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?

Well, below are the devices up for consideration all fanned out on the chest at the end of my hotel bed.

A fan of devices

A fan of devices

They are, reading from left to right. BlackBerry 9630 Tour, BlackBerry 8900 Curve, HTC Android Hero, HTC Android Magic, Palm Pre, LG Watch Phone, Nokia N97, 2009 iPod Nano, 2009 iPod Shuffle, 2009 iPod Touch.

I would love to have added the Flip and Kodak HD video recorders as well as the MS Zune HD to that parade, but I shall have to save them for another day. I have also promised many followers and correspondents that I would write a broad comparison of iPhone turn-by-turn navigation apps, now that the 3GS and its inbuilt compass allow a viable implementation of this technology. This too will have to wait, I fear. Gosh how it all backs up. What with tweeting, miniblogging and pursuing my-so-called career there isn’t much time left for major projects. I have much rummaging in my old friend Donald Trefusis’s memory stick to do as well.

Your forbearance is greatly appreciated.


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

  1. catinthehatuk says:

    Personally, I’m still mourning the death of my old faithful ‘brick!’ My wonderfully sturdy, no-nonsense, wysiwyg, non-singing, non-dancing, woefully lacking apps, does-wot-it-says-on-the-tin, Nokia 3310! Being a ‘person with Narcolepsy’, I tend to be somewhat accident-prone… by association, my possessions have also been known to come to an untimely demise… not so the robust little Nokia 3310! (I even bought a shocking pink Love is… cover for it; so no one down the local pub would pinch it off the table if my attention were averted…lol) You never know, there are people who collect/acquire ‘retro’ memorabilia… or ‘fossil fuel’ as my 12 year old son would say… anyway, it worked. The shocking pink jacket I mean… it didn’t get pinched and survived all manner of catastrophes until one day, it simply…. died… the LCD screen just went blank. Nothing elaborate, more of a whisper than a bang…. (sigh) They just don’t make them like that anymore… The new-ish Nokia I use these days with its fancy mega gig memory and MP3 player, the buttons are like egg shells; its a good job I’ve mastered texting without looking as all the little egg shells have broken off!!! Hmpphhh! Bring back the brick I say. Or, if they ever invent a mobile phone that brings me my morning coffee, then count me in! Sign me up to the 21st century! Until then, I’ll mourn the brick and stumble out of bed to make my own coffee… have a great weekend all! Lotsaluv from Cat, across the puddle… in Yorkshire, UK. CatXXX

  2. catinthehatuk says:

    That said, I do admit to being in awe of all things ‘gadgetry’. Pehaps I never evolved from my early infancy and all those twinkling lights and flashing bleeps and curious goings-on… They still hold as much fascination for me now, at age 41, as they did when I was a few moons younger…!;-) Catxxx

  3. melat0nin says:

    You know, Stephen, there is more to a device than whether it is “beautiful, useful, new [or] enthralling”. What about the commercial and ethical practises of the designers and manufacturers? What about being open to “beautiful, useful, new and enthralling” uses spouting forth as a result of the passion and enthusiasm of the device’s users (here’s looking at the App Store)? What about designing and packaging devices with the environment in mind? Or making things which improve the lives not just of well-off narcissists but also those with less disposable vanity in their lives? How about some down-to-earth gadget, beautiful but functional, impressive but genuine, excellent at what it does but humble in its success.

    I am, as I sense many are, sick of the sycophantic worshipping of glowing logos and the toxic superficiality of smartphone-flashing and achingly-self-aware white headphone cables on display for the world to see. When did it all become so false?

  4. Farrell Grayson says:

    I dislike most gadgets. It’s not a matter of technofear or anything like that. It’s just that I work two jobs and so I am fiercely protective of whatever peace and quiet I manage to get. Gadgets tend to make one a little TOO available to the rest of the world, so I avoid them. I may be missing out on some things, but I get more reading time.

    But even I am conscious of the way these small shiny things have become status symbols…and in a weird way, too, because it doesn’t seem to be primarily about money the way other status symbols are. The world seems to judge how *fulfilling* someone’s life is by how many tools they need to manage it. “You have a smartphone and a laptop and an account on every social network in existence? Why, you must have a full and busy life and be well-loved by everyone!”

    That may be true. Perhaps the reason I *can* get by without gadgets is because my life is somehow lacking. But I’m about to go take a nap, and at no point will I be vexed by some device beeping at me because someone has demanded my attention. I am content with that.

  5. lindamakwa says:

    I was going to leave a reply to this the other day. i am glad i had a chance to see the advert for the new apple store in Norwich.

    Here in our cafe,that’s how they pronounce it here, and they are of french origin and meteis, no one obsesses over there i pods, i phones etc.
    Its there ‘Combine Harvester’ and how great there GPS installed in it is, and how they don’t even have to drive their combine, they just set the coordinates and off it goes, although no one has actually done that yet, very expensive items to own and no one is willing to take the chance on accidentally combining a neighbouring section, but as soon as someone mentions buying or thinking of buying one, the competition starts, on which has the best features etc. So imagine, as i clicked on the link provided in the twittering sections, my surprise as to the song accompanying the video, and i was trying very hard to remember those lyrics whilst driving to the cafe knowing, as it is combining season here, what the conversation would be that morning. I certainly got a chuckle.
    Anyway I use a blackberry but i am thinking of making a change so the info here is useful. It must be a male thingy u guys have as I have not noticed any women getting so absorbed over there techno gadgets.
    But I certainly appreciate everyone’s input as now i have an idea on what would be suitable for my needs.

  6. deathlyrat says:

    I got a blackberry about 4 months ago, and I did enjoy messing about with it for a few weeks. After a little while though I started craving a simple device that’s only purpose was to let me talk to people. So I got rid of the smart phone and went back to my old trusty phone.

  7. edsyrett says:

    Dear Stephen,

    I’m very interested to know what exactly you envisage a “hoverpenis” will look like and do for an individual.



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