Column published on Saturday November 10th 2007 in The Guardian “Not sensible, but, oh, the joy of it! – The Guardian headline
And lo! The great day came.
I have been using an Apple iPhone now for more than four months. This is due to an unhealthy mixture of friendship with its designer, a slobbery and pathetic love of the new, the possession of an American billing address (necessary until today for the activation and use of the device) and a willingness to pay preposterous international roaming charges. It puts me in a good position however, to tell you what you’re in for if you decide to own one of these honeys.
I should first get out of the way all the matters that will please those of you wrinkling your noses in a contemptuous Ian Hisloppy sort of way at the sheer hype, pretension, nonsense and hoopla attendant on what is, after all, only a phone. There is much to support your case.
Proud techie owners of rival devices can say: “What, only a 2-meg camera? What, no GPS? What, no 3G? What, no video? What, no third party applications?” What, no Sim card swapping?” A whole heap of what no-ing can be done.
Proud non-techie people can say: “I just want a phone that lets me make a call with the minimum of fuss. I don’t want a ‘design classic’ and I certainly don’t want to be locked into an 18-month data plan, whatever that might be.”
Even those excited by the iPhone and likely to block their ears to the derisive hoots above, even they must allow themselves honestly to accept its drawbacks. Text entry is, despite the spine-tingling brilliance of a creepily accurate auto-correct facility, clumsy. There are perhaps a dozen niggles of that nature (though the camera isn’t one: the iPhone’s lowly 2-megapixel snapper easily outperforms higher-spec rivals). So what’s to set against these drawbacks?
Beauty. Charm. Delight. Excitement. Ooh. Aah. Wow! Let me at it.
In the end the iPhone is like some glorious early-60s sports car. Not as practical, reliable, economical, sensible or roomy as a family saloon but oh, the joy. The jouissance as Roland Barthes liked to say. What it does, it does supremely well, that what it does not do seems laughably irrelevant.
The iPhone is a digital experience in the literal sense of the word. The user’s digits roam, stroke, tweak, tweeze, pinch, probe, slide, swipe and tap across the glass screen forging a relationship with the device that is like no other.
“But I don’t want to ‘forge a relationship’, I just want to get the job done,” you say? Well then, you know what? Don’t buy one. And stop reading this. You’re only doing so in the first place to lend fuel to your snorts and puffs of rage. Allow us our pleasures.
Whatever your view on Apple’s new instant icon, you will not be able to deny that it has already changed forever what was already a colossal market.
There was pre-iPhone and there will be post-iPhone. All the competitors will have to come up with something better. I’m no red in tooth and claw capitalist, but actually, I can’t think this example of mercantile evolution-through-competition is so very bad.
Conflict-traded rare earths and minerals, that’s another matter. Someone wrote to tell me that the iPhone is full of Congolese metals. Guardian readers may want elucidation on this front. I’m not the man to give it, I fear.
The rest of the world can mock as much as it likes. If you’re going to have a phone/video player/slideshow/music centre/web browser/camera in your pocket, is it so wrong to want one that makes you grin from ear to ear? Not with smugness (though heaven knows the enemies of the device will read that into the smiles) but with delight.
© Stephen Fry 2007
Stephen Fry’s gadget column, Dork Talk, appears in The Guardian newspaper’s Weekend section.