Starting this week and continuing every other Thursday, Dan Pourhadi will contribute The Dock, an opinion column on all-things Apple.
I looked up -- there stood my friend Jennifer, shaking her head, a glance of unquestioned disapproval painting her face. It's the same expression she typically shoots me after I tell an offensive joke or make an overt Star Trek reference. But here I did neither.
What's the matter, dear friend?
"Please, stop pinching your phone."
But I'm resizing an image to use as my background.
"No...you're pinching your phone. That's not an iPhone, Dan."
She had a point. It was some standard LG flip phone, a faceless soldier in the legion of cellular handsets currently occupying the pockets of millions. But its slick black screen is reminiscent of the iPhone's touch display, and my imagination sometimes gets the better of me.
Besides, I have less than six months to practice my pinching.
"This iPhone," she said, concerned, "it's going to destroy our friendship, isn't it?"
That's only one of the prevalent tales evidencing my growing (but totally healthy) obsession with Apple's new one-button wonder. Not an idle moment goes by that I don't imagine it in my hand -- displaying e-mail, wow'ing friends, encouraging criminal behavior of the envious souls around me.
Though, honestly, I'm not sure the phone itself is the reason for that, at least not anymore. It's been three weeks since Stevey took the wraps off the device at Macworld, sending me to the hospital for dehydration as a result of what the doc called "excessive drooling." And the famed Reality Distortion Field that typically encompasses such an event is starting to wear thin.
The iPhone is sweeet with three e's, yes. But why? Speaking in terms of pure functionality, it doesn't offer much over other pricey phones out there. Sure, there's "full" web browsing -- but just because it's prettier than its smartphone counterparts doesn't necessarily mean it's more useful. I'll give Apple Visual Voicemail and the killer Google Maps implementation. But e-mail, text messaging, conferencing, even music on the phone -- all of it has been done before (loosely speaking).
That leads me to make one of the most obvious claims I've ever written: It's not pure functionality that's encouraging the mobilization of millions into religious movements idolizing the iPhone. It's the way it has taken that functionality and made it...functional. Easy to use.
And -- dare I say? -- fun.
The Two C's
The iPhone marks a change in Apple's production philosophy. The company didn't simply jump into the personal computer industry with the Apple ][ and the Mac -- it virtually invented the personal computer industry. And while MP3 players existed pre-iPod, no one actually, you know, used them. Apple lit the flame that 'ignited' that industry as well (ditto for digital downloads).
Apple's phone takes the proven iPod Approach -- improve a crappy device and market the hell out of it -- but in a totally different market: the cell phone biz is strong; phones are virtually ubiquitous. Apple can't just step in and define the industry. They're working with pre-defined concepts, pre-defined perceptions.
Here, Apple's goal is not to Create, as it typically does -- it's to Change.
Welcome to 2007.
That intention displays a willingness in Apple to explore new ideas, to test existing -- but flawed -- markets. And as Apple demoed at Macworld, this willingness is anything but half-hearted.
The prevailing theme at the show, as many point out, seemed to be the rise of an embedded OS X. (Supposedly) in AppleTV, in iPhone -- and, as we're slowly learning, possibly in the new Airport Extreme. All consumer-level gadgets, aimed at revamping negative opinions of pre-existing markets. Apple is undoubtedly throwing an unprecedented amount of resources at, and utilizing its greatest strengths (i.e. OS X) in the development of devices and technologies we once thought were well below them.
Rumor sites like AppleInsider predict a whole range of products from Apple with the 'embedded' OS X, but shed very few details on what, exactly, those products are. "New" and "innovative", not to mention "jaw-dropping" -- devices, I think, that won't 'create' new markets or live on top of markets Apple's already conquered, but rather devices designed to Change markets in unpredictable ways.
"Apple will never produce a tablet" is the marching slogan of so many Mac Loyalists. Nor will they develop a Newton-esque PDA. Both are niche devices -- complicated, unwieldy, and completely non-Apple. What about Windows Media Center-esque home entertainment systems? No way, right? Microsoft tried that, no one really cares.
Fact: Apple is a growing company. They have over $11 billion in cash reserves. They are not only sticking with businesses in which they've forever been comfortable -- they're expanding, and developing, and plotting. They're becoming a consumer electronics company, focused on not one or two hard-hitting products, but a slew of devices designed to improve the digital experience in almost every aspect of life.
With Apple's foray into the living room, and their dive into the already well-established cell phone industry, they're taking off the proverbial gloves -- posturing themselves as the next digital giant. They have the capability and now the willingness to explore those niche products, to take on the flailing concepts, to redesign, to redevelop, to rethink markets we've labeled doomed.
A Mac sub-notebook/tablet? An advanced iPhone-esque PDA? An AppleTV that does everything from record TV to stream from (and back to) your computer? An OS X-embedded universal remote that not only changes the channel but also cooks your popcorn and does your taxes? Why not? With iPhone, with AppleTV, with Airport Extreme, Apple is showing us the power of OS X, the power of their engineers to approach old, tired concepts from completely new perspectives. They're showing us they have the power to take a failed idea, like a tablet or a media center, and make it functional. Easy to use. And fun.
This year the most exciting Apple announcements may not be new Leopard features or speed-bumped MacBook Pros or even new touch-screen wireless iPods. The most exciting Apple announcement could very well be in the form of one device we'd never expect -- or ten. Apple's in a position to spearhead Change, in not just the PC/music/cell phone industries, but in industries we may not even know about.
iPhone a Friend
Maybe that's why I'm so freakin' excited about the iPhone. It's not the phone itself -- not the e-mail or web browsing or the fancy contact list or even the physical fondling of music. It's the possibilities the development of this phone signifies, the potential for future advancements and innovations because of Apple's no-holds-barred, risks-be-damned leap into consumer electronics.
And with less than six months until the official debut of MultiTouch, I only have so much time to master the movements that could monopolize consumer electronic interfaces for years.
"This is getting old," said Jennifer, dripping with disdain, not even looking at me anymore.
What music do you want to listen to? I asked. I'm going to scroll through CoverFlow.
"Stop it, now."
Hold on a sec, I'm talking to Mike -- I'll conference you in.
"That's it," she said, putting on her coat. "Friendship canceled."