The right carrot: Apple presents the second PDA in the company’s history
"Look there, in the sky! It is a bird! It is an airplane! No – it is Superman!" This was the jerky intro to the Superman cartoons of the forties. Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently unveiled a remarkable device with the usual fanfare at the Macworld expo: the Apple iPhone. What it is exactly – especially for its users – remains to be seen. But in any case it is great – if you believe Steve Jobs.
And there are reasons to believe him. A lot of fine ideas have gone into the design of the iPhone, you can clearly see the ambition of its creators. For example, the ease with which certain usability features have been incorporated, which could have been done much earlier. The iPhone switches automatically between portrait and landscape mode, depending on whether it is used in portrait or landscape mode – a trick made possible by the use of position sensors. It turns off the screen when you put it to your ear to make a phone call, which extends battery life but mainly prevents you from giving commands by ear.
Command input on the iPhone is yet to be talked about. It has all the usual smartphone features on board, from Internet capability to PIM programs and a 2-megapixel camera. You can listen to music, watch videos, use a technology called "visual voicemail" to guarantee that one does not always have to scan the entire contents of one’s answering machine, but has free access to the news that interests one.
Since the iPhone actually uses OS X as its operating system, some consider the device a full-fledged pocket computer whose potential goes far beyond what one would normally expect from a smartphone or PDA.
The most interesting interface is certainly the one used on the iPhone. It does without a stylus and keyboard – except for a single button. Instead, you use your fingers to make gestures directly on the screen. For example, you can zoom in on media content by pulling it apart between your thumb and forefinger "and forefinger", to zoom out, you simply reverse the process. This could be very beneficial for surfing the web. The screen is described as excellent, but with a diagonal of less than nine centimeters, the full display of websites will usually be of little use – even at 320 x 480 pixels.
And since the "Multitouch"-The fact that the new interface can interpret the input of up to four fingers at the same time suggests that after a short learning curve, the device will be able to operate very smoothly via an intuitive gesture interface "Deaf-mute alphabet" can be controlled by gestures. By the way, such an interface also opens up fascinating possibilities for much coarser screen formats, and touchscreens seem to be experiencing a boom overall. The design of the iPhone was, of course, again the work of Jonathan Ive, one of the most creative and best designers who have ever worked with electronic devices.
Much has been written about all these things, and much more will be written about them. Starting in June, the iPhone will initially be offered in the U.S. with a two-year contract with U.S. telephony provider Cingular. But although the device will not come to Europe until late 2007, German mobile phone providers are already clearly signaling their interest.
Bloggers are already busy creating content on the subject; some go so far as to build cardboard models to see how the iPhone feels in the hand.
Apple’s risky strategy of using a name already used by another major electronics manufacturer is likely to keep the courts busy, which will ensure continued media attention. In a word, the spin has been successful, Steve Jobs seems to have once again dangled the right carrot in front of the buying classes that matter to him.
It can’t hurt to ask around among those who still mourn Apple’s first attempt to create a multifunctional pocket computer for urban infonomads – at that time, this target group probably still existed "yuppies" . We are talking about the Apple Newton (cf. Newton’s discarded apple), which was launched in 1993, and through various metamorphoses by 1998 had moulted into a device that is still unique in its kind.
To this day, there is a rough fan base that clings to Newton with sometimes comical zeal (cf. Holy Newton, pray for us) and develops not only software but also hardware for it. Newtontalk, probably the biggest Newton mailing list, has about 2500 members, and currently the iPhone is one of the most popular topics there.
For years, Apple has been asked to take the lessons learned from the Newton and integrate them into a state of the art device; for many, the question is whether or not the iPhone is the long awaited Newton successor. Some people affirm it wholeheartedly, and announce that they want to mothball their Newtons for good. The iPhone was the device that the Newton had developed into anyway, if it had not been abandoned at the time, according to this faction.
Another one does not believe that the iPhone can replace the Newton; the main complaint is that text input on the iPhone will only be done through an on-screen keyboard, which, especially on such a small screen, does not promise a comfortable handling of long texts. Irony of technology history: The Newton had a handwriting recognition, which had already integrated clever approaches to gesture control (via stylus) at that time. It is known as "Inkwell" Part of OS X, the operating system that Apple also uses for the iPhone.
But there was no talk about Inkwell and the Newton at the presentation of the iPhone, which disappoints the hardcore Newton fans, if they don’t even like Steve Jobs "Revisionism" in relation to the history of the company.
There are also complaints about the iPhone’s battery life, which can’t keep up with the Newton’s – an unconvincing argument, considering that the Newton doesn’t have a color screen, and that it can listen to music and surf the Internet (both even wirelessly), but that it has neither photography nor telephony capabilities.
More serious is the fact that the battery is permanently installed in the device. When used for a long time without a power plug, this forces the use of external battery packs. The two-year contract with Cingular is also often emphasized as a shortcoming, as is Jobs’ clear reluctance to open up the iPhone to third-party software. The reason given for this reluctance is, by the way, to prevent code from getting onto the device that would harm it. It should not come as a surprise that such an attitude does not impress people who keep a device that has been obsolete since 1998 alive with their own developments. However, a certain curiosity is noticeable even among the most skeptical Newton fans.
If you have seen the videos that show the iPhone in action, this is not surprising. It seems like the perfect blend of gaming and tooling that geeks love to have. Apart from the significant flaw that the iPhone in its current version can do little with coarse text, it is the legitimate successor to the Newton. And it’s also a relevant step towards the "egg-cellent" – the pocket computer that can do everything.