Device and Desires

All the big guns want an iPhone killer. Even I, mad for all things Apple as I am, want an iPhone killer. I want smart digital devices to be as good as mankind’s ingenuity can make them. I want us eternally to strive to improve and surprise. Bring on the iPhone killers. Bring them on.

YOU might, somewhere along the way, have picked up the impression that I am a passionate Mac advocate: I bought my first 128K machine in 1984, the second Macintosh to be sold in the UK – at least so I’ve always maintained and believed (the first went to the still desperately missed Douglas Adams) and I have never had fewer than ten working Macs on the go since the late 80s. It is true that I value both the platform and the hardware, that I admire the imagination, flair, elegance, quality and pioneering spirit of the Apple corporation. All quite true.

HOWEVER……..

I have, over the past twenty years been passionately addicted to all manner of digital devices, Mac-friendly or not; I have gorged myself on electronic gismos, computer accessories, toys, gadgets and what-have-yous of all descriptions, but most especially what are now known as SmartPhones. PDAs, Wireless PIMs, call them what you will. My motto is:

I have never seen a SmartPhone I haven’t bought

After all, the Mac itself was founded on a notional smart device, the Dynabook, fruit of the many brains of the legendary Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC). The Dynabook concept gave us the WIMP user interface, (Windows, Icons, Mice, Pull down menus) and thence the Apple Lisa and its successor, the Macintosh. The Dynabook was a posited form, a notional device that would deliver information to its user with the greatest ease and intuitive functionality. As a result of this mission statement, the command code line found in all standard computing of the time was made to yield to a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Apple took up the call (poached some PARC staff) and produced the Mac OS; IBM and latterly MS took years and years to get the message. But that is how the GUI was born, out of a quest for a better relationship between man and machine, individual and digital device.

Whether you talked into it, stroked it, operated a stylus or pointing device the essence of the Dynabook was not that it might actually be built (technology in the 1970s couldn’t begin to provide such an object, nor indeed can it now) but to predicate a useful Platonic Ideal. The Device. The Chosen One. One Electronic Object To Rule Them All. Like any Platonic ideal, it cannot ever exist: to postulate its existence is enough to set clever people on the right path to creating remarkable technologies that contribute to the digital world and our interactions with it. It is in this sense the computer designer’s Holy Grail – the adventures, romances and interior quests along the way are what counts – the Grail itself will always be out of reach. We are getting closer however. A single handheld device that can summon up a vast repository of human knowledge, communicate with anyone, tell you to within five meters where on the planet you are, take and show photographs, record and play music, send and receive vox or data communications; a device you can speak into and that can speak to you, a device that you can manipulate without fiddly controls or technical knowledge, a juke-box, a cinema, a radio, a library, a community centre, a parish pump, the school gates and the city university. Not considered to be computers, although computers is most assuredly what they are, these devices are for the moment designated SmartPhones, and it is on them that I wish to discourse and expatiate in an entirely disinterested (if you think I mean uninterested, think again and look up the difference) and mostly non-technical way.

Of course, this essay, if it can be described as such, is a response to the rise and rise of the SmartPhone, as most publicly trumpeted a few weeks ago with the arrival of Apple’s iPhone. I am not here to laud or review that device however, it has had enough publicity and I really want you to believe that, Apple addict as I am, my eyes have always been open to the virtues of anything good, exciting, functional, elegant, pleasing to use. In fact the real precipitating reason for writing this is the fact that within three weeks I have bought/been sent, aside from my iPhone (which, yes, I dearly love), three soi-disant ‘iPhone killers’ – the HTC Touch, the Nokia E90 and the Sony Ericsson P1i. While I don’t intend fully to review, road-test or benchmark each device (as if I could, anyway), I do want to share my thoughts about where these devices appear to be going. (I’m not even going to mention outside these parentheses the LG Prada phone, that’s an iPhone beater in the same way Tim Henman is a Federer beater).

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This blog was posted in Blessays and Techblog

223 comments on “Device and Desires”

  1. Quite tragically, as a confirmed addict of all things Apple, I can easily imagine blindly stumbling – without a care for my meagre finances – into buying an iPhone. Not that I need an iPhone. Indeed, I barely need a mobile phone at all, since I normally leap away from the infernal gadget in horror when it rings, and don’t understand texting since 160 characters is really not enough to send a message to anyone, once you factor in verbosity and punctuation. However, the iPhone is shiny. It has no buttons but relies only on smooth and respectful touches. It is an Apple product and, damn them, they do make their gizmos and gadgets utterly desirable.

    However, if I do buy one, I will probably never use it; merely stare at it lovingly and touch it late at night when there’s no one around.

    I give in. I am off to steal the pensions of elderly relatives.

  2. humungous chump says:

    And my fellow East Anglian and Aha those clever yankies, it’ll never work. Brits are too ingenious (well most of the time). I too managed to get my iphone working with an American telephone number. Would appear that if you know of a valid US address and can make up a social security number (did you know they actually tell you the format it should be in?) with a valid ZIP code they don’t cross reference your credit card with the details they’ve just taken. Needless to say though its bloomin expensive.

    Well AT&T Mobility (as they are now known) came along to the 21C Global Summit (www.21cglobalsummit.com) at Blenheim Palace last week to tell their story, and it was fascinating. The video will be online soon on your favourite YouTube channel.

    Peter Cochrane spoke, sadly Douglas Adams can’t speak from the grave but we have found an old video tape of him in a technology debate with Peter. We’ll try to post this soon as well. Maybe you, Stephen, would like to come along next year in June? :-)

    All the best. I’m slightly frightened though. A technical expert who doesn’t actually work in the industry? Scandalous, do you realise how much bumpf most people on here read to persuade their mates down the pub that they actually know what they are talking about.

    You should go into acting…. or politics… !

  3. gan says:

    Shurely, “MOAP is my washBot, sayeth the Lord” . Yours truly, Revd Spooner.

  4. morrijr says:

    This device isn’t finished but you might like to look into the openmoko project… http://www.openmoko.com/ and it’s (upcoming) first release of open hardware (meaning that anyone can make the phone (assuming they have the necessary abilities)) running open software phone (meaning anyone can write software for the phone (again, assuming they have the necessary abilities)).

    To quote from the site…

    “Mobile phones, currently closed and self limited, will rival broadband computers. When based on Open standards, they will deliver ubiquitous computing and vanish.

    Ubiquitous computing means more than computing wherever you wander: It means knowing the locale, weaving seamlessly into the local fabric, and vanishing.

    Devices disappear when developers have unrestricted access to hardware.

    Neo gives you this control for the first time.

    We want your mind in OpenMoko. Let’s work together. You’ll have our full support. Now, Free Your Phone.”

    Now I have absolutely no doubt that this will not fit all your needs. However, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to get together with others who see the same short comings (be it hardware or software) and change the reference implementation.

    Why rely on somebody whom you can’t suggest ideas too. Personally I can’t wait to see what their first, non-developer, release is like.

    J.

  5. jovike says:

    Hello Stephen, nice to see you here. (My 50th birthday next week, so I enjoyed watching yours on Freeview!)

    Very perceptive and well-written piece; I wrote an essay about design and Apple on my blog when the iPhone was launched. Of course it is all about design: the ghastly Nokias I have to use at work are a case in point. Trying to text without exiting the mode and thus losing all the input is dicy.

    And of course the Apple Mac is a lovely machine to come home to after problems using Windows at work.

    Thank you Stephen, I look forward to you exposing more of your enormous hinterland.

  6. JeFurry says:

    Thank you for writing this, Mr Fry. As a technical person, it’s all too easy for me to get bogged down in the specifications and potential of a device, and forget that one has to actually use it in order for a given feature to actually be… well, useful!

    I too remember the Psion Series 3 fondly, and while the Series 5 had considerable technical superiority, and several genuine advantages, it lacked the sheer polished grace and perfection achieved by its predecessor, which has yet to be equalled by any device that I (or by the sound of it, you) have seen. The integration and reliability were near-perfection, though the perceived need for flashier multimedia features pushed into the Series 5 and beyond caused the sacrifice of that integration and polish.

    The iPhone, driven as it is by Apple’s insight into users’ wishes and implementation thereof, is in a position where it could achieve that rare nirvana of being a genuinely good device which /also/ has public recognition and acceptance. As I’m still awaiting the UK version, this is merely a hope rather than a conviction. However, it’s also held back by Apple’s usual approach of producing a device that does a few things well, and anything it can’t do well it doesn’t do at all This is in many ways a sensible approach – often that which the customer wants is not the same as what the customer /needs/ – but it’s somewhat risky for a device so clearly in the public eye. The same could be said of the iPod, and of course the iPod is doing well, but I imagine it would do even better if it adopted some of the features its rivals boast over it.

    I hope that Apple will develop many major software upgrades for the iPhone before doing what it did with the iPod and dropping support for the older models. It’s a good platform, and while the compromises are there in terms of the keyboard, EDGE and camera quality, I believe it has the priorities right – better to have widespread-but-slowish internet access (once O2 EDGE is more widespread, at least) than faster-but-unreliable. The average user won’t be using Mobile Safari all the time, because in many places we now have hardwired alternatives. But with the EDGE approach as opposed to 3G, at least there’s a reasonable likelihood that they’ll get /something/ when they’re up to their knees in mud at Glastonbury, for example.

    On the other hand, I agree completely about the lack of a proper software development kit. The current approach of allowing home-brew software at the user’s own risk is better than nothing, but half-hearted to say the least. Fortunately, if you’re prepared to spend the time exploring (and the detail of your post strongly suggests you’re a fellow tweaker) there is some extremely good software starting to appear, and the developers are mainly continuing Apple’s design ethic and pleasing interfaces. Interesting times.

    -Jef.

  7. DominicSayers says:

    One wonders why, if you’re standing in a field in Norfolk, that you would value a weather app on your mobile device.

  8. brian.griffin says:

    Stephen you’re an amateur. Until you’ve owned the thigh-scraping beauty that _is_ the Pogo (http://tinyurl.com/yncqqs) then you have no place speaking on matters of smart phone addiction.

    Although curiously with that exception we seem to have followed an all-but-identical path when it comes to devices, having also consumed from the range of Palm, Psion Symbian products and more besides.

    Do they put something in the plastic? Perhaps it’s chili? Is that what it is? I know Apple do that with their products. Probably.

    Ahhh… IIcx with standard keyboard. Was there ever anything more satisfying than an Apple standard keyboard. I even bought an ADB > USB adaptor so I could carry on using it with the MacBook.

    And what is it with EDGE? Cambridge appears to have coverage on a per-street basis. Strange.

    Steve

  9. tompaine says:

    It’s quite scary how many of those devices we have in common. I occasionally take my Microwriter Agenda out of the drawer and wonder why that technology dead-ended. Psion didn’t die, by the way. It simply gave up on hardware. It seems to be prospering in a quiet way.

    Congrats on the new blog and – if an old hand may drop a hint – good luck with becoming your own editor. The toughest part of blogging is the pruning of one’s gloriously wordy effusions. Of course every finely-wrought phrase is a gem, but few read anything they can’t see on the first screen (which given your slim and elegant template is not a great deal – even on the screen of my 17′ MacBook Pro at max resolution).

  10. lundman says:

    It was quite frustrating sitting here in Tokyo when the iPhone was announce as everyone seemed to drop everything and only talk about the iPhone. It was everywhere. Yet, it does not seem to be any great innovation, at least not when compared to the phones that are already available (perhaps only here?).

    But, it is out now, collectively everyone took some Panadol to control the fever and we can start looking for the next thing on the horizon. But I am pleased they managed to hack it, relatively promptly at that. Hurrah! Although the powers that be will try whatever they can to stop it. Hurroh!

  11. Badger Madge says:

    Gah! I just entered a hilariously witty entry (it was honest!) about my awful hone and how it can’t do anything. Even good ringtones. But it hasn’t appeared for some reason.

    Oh well. Rest assured it would have had everyone in stitches.

  12. chuckdarwin says:

    Thou Shalt Always Kill iPhones? Not that I’m questioning you :-)

  13. NeilHoskins says:

    Thank you for an extremely interesting and enjoyable essay.

    To extend your architecture analogy, I would contend that the iPhone is one of those marvellous exhibition homes you used to get on show estates in Milton Keynes. It’s clearly a work of art on the outside, designed by Italian design masters, clearly. However, once you get inside you realise it doesn’t really work: the gas hasn’t been plumbed in yet, and they forgot to include a television. Or possibly like Minnie Mouse’s home at Disneyworld: it looks fantastic, but the fixtures and fittings inside are just “pretend” and don’t really work. In the vernacular, the iPhone is very “shiny” but doesn’t actually do much.

    It also occurs to me that there is not one unachievable platonic ideal, but several. Personally, I’d hardly ever use a qwerty keyboard, and decent one-handed operation is much more important than having a touch-screen. The LG Prada may be close to being Naomi Campbell’s favourite for throwing at servants this month, but next month it will be something else. To give them their due, the marketing droids understand this.

    My own ideal for a few months now has been an N95 (yes, I’m a 47-year-old adolescent). The music playing, radio (streaming and broadcast), podcasting, VoIP, direct Flickr upload, downloadable games, etc, are all killer apps for me, and I recently spent a week on holiday using it as my only camera/camcorder. Now, however, there’s the N95 8GB on the horizon, with quadrupled free RAM…

    On the subject of the iPhone and EDGE: Orange are the only network in the UK with any form of EDGE. Most of the operators bypassed it and went straight for 3G. Apple have now confusingly given the UK rights to O2, who are having to implement EDGE, at great cost. Realistically, they will only do so in London as a token gesture, and will be praying nightly for a 3G iPhone. By that time, of course, Nokia will have the N100 or whatever.

  14. CraigB says:

    Stephen, you have truly and utterly amazed me with your in-depth knowledge about this! I have to admit that I have been wandering around the phone market for years for a decent phone (I am hard of hearing and texting/email/web is essential) and the iPhone fits perfectly around what I want to do!

    Anyway! Let me thrown a little something here about the iPhone.

    There are numerous guides about ‘hacking’ the iPhone and my goodness, those team are intelligent to get in the system. The result of this has inspired more people to create true applications (not web based) for the phone.

    Cheerio!

  15. StephenK says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Welcome to the Blogosphere and thanks for such an interesting first post. I too am a lover of shiny gizmos and found your post to be an immensely fulfilling read. I don’t have an iPhone yet but I’m afraid that I won’t be able to resist when it finally arrives (on my birthday of all days!). Until then, however, I’m stuck pretending that the annoying little box in my pocket is a perfectly good device and that I don’t really need that seductive iPhone temptress!

    I look forward to your next post :)

  16. MattLazycat says:

    Your persistence is admirable, Stephen. I’ve also been buying SmartPhones since Nokia 9000, but I’ve recently given up and settled for a plain, simple Nokia 6300 after a brief and sweaty affair with an M600i. I just can’t take the disappointment any more. Ironically that simple, no-nonsense phone has more (and better) features and usability than many of my earlier smartphones.

    Surely it’s just nostalgia, but my fondest smartphone memories are of Nokia’s Communicator series. Everything since has been technologically superior in theory – smaller, prettier, more capable – but in practice successively worse. Why, the SPV C600 (one of the innumerable HTC winmob varieties) was so appalling that it failed both at being smart *and* at being a phone! That’s right, the winmob program that handled the telephone functions would crash silently and seemingly at random, transforming the handset into nothing more than a mildly carcinogenic solitaire game. No sir, this will not do. I’m putting my telephonic desires on hold until someone actually manages to produce a smartphone that can actually deliver on its promises. I suspect it’ll be the 2nd or 3rd generation iPhone, but of course my resolve took a blow at the UK announcement of the iPhone, so I’ll no doubt be back in the masochistic smartphone-buying vicious circle before long.

    Have you considered trying a Bananaphone? I’ve never seen one, but from the song alone they sound fantastic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bananaphone

  17. Treonauts says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for your rather refreshing take on the smartphone revolution and the difficulties in finding the “perfect” device.

    As the founder of http://www.treonauts.com I have had the opportunity to be at the centre of many of these developments and I certainly share your pains and complaints about both Palm and our Treo in general (even though I feel that you were a little bit too harsh on the Treo 680 – a smartphone that I have very happily used daily for nearly a year now).

    The latest Treo 500 may be running Windows Mobile but it’s nonetheless a smartphone that you should take a look at and the soon to be announced Palm Centro (Treo 550?) should be quite an interesting device as well. In this respect you may enjoy reading my latest post about the Treo
    http://blog.treonauts.com/2007/09/setting-the-tre.html

    Given the fact that I spend a great deal of my time in the UK I’d greatly welcome the opportunity to get together sometime. You can reach me via email: treonauts [at] pobox.com

    Cheers,

    Andrew

  18. Steve says:

    Hi Stephen, great to see you blogging!! It’s good to be able to read opinions from someone as erudite (can’t believe someone else above beat me to using that word!) as yourself. And who knew you were such a geek, let alone a smartphone geek!!

    I have no particular comment on the iPhone, as the only experience I have of one was when my brother (also a US resident alien) came to visit last month. It seemed nice, but not for me.

    I have been a regular Palm user for a long time now, my progression having been thus: Palm III, Palm Vx, Palm m505, Tungsten T2 and now my trusty beloved Treo 650.

    I have been considering a replacement for said Treo for a while; it has seen better days, I can’t sync with Vista (I had to get a new PC this year, and it came with Vista – apart from Palm issues, I am actually happy with it) and I am getting itchy feet (fingers?) having had the Treo for a couple of years now.

    I was considering jumping ship and looking elsewhere than Palm, for some of the reasons you outline above. I do not, however, know if this is the best thing to do, nor which of the many surrounding lifeboats I should jump into – Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Symbian… I list operating systems as lifeboats, rather than hardware models, simply because this is my main dilemma.

    Your article has given me much food for thought, and has – for the time being, at least – given me cause to stay on board for now, and hope for rescue. Either that, or wait for a much better lifeboat to come along.

    My needs are simple: full QWERTY keyboard, decent screen, decent OS with a good range of software, decent sync with PC (yes, with Vista), good battery life, Bluetooth, sizeable RAM.

    My wants are slightly more demanding: 3G, WiFi, slimline form factor, more probably that escape me now.

    We can but hope… At least now I have your blog to look forward to. Once again, thank you for a thought-provoking, witty article, and for sharing your love of all things “mobilic” and “phonular” (love it!!). It’s good to know that someone of your intelligence and knowledge can be rendered equally as gaga as the rest of us when it comes to technology. Gadgets can apparently be a great leveller!!

    I hope we can expect more reviews from you in the near future.

  19. Drood says:

    All I can say is if Stephen is blogging, the internet just became a little bit nicer, and I will have to revise my “All blogs are crap” statement to add “except Stephen Fry’s” at the end.

  20. nicepaul says:

    It’s such a shame that O2 have been chosen as the exclusive UK carried for the iPhone. Their disregard for Apple customers is apparent from the fact that the navigation on their website doesn’t work in Safari. http://paulannett.co.uk/uk-iphone-carrier-o2-doesnt-support-apples-safari-browser

  21. nicepaul says:

    This made me chuckle:
    “Stephen Fry is proudly powered by WordPress”

  22. szabi4 says:

    Hi Stephen!

    I like your style and I found the blog entry quite informative. I agree with you on 99% of your thoughts, except the Nokia E61. Okay, It’s not Prada, but it’s nowhere near ugly. The E61i looks a lot more cheaply designed, but the E61 is simple and non-provoking. And it’s two times more smartphone than the blackberry (I own two BBs), and even the 9300 (that’s just outdated, I guess).
    Being a smartphone, you can change the default theme (which is the first thing I do anyway), so you can’t blame it for that. Also, default themes are designed to look bad (see winxp, etc.). Why else would you change them?

    Cheers and productive blogging!

  23. Jyoti Mishra says:

    Thanks for the in-depth reviews. I have a 990i and I was considering an iPhone. But now I’m put off by the price, no 3G, inflexible contract, O2 being bag of shite… Maybe I’ll have a look at an E90 :-)

  24. berley says:

    You should so be dating my husband :)

    He also looked up some Georgette Heyer books and they are very much his cup of tea!

    Love your work Mr Fry.

    B xx

  25. pixelseventy2 says:

    You should check out the Nokia N800 – portable internet tablet with VERY high quality screen and large resolution. I used to be a devout Pocket PC user (iPaqs and XDAs) until the N800 came out. The mail and web clients put everything else of a similar form factor to shame, the media capabilities are excellent, and the amount of third party software is staggering. Combined with a bluetooth keyboard I no longer need to use a laptop when on the road.

    See http://tabletblog.com/2007/09/ipod-touch-vs-nokia-n800-filling-other.html for a good comparison of the N800 and iPhone

  26. NeilHoskins says:

    Stephen, I just discovered that Nokia have released an app called “conversation”, which gives something like threaded sms:

    http://www.nokia.com/A4568203

  27. AngusR says:

    Ahh, the Psion 3… I had my 3a for many years (in fact I still do), and only really found a replacement when I managed to win a Communicator 9300 in a Nokia competition. I knew I’d found my soulmate (soon to be my wife) when I discovered that she used an increasingly dodgy Psion Revo to organise her life… she now has my old 9300 for that task. I’m stuck with an HTC Wizard, which is okay-ish. The E90… not convinced by it.

    The iPhone is very pretty, and quite clever… but it is thunderously expensive, and I don’t think any of the in-built apps are feature-rich enough that I’m never going to think “if only I could install a compile of (insert application) and use that instead then this would be perfect”. Locked down environments are a bad idea on a device that costs that much. When I’ve spent hundreds on something it had better perform as I wish rather than as the manufacturer wishes!

  28. dumbledad says:

    I know this is more of a “phone” than a “SmartPhone” point, but the rise of touch screen phones in response to Apple’s iPhone bothers me. It may be more of a European than an American phenomena but I love those stories of kids secretly texting each other with their hands under their desks while maintaining the illusion of rapt attention with their teacher. Perhaps it was never really a big thing, and perhaps it is a mode of interaction that people are happy to say goodbye to, but there is no way you can text on a touch-screen phone without staring intently at the screen. There are fun interactions that touch screens enable, but some they preclude. Keys – I love them!

  29. Caroline Von B says:

    Mr Fry, so good to see you back online for real. Adding your feed to my Netvibes page right now.

    1000 years ago, I sent you an ASCII rose… here’s another one:

    @}-,-`-

  30. charles says:

    With regard to “send and receive vox or data communications”: “vox” strikes me as a rather nasty paleologism in this context replete with no-doubt undesired overtones of engineering snobbery. “Voice” or “vocal” convey the meaning perfectly without suggesting an ulterior sense.

  31. jason hobbs says:

    Personally, i still favour the carrier pigeon.

  32. JonathanCR says:

    Great to see you blogging. I’ll be watching this closely! Thank you.

    (Un)interesting note: originally, “disinterested” *did* mean “uninterested”, but it shifted meaning. It’s now moving back again to mean “uninterested”, at least judging by increasingly common usage. So when we pedants insist that it means something different, we’re basically saying that the first shift in meaning was legitimate, but the second is not. But on what basis?

    This keeps me awake at night sometimes.

  33. Tom Shires says:

    In the 70’s I used to fix telephones and telephone exchanges. We have progressed so much from 10pps ( pulses per second). I could still fix a tele 746 or a strowger exchange. I should now be an exhibit in the science museum next to the strowger exchange. Dressed in a brown dust coat and sandals, tool in hand ( no pun intended) ready to bend bits of metal to keep the exchange working. A sign on my glass box “In case of emergency break glass”. Now, when electrical equipment fails, just buy a new one. I’ve just upgraded my phone to a Nokia6310 so I’m way behind and one day no doubt I will have GPS in my car, until then it’s my £1.99 roadmap from Tesco’s.

  34. simong says:

    Stephen, I have also been searching for the perfect smartphone for many years, although my ambition has been driven by, as a sysadmin, the ability to fix problems from the pub. I started with a Palm M500 and Nokia 8210 which required too much almost literal juggling to work with infra-red and have worked my way through what Nokia, Sony Ericsson and HTC have offered over the past few years, and through which have dismissed Windows Mobile as the same mistakes, but made smaller, and muttered with frustration at the shortcomings of Symbian S60 and S80. I have settled for the moment with the E61 as the thing that does the job for me. It is ugly, but the user interface works, it’s small, and on an ‘unlimited’ data tariff it’s quite simply the best phone I’ve ever had as it does approach that ideal of the portable device that does everything. It could be better of course, and probably will be, but for now it has been very nearly the do everything device that I have been looking for since I discovered the idea of the smartphone.
    For that reason, the iPhone isn’t. As a weapons grade geek I love OS X as the best Unix desktop yet created. The combination of ‘just works’ and the power of Darwin makes it the perfect tool for the system administrator who doesn’t want to wrestle with the foibles of Linux. Ubuntu is nearly there and I will revisit it again soon, but for now my Macbook does the job perfectly. However, the iPhone is missing too much to be useful to me. 3G is the deal breaker, but the absence of the tools that I want, and the ability for anyone to give them to me makes it a pretty but useless toy. Yes, it may improve and version 2 or 3 might well be that ne plus ultra, but it could also be an iPod with a phone that works best for buying music in Starbucks.
    At the moment I’m quietly excited about OpenMoko and the hope that Nokia will do something telephonic with Maemo but they are all currently vapourware, and a familiar itch is forming for a new toy…

  35. StickyKeys says:

    @Chuck Darwin

    Utter hilarity! I’m mad I didn’t think of that!

    @Peeeeeeet

    Course, if you got yourself a LiveJournal, you could have threaded comments on your blog… :-)

    We must be patient my dear, before we fully expose him to livejournal. Wouldn’t want to run him off the internets!

    Though our Stephen seems to be too big for the internets! We had quite a fright yesterday but I’m glad everything is back up and spot on and filled with so much international love for Mr. Fry. Talk about a blogging success, my first blog might have 1 comment and I think it was my mom by mistake :P

  36. johank says:

    Stephen, I agree with most of what you have said, and I have followed a very similar path of smartphones and not so smartphones in the quest for the phone to rule them all. I’m currently using the E90 and find it very usable indeed, squeezed into it being everything, probably including the proverbial kitchen sink (if only I could find it). I am awaiting my unlocked iPhone which should be delivered this weekend and hope that it is all that it has been feted as!

    BTW, You can sync an E90 with a Mac with an iSync plugin available from Nokia, and Nokia media transfer (in beta) will take care of pictures and music handily with your mac.

    Big fan of all your work, on and off the screen, a fellow Mac Addict (from a 128K Mac in 1984 as well) and a fellow Queensman!

    Johan

  37. AxmxZ says:

    @StickyKeys

    *Expose* him to livejournal? I have no doubt he’s probably posted under a dozen pseudonyms at all the journals where *you’d* be mortified to be caught…

  38. Culumacilinte says:

    Blimey, that was rather long and full of terms I did not understand in the slightest, being the rather technology-backwards person I am. Truth be told, I’ve only just gotten a mobile phone and laptop, and that’s just because I’m off at university now and my parental units no longer had any excuse to keep me from them. But there we are- I’ve no cause to complain, really, as I wasn’t particularly vexed at my lack of aforesaid mobile and laptop before.

    However, I am a lover of the internet, and of your goodself, and when I saw that you had started a blog, I was quite thrilled and immediately rushed hither to check it out, as it were. You will perhaps be interested to know that even though I understood almost none of that admittedly impressive first entry, I read the entire thing anyway. Most of this I put down to the fact that I am a sad, obsessive fangirl who spends her time online rather than writing the essay on ‘Heart of Darkness’ which she is supposed to be completing today. Oh well. *grins cheekily*

    I must add that I giggled heartily at the image of some sleek little phone or another sticking out of the breast pocket of Oscar Wilde’s velvet jacket at his trial. Very nice indeed.

    I look forward to more entries, most of which shall hopefully be rather more comprehensive for me. And, as many others before me have said- welcome to the blogosphere, such as it is. Your presence comes as a welcome respite from netspeak and other such atrocities, and I’m quite sure that I shall drink in your words here as greedily as I did those of your books.

    Tinkerty tonk!

    Barrett

  39. StickyKeys says:

    @ AxmxZ

    Fryphile…? ALL THIS TIME! I knew it! XDDD!

    Erm, on topic?

    My friend and I were at a local Dairy Queen and I asked him if he would like to come back to the house to watch Wilde. When he asked why Wilde I replied,

    “So you can have some Fry with that shake!”

    Hee! That wasn’t on topic at all! Off to the forums!

  40. ukmac says:

    Great to see you have an iphone already! I run the UKMAC.co.uk website and love all sorts of gadgets like you!-bose home cinema- pc ‘s imac’s / xbox360 etc etc

    I am a total tech head – an expensive game to keep up with !!

    Love the blog! Have a look at my page and maybe even put a ‘pin’ on my guest book map???

    Many thanks!
    James

  41. Skud says:

    Stephen, I’m a long-time fan of your work and utterly delighted to see you have a blog. Better yet, you appear to be an enormous nerd. Can’t say I’m all that surprised, to tell the truth, but it’s nice to have confirmation in the form of a few thousand words’ ranting about mobile devices.

    I look forward to reading your future posts, and in the meantime, may I recommend that you go to your WordPress admin screen, to “Options” and then “Permalinks”, and pick “Date and name based”? It’ll make more readable and search-engine friendly URLs on your site. (And save me from this annoying twitch I get whenever I see ?p=99 in the location bar.)

  42. petef says:

    My goodness, what a lot of comments. I doubt you’ll ever read as far as this, but if you do you might like to give try installing third party applications to your iPhone with the open source Installer.app [1]. A chap called Matt Cutts has written some simple instructions [2].

    Thee cheers for open source.

    [1]: http://iphone.nullriver.com/beta/
    [2]: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/hack-your-iphone-install-applications-with-installerapp-and-apptapp/

  43. Puredeadthingy says:

    I pretend I know so much about electronic gadgetry (as a teenager, it’s my God-given right), but the simple truth is phones are too big and frightening for me. Give me a laptop any day. And a Windows one, too–it’s not only that Macs are so expensive, but that I flail when levered out of my comfort zone.

    Wow. I really am a product of my generation.

    Um. Yes. Right. Well, you have a blog! And I know this purely because Neil Gaiman linked it on his! All that remains for me to do is sit back and enjoy. Possibly comment occasionally…

  44. jules says:

    Don’t know if anyone’s going to read all these comments, but just in case they are, the Microwriter input system used by the AgendA isn’t entirely dead. An updated variant, the CyKey, is available from Bellaire Electronics (http://www.bellaire.demon.co.uk/). This is not an identical system, but rather an updated design that is a little more flexible and can be used by either left- or right-handers. And, yes, it will work with Macs.

  45. NIH says:

    Stephen asks

    > why should Apple be the only company that sees that? Why don’t the other bastards GET IT??

    Little companies can do fully rounded user-centred devices, if they’re controlled by founders who happen to understand what that means. Psion and Palm were like that when doing the Series3/Series5 and Pilot.

    As companies grow in this capitalist world their top layers inevitably fill up not with such people but with suits – focused on the visible bottom-line, obsessed with ship-dates, playing politics and driven by their own career. So bigger firms become bureaucratic, deadline-driven, political and with high staff turnover. Improvement in such companies’ products will inevitably be slow and painful and frustrating. Hundreds of people in SonyEricsson know what’s wrong with their products, but the organisation renders them impotent.

    Very occasionally a “founder who understands” hangs on through the company’s growth to preserve the right tone; eg Steve Jobs @Apple. (Of course, they did throw him out at one point, but had him back after a few years of more, ahem, conventional leadership.) Such firms can still do something approaching fully rounded, user-centred devices.

    Symbian nearly pulled it off too, with Colly Myers, a Psion “founder who understood”, being their original CEO – sadly, he was eventually judged Not Quite Corporate Enough, and was replaced by the same money-man who’d just presided over the destruction of Psion.

    The sad irony is that it’s easy for a *small* firm to design a really good (fully rounded user-centred) smartphone – half the spec is to be found in Stephen’s article (and as a sometime smartphone designer I can assure you the other half isn’t rocket science). But no matter how good the designs, small firms can’t make the phones themselves (no margins without massive production), or get their phones licensed by the manufacturers, or accepted by the shops or (especially) the operators; these guys have no interest, being a mutually-reliant cash-cow-cartel of awfulness.

    Of course, other tech firms may grow big in other areas doing fully rounded user-centred products, and then, when large enough, think about making a phone. Apple today; Google tomorrow. And a bunch of ex-Psion people run TomTom, which is getting huge, so I’m hoping for a TomTom phone one day too.

    (What price a FryPhone, though? I believe Stephen’s fully rounded and user-centred?)

  46. Izzard says:

    Dear Mr. Fry.

    Thank you for writing this: it was a very interesting insight. I never knew you were a gadget-lover.

    My current phone is my favourite – an N95. As a police officer I spent many hours sitting watching persons sleeping in cells (seriously), so I love the N95 precisely because it can do so many things and helps keep me occupied.

    Regards,
    Si Brindley

    PS: May I please have your iPhone when you’ve finished with it?

  47. Compassion says:

    As a technophile, myself, I haven’t read such a wide, well-rounded and honest account of Smartphones, to date. It warms me to know you’re even more well-rounded (IMO) than I had previous imagined. I just find it regrettable that the bulk of the tech writers can’t be even as remotely accessible as you are, while being a thoroughly enjoyable read. I’ve never had the experience of jumping effortlessly in prose for properly evaluating the current state of affairs and tidbits of the history that got us here, and a proper rejoinder of where the Manufactures need to go to shape up. All of them.

    (Possibly Irrelevant)
    I recently jumped from a SE T610, my first cellphone ever, to an iPhone. I’d avoided all of the SmartPhones that I felt were overly clunky and frustrating for ages until now. So for the iPhone, I was delighted to find that there was a proper, as I know it, operating system underneath the hood. So, I can’t say I’ve taken the as-is package. I wanted extra functionality from it and found it by other means. Let alone, I can’t afford the AT&T lock-in and decided to stay with T-Mobile.

    I’m still thoroughly disappointed about EDGE service, but it’s better than what I was putting up with for ‘data service’ under the original GPRS modem in the SE T610. Three good years of duty to me, I won’t complain about that. I just regret that it only served as a phone, despite what I had originally bought it to fulfill, that magical multi-purpose patch of technology to be my companion where I went.

    I just wish the US Mobile Phone market would wise-up in its own right about ‘features’ and actually do some toil towards perfection and get away from lockdown. I find this paradigm of vendor lock-in appalling.

    The jump has, at the least, lead me to be the queen of the cubes around me, compared to the assigned Blackberries of my Corporate Brethren. I just wonder if I’ll be staying on *this* phone for another 3 years.
    (/Possibly Irrelevant)

    What a stunning first post. I’ll be continuing to follow from the hacked RSS reader I’ve added to my iPhone. Until it gets iBricked by Apple, at least.

    Regards,
    Evelyn

  48. AndrewK says:

    Stephen,

    You are without doubt the most refreshing thing in British entertainment and I am not worthy to comment in your most excellent blog BUT…

    “..the N series are really multimedia toys for adolescents..”

    I have an N95 and far be it from me to defend a lump of metal and plastic, but it is one nice bit of kit. I bought it because I like Apple and the IPhone but, jumping Jesus, do they have to be soo smug about their wares?! If I see Steve Jobs banging on about his latest invention like an over zealous teenager in his black polo neck (TM) sweater once more then I’ll spit.

    Or it could just be that I’m a bit American and jealous because the closest thing the UK ever came to him was Sir Clive Sinclair.

  49. Kuroshii says:

    It’s a pleasure to see you in the “blogisphere,” sir. :)

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