Steve Jobs

I last saw Steve Jobs a year and half ago. I spent an hour alone in his company while he showed me the latest piece of magical hardware to have come from the company he had founded in 1976, the yet to be released Apple iPad. Naturally I was flattered to have been approved by him to be the one to write a profile for Time Magazine and to be given a personal demonstration of the device of which he was so clearly proud and for which he had such high hopes. The excitement of him then handing me an iPad (after I had duly signed severe NDAs prohibiting my flaunting it in public until the embargo date had passed) and being able to play with it before the rest of the world had even seen one tickled my vanity and I would be dishonest if I did not confess to the childlike excitement, the pounding thrill, the absurd pride and the rippling pleasure I always feel on such occasions – emotions that have long been pointed out as pathological symptoms of the wilder shores of unreason that Apple idolatry induce in people like me and as a part of Steve Jobs’s almost Svengali like powers of persuasion, and Barnum-like huckstering.

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Palmed Away

100 Greatest Gadgets

On Bank Holiday Monday Channel 4 are screening one of those “100 top” programmes they like to make and this year I had the pleasure of being allowed to choose my 100 favourite gadgets. I don’t think you’ll guess which comes first. Besides, I didn’t really approach it as a beauty pageant. The winner might as easily be a kitchen essential as a digital doodad. The fact is I have always had a quite inexplicable love of gadgets and feel myself blessed to have been born into an age in which they seem to have come thicker, faster, newer, sleeker and more miraculous than ever before. In the programme we didn’t want to get all ontological on your arse and never made an attempt to define or limit the meaning of the word. A gadget, for our purposes, was more or less what I decided it was, and in the end it doesn’t really matter who wins the Palm D’Or. Though naturally your burning curiosity will keep you watching all the way to the finish because …. well, you’ll never guess. You’ll just never guess…

But it’s talk of palms, d’or or otherwise, which brings me to the sad story of the week. Of the year. Of the decade.

The early days…

I’ve always been a lucky sod when it comes to my love affair with all things tech. It is a passion that coincided with my having a career that allowed me to be able to indulge in the kinds of insane spending spree that the speedy inbuilt obsolescence of gadgetry has always necessitated. At some time in 1985 I astonished my friends by brandishing before them professionally printed material. I remember the late and blessed Ned Sherrin goggling in disbelief when I came into a radio studio with a piece of A4 on which my script had been perfectly printed.

“You send your scripts to a printer?” he shrieked.

I nodded gravely. “These are fine scripts,” I said. “They deserve memorialisation.”

It was only after being harangued for insanity, hubris and dementia that I finally confessed that I had invested in a new kind of printer. You must remember (or be told because you are far too young to remember) that in 1984 printers were dot matrix machines that produced only a faint simulacrum of what a printing press could manage. In 1985 Apple brought out the LaserPrinter, Aldus produced a programme called PageMaker and I had splashed out £7,000 for one and about £40 for the other. A ridiculous sum, but I was now a Desk Top Publisher. The PostScript language, kerning, leading and justification were all I could think about.

Less than ten years later I ambled into a film studio and started taking photographs of the set with a QuickTake camera, much to the astonishment of the cinematographer and his crew.

“What’s more,” I said, “I could upload the photographs to my computer and email them to a friend.”

“What’s email?” they all wanted to know.

That digital cameras, perfectly printed pages and email are now all as platitudinous, quotidian and meretricious as takeaway coffee is easy to take for granted and I certainly don’t expect credit for being an early adopter or some kind of wise prophet. I was also an early adopter of many disastrous failures. The Newton, the Microwriter AgendA, early, bulky and dreadful Sony electronic books, iRex iLiads weird tone-dialling devices – any number of freakish gadgets that were either before their time and technology or simply deluded and hopelessly hopeful were all grist to my crazy mill.

iRex

The Mac, the LaserWriter and QuickTake camera were (niche and generally unprofitable) Apple products and it’s hard now to believe that there was so long a period when friends and the entire tech press gleefully crowed that my aging Mac peripherals and spare parts would in future have be bought at specialist hobbyist shops because Apple as a company was doomed. Well in 1997 Steve Jobs returned to the company he co-founded and that had fired him 12 years earlier and everything changed, but enough of that.

This blog was posted in Techblog

Pushnote

Some of you may have spotted that I recently tweeted the existence of a new service called Pushnote. In the interest of transparency, openness and the general calming down of doubting Thomases and cynical Susans everywhere, I shall declare right away that I do have shares in this new venture. It may be in my interest for you to use Pushnote, but I am not lying when I say that the only real interest for me is the personal one of watching an idea take flight (or not). The service is entirely free, we have no IPO plans, no ambition to get a quick valuation and sell out, nor will we host advertisements or track your comings and goings and sell those on. I have no expectations of making money from this. For me it’s a little like gardening. I don’t do the real thing, but I can see the pleasure in planning out, digging, drilling, seeding, watering, tending and watching the first sproutings of new growth. Not everything takes root and sometimes one misjudges the soil, the climate or the situation, but the process is fascinating and rewarding in and of itself.

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This blog was posted in Techblog

iPhone 4: a Welcome and a Warning

Welcome The hooplah that surrounds the release of a new Apple product is enough to make many otherwise calm and balanced adults froth and jigger. That some froth with excited happiness and others with outraged contempt is almost irrelevant, it is the intensity of the response that is so fascinating. For the angry frothers all are fair game for their fury – the newspapers, the blogosphere, the BBC and most certainly people like me for acting, in their eyes, as slavish Apple PR operatives. Why should these iPads and iPhones be front page news when, the frothers froth, there are plenty of other manufacturers out there making products that are as good, if not better, for less money? And isn’t there something creepy about Apple’s cultiness and the closed ecosystem of their apps and stores? The anti-Applers see pretension and folly everywhere and they want the world to know it. The enthusiastic frothers don’t really mind, they just want to get their hands on what they perceive as hugely desirable objects that make them happy. The two sides will never agree, the whole thing has become an ideological stand-off: the anti-Apple side has too much pride invested in their point of view to be able to unbend, while Apple lovers have too much money invested in their toys to back down. It is an absorbing phenomenon and one which seems to get hotter every week.

I almost always go out with an iPhone in one pocket, a BlackBerry in another and an Android device in a third. But then I am peculiar. If I had to keep only one, yes, I confess I would choose the iPhone, but I could cope happily if I were left with just a BlackBerry Bold or an HTC Desire. At least so I would have said until last week when Apple gave me an iPhone 4 to play with. For just as the frenzy of iPad launch has subsided (3 million sold in 8 weeks) it is now time for Apple haters to have a new device waved in their angry faces and time for Apple lovers to get verbally bitch-slapped for falling once more for Steve Jobs’s huckstering blandishments. iPhone 4 is here. It is only a year since many will have taken advantage of incentives to upgrade from iPhone 3G to iPhone 3GS and their deals may still be active, denying them the chance to leap to the newest phone without eye-watering financial penalties. Much as 3GS was released simultaneously with OS 3.0, so iPhone 4 arrives with iOS (as all Apple mobile device operating systems will now be designated) 4.0, which will be able to bring some, but not all of its new functions and features to older phones (but not the iPhone 2G). The phone will be available unlocked here in the United Kingdom, so your existing SIM (so long as it is cut down to the new mini-SIM shape) will work without having to jailbreak and unlock.

iPhone 4

iPhone 4 is an object of rare beauty (even when badly photographed using an iPhone 3GS). Noticeably slimmer but a trifle heavier than predecessors, its new heft only adds to the profound feeling of quality and precision that the device exudes. Sharper edged, it is girt by a stainless steel band which cleverly houses all the antennas required by a modern smartphone. Jobs himself made a comparison between iPhone 4 and a classic Leica. With this device in my hand I feel that I am holding its designer Jonathan Ive’s personal prototype, hand-machined as a proof-of-concept model. Ive is surely one of the most influential and gifted designers Britain has ever produced and iPhone 4 may well be his masterpiece.

Apple have produced, and third parties will doubtless emulate and improve, rubberised wrap-around belts called Bumpers that easily slip round the edges of the handset affording what will probably be regarded as much needed protection. They come in all kinds of colours and give the device great resilience (I saw an Apple executive gleefully hurling his bumpered iPhone 4 across the room). Bumpers may diminish the perfect lines of the profile, but it’s a compromise many will make, as the sharp edges are bound to make one a little nervous about chipping and denting.

This blog was posted in General, Guardian column and Techblog

No Comment…

Wherever and however you are reading this, welcome. It might be that you are, like me, the kind of early adopting sillyhead who has already got their hands on an iPad and, having naturally rushed to download FryPaper the App, is now reading this on your new slidey-smooth device. Perhaps you have an Android or iPhone and are making use of WordPress’s rather superior on-the-fly mobile formatting. It may be that you are quite happily reading these words the traditional way on the stephenfry.com website. You may be one of a large-ish chorus who wishes I would stop being so lazy and prevaricating and return to the habit of recording blessays and blogs in the form of a podgram as I used to do in the good old days.

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