iPhone Hysteria

Wednesday, 2007-06-27; 11:23:00

To all those complaining about the iPhone hype...

If there's one thing I hate more than having to read fifty million stories about the iPhone every day or listening to all the myriad tiny complaints about the iPhone and how it will doom it to -25.7% market share, it's having to listen to the people who are tired and complain non-stop about the iPhone hype.

I cannot stress this enough: if you're sick of hearing about the iPhone, then don't listen when people talk about it! Did I really have to say that? It's so simple.

No, it's not easy to ignore news about the iPhone. But it's possible. I do it every year, on September 11. I'm so sick of hearing about how a tragedy that killed 3,000 people is more important than an ongoing tragedy that kills tens of people each day in the Middle East, just because it happened on our soil or that it happened all at once. I've also been doing it constantly since Paris Hilton went to jail. I just don't care. I don't care that it's an injustice that she's only going to jail for a couple days or weeks. I really couldn't care less about what Hilton did or does or will do.

So what do I do? I turn off the radio. I immediately toss the newspaper in the recycling. I don't visit traditional news sites. (If you use a feed reader like Vienna, make a smart folder for the day that excludes the word "iPhone" in the headline or body.) I read, or do errands, or get some programming done. I use my iPod as much as possible. I ignore it all. If I happen to glance somewhere and see something about it, I just move on.

But constantly complaining about all the coverage is about the most hypocritical thing you can do. You hate that people talk about it, so you talk about it more? What kind of back-asswards sense does that make? Ever heard of the adage, "There's no such thing as bad press?" The best thing you can do, for yourself and for others who are sick about it, is just to ignore it. All of it. (Yes, I am keenly aware of the irony that I am not taking my own medicine. Deal with it.)

I've said this a couple times: I'm not going to buy an iPhone. I don't have a cell phone, and currently have no need for one. The iPhone wouldn't suit me as a good iPod (because of its meager storage capacity compared to the full-size iPod), and I don't particularly care about the awesome web access that it allows because, you know, I really don't need to be tethered to the internet more than I already am. I also don't particularly care for paying a premium for the device or for paying a monthly bill. I'm waiting for the mythical "true video iPod" (*snicker*) that's an iPhone minus the phone minus the "internet communicator". I don't need an iPhone.

The iPhone may not be right for other people who already have a cell phone, either. If you're in a place that lacks lots of free Wi-Fi hotspots, you're probably going to be sick of the dial-up speeds offerred by AT&T's EDGE network. (It takes 55 seconds for the New York Times' page to appear, 100 seconds for Amazon.com, and two minutes for Yahoo's home page, according to David Pogue in the New York Times.) It's also not for those people who prefer pre-paid plans or who balk at the base price of $60 for an iPhone plan. (Yes, people do pay more than that for their monthly cell phone bills. My brother's regularly goes to $90/month, and he uses about the same number of minutes as the iPhone's base plan. So, yes, he would save on his monthly bills by switching to an iPhone.)

But you know, maybe, just maybe, there's a reason that the iPhone is generating all this hype? Maybe, just maybe, people actually desperately want an iPhone and are desperate to get out of their cell hell? (That's right, I went there -- I can make lame ass-rhymes just like the best of the tech pundits.) Maybe, just maybe, the multi-touch interface signals not only a revolutionary change in the cellphone industry, but the cusp of the next revolution in technology interaction? Could it be possible that the menu paradigm that became the de-facto interface for computers starting with the Lisa and the Mac in the mid-80s is poised to become relegated to our past just like the command-line days?

No, it may not. Computers have to do far more than a piddly cell phone needs to do, so a multi-touch interface that completely replaces menus may not work on the laptop that I'm using right now. I don't know. But people are clamoring for cell phones that are easier to use, and the iPhone is the first that offers a really good user experience.

Regardless of the prospects for multi-touch, though, back to the issue at hand: the iPhone hype wasn't entirely created by Apple. The only thing Apple did was announce it in January, and then they were silent until this month. Take a look back in Apple's press archives for 2007. Besides the initial launch PR in January and the ones for June, there's only one press release between February and May about the iPhone: that Cisco and Apple had reached an agreement regarding the iPhone trademark. That's one story from Apple in four months.

Yes, Apple has been masterfully playing the media since the start of this month, surreptitiously releasing iPhone ads that revealed the launch date, casually releasing info about the improved battery life and scratch-resistant screen, and practically offering daily tidbits regarding the iPhone (YouTube support, data plan pricing, new iPhone website, iPhone video tour, etc., etc.). A day hasn't gone by in my newspaper where I haven't seen a story about the iPhone. Apple has the media wrapped around their finger, and is ensuring that everybody knows about the iPhone.
Interestingly, with the switch to Intel and the iPhone having come to fruition, the only things we have left to secretly pine for is the tablet Mac, and Mac OS X on regular PCs. Those are the only other rumors that have matched the years of speculation that the switch to Intel and the iPhone have garnered.

But that's been only in the last month. For the four months between January and June, Apple has said nothing substantial regarding the iPhone. The hype was created entirely by the users. By people like Steven Frank of Panic who has been desperately trying to find a cell phone that he likes. By consumers who are annoyed with carriers for dictating to manufacturers how to make their cell phones, and for manufacturers peddling new features that supposedly are iPod-killers but which ultimately are too sucky to use at all. (This includes the Motorola ROKR with iTunes.) By rabid Mac users who have fueled rumors and speculation for years before this January about Apple secretly developing an iPhone. By lame tech blogs like Engadget that can affect Apple's stock price just by publishing unsubstantiated rumors that the iPhone and Leopard would be delayed again. This hype is largely out of Apple's hands; not that Apple minds or anything.

So blaming Apple for all the hype is kind of disingenuous.

I'm also particularly amused when I hear that the iPhone could be bad for Apple, or that it's distracting Apple from its core original business, the Mac. I'm sorry, but even a moron can see that the iPhone is nothing but good for Apple.

First off, the iPhone shows that Apple is not stagnating; they're not content with the iPod and the Mac; they're not content with having popularized two computer interfaces (the mouse and the click wheel) -- they want to go after a new and competitive market, and they want to popularize yet another computer interface, multi-touch. I think this is a very good sign that Apple is not resting on its laurels. They're actively making sure that they stay relevant in the computer industry, and that they have sustainable product lines that will generate revenue to spur more research and development, including on the Mac.

Two: I think everyone can agree that the interface of the iPhone is completely revolutionary. If there were a cell phone already on the market that had an interface this well-designed, we'd have heard about it, and there wouldn't be nearly as many people clamoring for an iPhone. Even if the iPhone's sales are paltry, Apple has raised the bar for interface design in cell phones. Even if other cell phone manufacturers don't follow Apple's lead, consumers will have seen that a usable touch-screen device like the iPhone is viable. And the multi-touch interface will spur research within and without Apple about how to effectively use multi-touch interfaces in other devices. (Who knows, maybe Apple will release that mythical tablet Mac after all.)

Three: The iPhone won't make a dent in Apple's bottom line. The last time Apple posted a net loss in profit was for the fourth quarter of 2002. (Yes, I went through Apple's PR library myself.) If I remember correctly, that net loss itself was the first in a few years for Apple even at that time. (Apple's PR library doesn't extend before 2002.) With the iPod and Mac being highly profitable, Apple can eat all the expenses that it has poured into the iPhone and will still come out on top. Actually, since Apple has ostensibly been working on the iPhone for years now, it has already been eating some of the cost of developing the iPhone, yet Apple is still a healthy company with consistent quarterly profit. If Apple doesn't sell a single iPhone, the only thing that will be hurt is Apple's reputation. And it's not like Apple hasn't weathered failures before (*cough*G4 cube*cough*).

Four: The Mac is still an important part of Apple's product line. That Leopard has been delayed for a third of a year is not something that should be construed as a crisis in Apple's operating system division. Apple has engineered and delivered not one, not two or three, but four major Mac OS X releases on time. Compare that to Microsoft, the only other company which makes an operating system that has to meet certain milestones, and which continually delayed what eventually became Windows Vista for four years. Oh, yeah, and they took out a couple of the major features.

I'm as antsy as anyone to get my hands on Leopard. That's really the only thing from Apple that I'm going to buy in the near future. But to think that Apple would be able to push out a major operating system upgrade at the same time that it's launching a completely new product line is ludicrous. It's probably better that they delayed Leopard anyway; it's always better to release something late but good than bad and early.

This, of course, completely ignores the fact that the iPhone runs OS X too, so making sure the iPhone runs well is also part of the Q&A for Mac OS X.

Five: The good user experience of the iPhone is going to reflect positively on Apple's other products, including the Mac. If you thought the iPod helped Apple's Mac division, wait until you see what the iPhone does. The positive brand recognition that the iPhone garners for Apple will only help Apple sell more Macs to consumers who are thinking, "Fuck. Do I seriously have to continue to deal with this Windows shit? Oh, wait, there's another company called Apple that happens to make computers! Oh, didn't they make the iPhone? Yeah, so their computers must be good, given the quality of the iPhone." (There are already four reviews out for the iPhone, and they all say that the iPhone is head and shoulders above any other phone on the market, despite reservations about AT&T's network.)

Six: And now we get to the most inane argument: that the change of the company name from "Apple Computer, Inc." to "Apple, Inc." somehow makes it clear that Apple is moving away from the Mac. Are you retarded? It reflects Apple's current product lineup! Leaving the name at "Apple Computer, Inc." won't make the iPod go away, it won't make the Apple TV go away, and it certainly won't make the iPhone go away.

It doesn't matter anyway, because Apple has been referring to itself as "Apple" rather than "Apple Computer" for years now. NEWS FLASH: if it's a "symbolic" move, then yes, it is only symbolic. SYMBOLIC MEANS THAT IT DOESN'T HAVE ANY ACTUAL REPERCUSSIONS ON THE COMPANY, SO STOP FUCKING TAKING THE NAME CHANGE LITERALLY!

Fuckin' a, do I really have to say this out loud?

I'll make you all a deal: you shut up and stop complaining about the iPhone hype, and I'll shut up and stop complaining about your complaining.


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