Digital Devicement: Part One – Introduction

I’ve been putting off this day for some time. But the final piece of the puzzle (in the shape of the Palm Pre) has arrived and I can delay no longer. Over the past few months I have bought and been sent some of the latest, loveliest and lousiest arrivals in the world of smartphonery, iPoddery and assorted digital devicement. I don’t pretend to offer teardowns, benchmarks or full and complete reviews and news on the subject of pricing, availability, networks and deals since all these variables tend to … um … well vary, I suppose. So prepare for a blessay, a maxiblog in four parts of which this is Part the First: An introduction. A sketchy tour d’horizon of the terrain that lies before us, stretching into the purple distance.

I am as aware as anyone that on the subject of smartphone brands perfervid attachments and preferences can foment almost religious fervour in our passionate breasts. It is not enough for many BlackBerry aficionados to love their Curve or their Bold, they must also loathe the Apple iPhone; every time they see one in the hands of a passer-by in the street or a latte-lapper in the Caffè (iPhone users only frequent coffee bars that spell café with two Fs) a small part of them wants to scream out “Poser! Creep!” How much worse if the iPhone is being fondled on screen by a talkshow host, film actor or celebrity chef. It is as if those cursed airheads are conspiring to question the BlackBerryist’s very life choices – his whole meaning and value in the world.

When two businessmen drop down in neighbouring aeroplane seats and each gets out a smartphone an electricity will crackle between them like that between two sexually heated adolescents whose thighs have accidentally touched in the backseat of the school bus. If one businessman fishes from his shirt pocket a BlackBerry while the other gets out an iPhone a whole range of complex thoughts will begin to boil in the brains of each: resentment, contempt, insecurity and irritation are merely the emotions bubbling closest to the surface: deep down, dark and primal forces stir. We do not possess antlers, horns or tusks, we cannot display fans of feather or manes of fur, the best we can do is express our personality, aspirations, beliefs, outlook, sexual potency, status, right to breed and place in the hierarchy through the choices we make in our possessions: and no possession, here in the early part of the twenty-first century, speaks quite so loudly as our smartphone. Once upon a time it was our motorcar and in the future it may well be a robot, a rocket-pack or a hoverpenis that defines us, but for the moment it is, for good or ill, a smartphone.

Many women reading this will detect that the foregoing is an issue almost entirely for males, who remain the prime sufferers in this kind of tribal status war. My suspicion is that women are, if not immune, far less emotionally bound up in the business than men. I may be wrong and welcome clarification either way on this point.

I open with these observations because I am aware that some of you will take unkindly to any strictures I might make on your favourite mobile operating system or model of phone. You may well know that I have, since 1984, been an advocate of many things Apple and may feel that this disqualifies me as an independent, disinterested (in the now almost forgotten original use of that word) and unbiassed judge.

I hope you will believe me when I say that it seems to me that my whole adult life has been a long, fairytale quest for The One. I have written about this before. I went into the subject of The One at painfully unbelievable length here almost exactly two years ago, when the world was young, the iPhone was 2G (well 2.5 if you believe that is what EDGE is) and the App Store was nought but an ungerminated pip in Apple’s core.

While so much has changed in the telecommunications landscape since September 2007, the hope still lives that someone will produce a flawless masterpiece of art, technology and consumer innovation in which function, charm, ease, beauty, power, speed and versatility converge. If it must be Apple well then it must and shame on all the other corporations that ten years ago had more money, status and market power – they know who they are. But do believe that I am open to be seduced by the products of all comers: I only ask that they care for the consumer and are excited by the power and potential of technology. I will rush like an excited puppy even towards Microsoft if they come out with something that exhibits passion, flair and an open-hearted commitment to creating objects, systems and devices that are beautiful, useful, new and enthralling. You never know. It may happen. After all – look at their new Courier tablet – a bit busy, design wise, you might think – but at least it gets the salivary glands going. When did anything from Redmond last do that?

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57 comments on “Digital Devicement: Part One – Introduction”

  1. tellyoutellme says:

    Being in the market for The One Device That Rules Them All, I look forward to reading your thoughts!

  2. chace_life says:

    I find it interesting that you are comparing such a diverse set of devices.

    I currently use a BlackBerry and at one point owned three but I am new to the smartphone world. My smartphone was the BlackBerry Storm back in December of 2008 and I will tell you, it was a disappointment.

    The thing I actually wonder more about is if people are loyal to the device brands or the carrier that they are on? I would most likely drop the BlackBerry in a second if Apple decided to switch to Verizon once AT&Ts exclusive U.S. agreement runs up. The reason being is that Verizon has a much larger and reliable service than AT&T.

    BlackBerrys are great and RIM did an excellent job in creating the ultimate in mobile security but their operating system platform (aka Java) is old and sluggish. Mixed with their lack of APIs available to developers, almost anything designed for both the iPhone and BlackBerry will look better and run smoother on the iPhone.

    I can’t wait to read your reviews and loved watching you on Bones.

    Have a good weekend,

    Jamie

  3. Sub-Level28 says:

    :-)
    I find these blogs a truly enjoyable read and actually helpful towards learning about new tech.
    Personally I want the iPhone 3Gs 32GB one (black) as I like it and I like the sleek sexy way of operating it and all the cool, useful, silly apps you can get for it (also the fact it supports video podcasts). plus it’s phone, iPod, organizer, computer and gaming device all rolled up into one.

    I want to prefice that I used to be dead set against Apple.
    But with their efforts in the last few years and the fact our consumer laws protects us from the rather arsehole treatment Apple used to do to poor iPod users with flawed units. (they refused to even help back a few years, lots of cases about it in the media).
    Hell with the new fairplay system to iTunes I’ve started buying stuff from there. (I detest DRM and limitations on my use of bought products)
    If Apple just could make their rigs fully compatible with ALL games I’d probably switch fully from Windass, but until they do I’ll probaly just get a MacBook Pro.

    A partially converted Apple fan.
    Sub-Level28

  4. TheQ47 says:

    I haven’t finished reading your blog post yet, but as soon as i got to the 5th paragraph, I had to stop and write a comment.

    I just love the fact that you used “disinterested”. I love that word and I especially love the fact that it doesn’t mean what most people think (i.e., “I couldn’t care less”), but something else entirely!

    Now, back to reading the remainder of your post. As you were.

  5. TracyLalonde says:

    Modern technology – and the rate at which it advances, is mind-bogglingly astounding. It makes you wonder how mad things are going to be even ten years from now… Maybe even five?

    That being said, I’m still living back in the stone age and still don’t have a cell phone of any kind – I don’t need one. I’ve only, within the last year, upgraded from my trusty iPod Mini from 2004 to an iPod Classic. A colour screen, a considerably larger storage space and the capability of playing video were easy to get used to. I think it’ll last me AT LEAST until 2017. Maybe I’ll consider buying a cell phone then, too.

  6. glossyibis says:

    Where can I get a hoverpenis?

  7. ElizaRoberts says:

    I’ve still got a mobile without all the bells and whistles, but I’m thinking of investing in a new model, I think I’ll wait and see. How long before the iphone becomes available on networks other than O2, can anyone enlighten me? I’m looking forward to part 2.

  8. burkesworks says:

    (iPhone users only frequent coffee bars that spell café with two Fs)

    It would appear they also frequent the kind of coffee bars that can’t tell a grave from an acute, being as the Italian spelling for both the beverage and very occasionally the establishment in which it’s drunk is “caffè”. But of course you knew that…

  9. Quibble says:

    Being a “Lady” I too suffer the same angst, caution, interest and curiosity that one experiences when I myself, a family member, friend, colleague, or fellow commuter reaches for their phone. Men may indeed be the main sufferers of this but its certainly something that goes on in both camps…though as you say maybe to a lesser extent in the Lady camp.
    Not having an Iphone myself, but choosing instead the HTC Magic I’m amazed at the varied reactions I receive.
    Shot glances across a train carriage, frowning eyebrows, scoffs, sniffs and smiles. Really it’s amazing how much attention such things can command.
    Looking forward to your views and reviews Stephen.

    Much love
    Cathy

  10. scyllacat says:

    I am likewise in the market for The One, but I’m looking to have it tether as a modem to my laptop so I don’t have to mess with all those wireless cards and modems. I will be taking your thoughts to heart.

    I hear everything you write in your voice. Have I mentioned that I want you to read me bedtime stories?

    –your affectionate fan

  11. paullwolborsky says:

    My god, Stephen. How you must’ve suffered on Twitter ration of 140 characters. What I hear is a vast exhalation echoing through England as a corset is removed and spilling out lavish paragraphs from bygone era.

    Nobody writes like this anymore. Not in the age of nano-seconds where whole libraries flash across the Earth like retorts from a Dreadnaught.

    I write a blog about Sustainability in a world going farrow while mouths to feed expand. It’s a scary world looking more like ‘Terminator: Salvation’ than ‘My Fair Lady’. We must preserve what matters most to us. Species going extinct, dwindling resources, water rising and water drying. Then in rolls your blog like a Rolls-Royce, with you sitting pretty like Lady Penelope.

    Then I remember that the Rolls-Royce is a beautiful, elegant vehicle, like your writing. And that Lady Penelope… um, I think I’ll stop now. But stick a power-cell in that baby (the car), and you preserve another thing from the past otherwise lost. Leisurely-paced, erudite, witty writing in the Queen’s English (with an occasional King’s rhyming slang).

    Keep it rolling, Stephen. Write on!

    Paul Wolborsky
    Santa Clara, California
    http://www.ajaxofalltrades.com/sustain

  12. vonnostrum says:

    A pleasure to read the eloquent blog as always Mr. Fry.
    Out of interest I made an application for the iPhone and thought you might have some fun with it? If you like it please feel free to give it a mention on Twitter!
    (a link to to the app store is here…http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=330768351&mt=8)

  13. exoskeleton says:

    I can’t speak for all females, but as a devotee of the iPod Touch, I can’t help but peek at other people’s phone/music-type devices to see whether they shared my preference. When they’ve also got an iPod Touch, I’m so pleased by the similarity that I feel like I should start up a conversation, and sometimes have.

    My phone is a bottom-of-the-line dumbphone, but it’s still nice to read about the fancier ones.

  14. JamesFrobisher says:

    “… latte-lapper in the Caffé (iPhone users only frequent coffee bars that spell café with two Fs) …”

    And the accent on the ‘è’ is grave, not acute. As in “Caffè Nero”

    Tsk. Minus 5 points.

    JF+++

  15. AndyJHarding says:

    I’d love to get an iPhone but O2 not the best round here. Really need Apple to move away from their exclusivity deal…

  16. beemooney says:

    I like to get my iPhone AND blackberry out in tea shops and Caffe’s everywhere….I am a whore to technology…Clearly, I go both ways Bx

  17. rlynnt says:

    HTC TouchPro 2!!!!!!! Go for it!

    My The One was a phone that could edit Word/Excel docs, had a camera, music player, keyboard and – preferably – GPS. HTC exceeded my expectations with the Kaiser. The screen tilted, making it like a little laptop.

    The second edition had GPS, and the current edition, the Touch Pro 2, will be the 1st phone to be offered by all the major U.S. carriers. You were almost there, but chose the N97 instead.

    The camera on those HTC phones is not as good as it could be, it’s only real fault. Otherwise, it’s generally acknowledged to be THE world phone to have. The way you travel, it’s a no brainer.

    Non iPhone users may suffer from app envy, but there are way more for the new Windows phones than there will ever be for any Palm. And, in spite of the Pre and upcoming Pixi, I think Palm is finally on its way out.

    Seriously, if you are looking for a mini computer with phone capability, there is no better choice for frequent fliers than the TouchPro 2.

    Oh yeah, I’m a female gadget freak, so this has been an extremely important issue to me for years.

  18. orangeguru says:

    I agree that the homo digitalis still needs that good old hairy breast-thumping to compete in the gene pool. Social status as an indicator of sexual indicator has moved on from cars to gadgets. And they are much more convenient.

    Just to blow my own horn, I have written two similar essays:

    Boys and Toys – or is my Penis really smaller without the newest digital Gadget?

    Girly tech and why Pink is for P—y

  19. Vladley says:

    Stephen,
    A short line to tell you how much I enjoyed this piece. Just love the way you take your wickedly sharp observations and effortlessly communicate them through words that seem to skip, flow & wag all at the same time. I too, am a lover of all things Apple, and as is rather embarrassingly apparent, am fast becoming a lover of all things Fry as well. Keep it up – you are the cat’s wardrobe!

  20. Elsbeth Kwant says:

    For me, the worst thing is that I had it: the perfect device (instant-on, touchscreen, 10fingertypablekeyboard, good connectivity, beautiful clamshell design). But the world just doesn’t appreciate perfect things (like the Psion 5mx) ahead of their time and the company went bust. Still grieving after five years – but will be fine, thanks.

  21. JimboJambo says:

    I own The One. It’s called an iPhone. From day 1, I knew it was perfect. Think about it for a minute, this device is infinitely configurable. I just love it, perfect form. Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing else to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. Too many of these ‘smart’ phones are just endless features that all work OK(ish), but the iPhone is the one device that has captured my heart.

    Great site Stephen, your podcast about language was also outstanding, I really enjoy listening to you.

    “It would appear they also frequent the kind of coffee bars that can’t tell a grave from an acute…”

    Who cares? I knew exactly what he meant. Honestly, a great article and you pick him up, and feel the need to comment on this? Listen to Stephens language podcast and you will learn to overlook typos and concentrate on the message.

    Stephen, you forgot to cross a T and dot an i. Damn you!

  22. Fryphile says:

    So big smartphone = small penis?

    But I don’t have a smartphone. That means . . . 8O What have I been peeing with all these years?

  23. dancecaller says:

    Stephen,

    Many women simply want to know “Does it come in pink!”. I am not one of them mind you.. Can we get it to do what we need with out a degree in electronics, I’ll take it. we budget not for the latest gadget and probably get more competative about handbags.

    Regards to rest of the ‘New Year’ party crew who danced so well for me at Glen house.

    Kirsteen..your Dance Caller

  24. Northern Lass says:

    As an i-phone widow (it’s a long time since I saw my husband without said gadget in his hand) I can’t help but hope it’s not one of those which will be The One. If he isn’t careful, I shall have to replace him with a hover penis.

  25. JMB says:

    And so the OS wars have evolved (or is it devolved?) into the device wars… Well, since I’m passionately disinterested in labels but very much into freedom of choice I just have to echo Quibble – get an Android device and be stared at (and possibly made fun of) by everyone… But it feels good on the inside! :-)

  26. inckognito says:

    How I love your blogging about all new and shiny things! :D

    I have HTC 4G WiMAX now. The first GSM and WiMAX intagrated smartphone. The network is Yota (Russian carrier).

    I heard that this smartphone hasn’t been released in US or UK yet, so perhaps wasn’t available for you (yeah, whom I’m kidding here ;)

    Anyway, I would deeply appreciate your opinion & feedback on that one?

    xxx

  27. spermologer says:

    Who’d rather rub thighs with an iphone? As we all know, apple users create and hope that maybe sometime, someday they’ll make money; while blackberry users make money and hope that maybe sometime, someday they’ll create.

  28. nonoyesyes says:

    Never having owned even one of these technology-smart divices I can only marvel at such a display! Of course the single and most common denominator of all – the reason for any and all such divices…is the ground-shaking earth tremoring need for Communication! Behind any and all technologically advanced, mind blowingly accurate Communication Mediums – are the people themselves, who have the urge to stay in touch no matter where they are, or what they’re doing!
    Having ample niknaks with which to remain in touch while strolling ambling sitting running walking climbing flying cafe-aye-ing or simple standing still has become the picture of modern times!
    A wonderful blog once more written with the passion of a man who so obviously loves being in communication in triplicate! Cheers

  29. spermologer says:

    Answer – me

  30. weaversouth says:

    And now,there is the iPod nano….I am hooked on this one….does videos. It does videos surreptitiously. alas, I didn’t have this in time for Last Night of the Proms. Well, there’s always next year and making sure I am well away from the long arm of the stewards.
    The only thing I object to about the iPhone, at least, here in the US, is being stuck with AT&T as provider. I recently “fired” them as my home and internet provider, but have to stay with them for the iPhone. I do have an old iPhone that I plan to bring on the next trip to London and have it “unlocked” for use there, but, in the meantime….stuck with ATT!!
    It is one swell piece of gear, though.

  31. btdart says:

    HartH will inform you as to what most American women think of when the word Maxi is used, maybe you already know, anyway I’m post all that and the word only makes me giggle.
    We(as a family) have always had MACs (upgraded from a 85′ Macintosh to a Performa in 92′- whoopee!) I sit here at my new MacBookPro, wondering why I put off getting an iphone until a few months ago. When I finally got one I immediately got one for our daughter, she lives an hour away and we had always had trouble connecting (both hated cell phones) . Now we talk & text everyday, I honestly worry less and our communication improved. I love my iphone. My husband uses his cell phone for 3 -4 word communications, at most, absolutely hates phones of all kinds, but on the other hand he loves Wagner. so I’ll keep him.

  32. luvvie says:

    Looking forward to your reviews, Stephen.

    My first smart phone was the HTC [Whatsis], when it came out in the US in 2006(?). It was a nice pocket computer toy, but it sucked at being a phone, and it would not hold a charge.

    Next came a BlackBerry Curve, the 9230 I think it is, in late 2007. It is great at being a phone, the applications I actually need are there (mail, maps, GPS), I’ve never been able to run down the battery, but it is sluggish as a pocket computer for Internet access, and apps are limited.

    In the meantime I discovered the iPod in the form of the Classic 160G, and was swept away by the engineering and the storage I could command. This was followed quickly by the iPod Touch 32G which I adore, IF I’ve got a handy wi-fi connection. But I’m wishing it would hold a charge!

    So here I am, with a BlackBerry (phone), a Touch (toy/network), and a Classic 160 (media) all in my purse, waiting for The One. Hope it gets here before my back gives out.

  33. askgranny says:

    SO…. Donald Trefusis are you perhaps related to my Granny Trefusis from Holkham? Surprise me dear long-lost relation, I’m all of a twitter….

  34. David J Griffin says:

    Dear Mr Fry

    Indeed, “I text, therefor I am”, “you are what you tweet” and “the email of the species is more deadly than the mail” is timely advice for owners of portable telephony communication device lifestyle indicators.

    Best regards

    David J Griffin

  35. lexid523 says:

    I have already fallen in love with the Courier. As I sit in class taking notes (depending on the professor’s policy) on my laptop or on paper, I dream of having the versatility of both in front of me.

    It looks like something from a sci-fi film, and I wants it now, precious.

  36. feistymiss says:

    thought it a bit strange when you had all marvel of natural beauty and wonder about you Stephen, to comment on missing your wifi (wife) and other connection with the outer world….like the interesting way you chat about things tho ! agree with the similarity about being a weapon of distinction, hope all the technology isnt our extinction, have a feeling we are already going to hell in a handcart with the way things are

  37. jim_herd says:

    I suspect “The One” will remain elusive and we’ll just have to settle for “The Best Right Now”. I have to say that I think that’s probably the iPhone. So many interesting and useful applications are being written for it that there’s a serious possibility that the real technophile won’t be able to accept any other phone.

    I don’t have one yet as it’s quite a big investment and the current iPhone still lacks a few features which I’d really like to see before I get one, e.g. a high res OLED screen and a much better camera and Flash capability. In other words, the rumoured iPhone HD.

    Having said all that, I do like my shiny new iPod Nano with its video camera. It’s ideal for shooting the occasional movie clip, the quality is great and, above all, it’s much smaller than the competitors!

  38. vientiane says:

    Well I’d love to try any of these mentioned! Makes my basic pay-as-you-go Vodafone seem rather bland! Have a Dongle though!
    Listen to you voice all the time…reading Harry Potter! Superb!
    Thanks Stephen!x

  39. tonymcfadden says:

    I love your effortless writing style. I’d try to copy that style but firstly, It wouldn’t be my style then, and secondly, I’d make a horrible hash of it.

    If you’re taking votes (I doubt that you are) I’d vote that Donald Trefusis’s work get shoved with some force to the top of the list.

    Cheers!

    Tony

  40. weirdsis says:

    I agree that my sex (in general) is less warlike about tech toys. I take my tech on a budget and I get along just fine.

  41. jillydoc says:

    Thankyouthankyouthankyou! I LOVE my iPhone and can’t wait for the HD version. It’s good to read your blog again, didn’t realize how much I’d missed it! Also, happy to hear Trefusis is coming.

    xoxoxo

  42. docbee says:

    I think you’re right. Apart from a few geeky women and some that seriously need this kind of tech for their work, few other members of our sex are remotely interested in the thrills that technology can bring. Most of them just don’t “get” it and I despair at their lack of curiosity and poorly developed sense of wonder.

    Women still have tribal status wars but they involve other things, thinness, clothes, shoes, beauty, partners, offspring’s achievements — rarely anything technological.

    Cheers,
    Suzanne

  43. andrealein says:

    Probably true that women aren’t equally affected by that. It’s because we’re so busy comparing our handbags.
    No really, I’m perfectly fine with my mobile that I can’t use for much more than texting and calling people. But who knows, maybe my whole world would change if I could actually afford an IPhone or Blackberry. Hmm… which one would I chose? xxx

  44. famn says:

    Love gadgets… but get sentimental about parting with an old favourite. Finally dropped my phone – child related incident – and got a shiny Red Blackberry curve.. kind of satisfied both my urge for technology and shiny things.. saying that it is getting rather dated now, and although I peruse the counters displaying all the new shiny toys I can’t quite bring myself to update… but if you find ‘The One’ maybe I will be pushed over the EDGE (pun intended?).

  45. Wizzz says:

    Hi Stephen, you wanted “female” feedback: I have a BlackBerry and my business partner (also female!) wants a iPhone. I love technology, she endures it! What we both want is a smart phone; we will be happy as long as it does what we need it to. And that is it! no drama, no racing hormones, no incrimination. We will both have made the right choice for ourselves! If, in six months time, we end up pulling each others hair out over a smart phone I will let you know!
    Claire

  46. D for Danielle says:

    In reply to Paul Wolborksy, some people still write like that, luckily, though they are few, like, indeed, the Rolls Royce is, and Harris Tweed jackets for that matter (with yellow felt underneath the lapels that the rebellious wearer looks forward to turn up and expose, autumn weather permitting). I would argue that iPhone, Harris Tweed and Stephen Fry’s delightful elegant language go very well together twittering around the world and spilling out lavish paragraphs alike. More should be the device. An appeal to Stephen to rescue Harris Tweed from death by numbers and make it as sexy a smartjacket as the iPhone, a perfervid double-breasted attachment and preference that will foment almost religious fervour in our passionate double-breasted breasts. A matter of tribal status war. Either you’re with it or against it. Words, and certainly Stephen’s, can do so.

    Danielle
    Maastricht

  47. TheAnglofile.net says:

    As one of the ‘fairer sex’ (in both contexts) I think you are perhaps correct about our immunity to the testosterone-fuelled posturing that accompanies phone usage in the twenty-first century.

    My greater concern, Stephen old chap, is that your blog implied that iPhone users are ‘latte-lappers’.

    Good Lord. I was considering a purchase of the white-and-glossy item in question, but as a dedicated Assam drinker (preferably with a Waitrose shortbread finger to dunk), perhaps I should reconsider?

    Anna

  48. kristenmchugh22 says:

    As much as I’m drawn to melding of (beautiful) form and (excellent) function of Apple devices, I can’t succumb. The cult-like creepy cheer of Apple store employees and the cult-like intransigence of Apple aficionados is,well…creepy. I’m not a smartphone person, yet. However, since you mentioned the sinfully seductive ’09 Nano, I’d like to suggest: Creative Zen. There are a variety of models to satisfy the most feature-ravenous soul. The interface is simple. They also feature SD slots in most models and have bigger screens than most MP3 players, at a VERY reasonable price. (I do expect that when the iPhone is non-exclusive, I will get sucked in.)

  49. barker says:

    Don’t you people ever lose these gadgets?
    - A Luddite.

  50. jambonnie says:

    A while back you Mr SF – apparently said that some website was brilliant because it allowed you to amalgamate all of ones email addresses into one place and thereby one just has to check the once and not go into several places to check. Can you please tell me the name of this website as I have searched but can’t find it, I am sure it starts with an “H”.

    Thank you
    Amanda

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