which are on par with the iPhone as far as physical design, the iPhone trumps most in outward attractiveness. Being shiny certainly has an eye-catching allure and makes you wanna reach out and touch it -- or even lick it.

Handsets. You hold them -- yes, in your hand, if you had to guess. So, the feel of the device must conform to the hand or be ergonomically sound for constant touching and manipulation. The slickness of the iPhone (still speaking of the original) -- the rounded-off sides and smooth edges that fit nicely in the creases of one's fingers, the serene physicality of having only one button, the weight and feel of the device -- all adds to the proverbial "experience" we like to adorn it with.

Physical beauty is nice, and Apple has always made really nice hardware, but as Steve Jobs had said in The Wall Street Journal's D5 conference in 2007, he really considered Apple a software company more than anything. Software is what sets a company like Apple apart and drives the identity of their products. The software in the original iPhone was revolutionary (okay, I'll reuse the word). During the MacWorld 2007 keynote, Jobs threw the phrase "desktop-class applications" around to describe the new era of portable computing. The iPhone was the initiator and proof of that concept. Now with the App Store and over 300,000 (as of this writing) applications for iOS devices, uncertainty over software utility in the mobile space can be easily put to rest. However, while the capabilities are there, pure functionality of the iPhone is not what creates the bond between it and the user. Design, again, must creep into the conversation, because the way we see, feel and hear -- all ways we interact -- must, beyond all, be easy and fun to do. The designers at Apple have nearly perfected user interface design.

It works well. Like, for real. As long as the hardware is keeping up with the software (because the hardware should be able to handle what interface and general computations the applications need), the interface, its animated aspects, the types of buttons and controls, the graphics, the layout of information all in a tightly-wound, polished and responsive package make for a fluid and extremely satisfying experience.

It's late, and this post has run long. To be continued...

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