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.