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The SocioPolitics of the iPhone

November 18, 2007

“Exponential adoption often comes down to irrational factors such as addiction and codependence. When technologies are imperfect but hackable, users who customize them end up excusing and defending their flaws.”

Yes, John, your iPhone.

As a device and as my device, its the political issues I resent the most. Its usefulness as a productivity tool for me is limited because it more of a revenue tool for ATT/Apple in ways that are counter to a dedication to customer satisfaction. So here is my opinion—not a typical technology review but a political response.

Look, the iPhone is stunning achievement in design. Both the device and many of the applications are works of technologic art. It fits the hand with the perfect form factor, light and thin without feeling flimsy or fragile. (And test have demonstrated its even more rugged than it looks.) The screen is brighter and sharper than most PDAs. In most ways, the combination of clicking and scrolling gestures and accelerometer- driven autorotation are brilliantly conceived.

These features combine to create the impression of a tool that has evolved to be an extension of the human hand. Tactile ergonomics are natural and intuitive—for the most part, such as the self-correcting

Take for example the Note app in which these impressions were initially recorded. Marker font on a yellow legal pad background is as inviting as is easy to read. And a stern will bounce a little when you reach the top or bottom if you scroll too fast—a brilliant touch to “humanize” the experience. But there is no zooming, formatting or any other control as you would find in other PDA note apps. And inexplicably, you can’t rotate the one app where a larger, horizontal keypad would be the most valuable.

Other applications are cleverly executed and snappily responsive. And of course, as an iPod before anything else, the iPhone is an awesome media player.

But look, there is no cut and paste. There… is no… cut and paste.

Safari is a cool way to look at pages but not always a very good way to read words. Pretty as it is, it is clearly designed for younger eyes than mine. And when I am surfing the Web, I don’t just look for things interesting to me, but for friends and colleagues too. Yet there is no easy way to either clip or forward a page—even though email is accesible from many other iPhone apps.

You can’t use the phone as a fallback modem for your laptop. There’s no 3G data. You can’t edit office documents. There’s no task manager. There’s no voice-activated dialing without paying an extra fee to AT&T. Things that mobile phones and PDAs have had for years.

The problem is that when anybody points out these shortcomings to Apple, Jobs & Co turn around and blame the victim. Nobody uses handwriting on a PDA. It’s not a PDA. Get with the times, old man…

Look, in an age when a diet product that causes oily diarrhea gets marketed as being all about “commitment,” I know I’ll get plenty of hate mail for suggesting that Apple’s designers need to get over themselves.

And of course, the fortune I invested in high quality earphones and headphones is now just so much tangled garbage in the drawer while I have suffer through the incredible pain of the stock buds. I can wear Etymotics for 20 hours straight on a long flight, but I can’t enjoy more than 20 minutes of music before the pain becomes too much

This is just one way on which the iPhone is positioned dead center in the ultimate walled garden—as they do their best go lock me in to a carrier, a vendor, music stores, Web sites and usage patterns.

I find it ironic that the same people who are the most likely to champion Apple have so far been punished the most, such as after the famous first-adopter-penalty price drop. But of course the abuse serves a purpose too. At best solidarity among customers—or at worst taps our latent susceptibility to co-dependence.

I should disclose that I received my iPhone as a speaker at the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco last September. The premise was that the social media and on-demand SaaS apps of Web 2.0 were so compelling that businesses should start rewriting all of their code. Therefore all of the typical materials and activities of a conference—schedule, networking, etc.—were delivered through the iPhone via custom coded apps. But Web 2.0 should not be an industry created solely to compensate for the shortcomings of the iPhone. While it shouldn’t be that the only way to be satisfied with the iPhone is to firmly believe in the promise of Web 2.0 applications.

The anthropological irony is that emotional connections come from both perfections and imperfections.

Sent from my iPhone—NOT

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