What the F**k is an iPhone?


Whenever the conversation turns to Apple, there erupts a certain amount of troll vs. fanboy squabbling. Usually there are a few would-be referees in the mix too, telling everyone to shut up because the topic is worn out, or pointless, or both.

And so it has been lately with the iPhone App Store saga.

Nonetheless, I’m going to give the dead horse one more kick in the ribs.

In my last post, I linked out to some of the recent indictments of Apple on other blogs (Factory Joe, Calacanis.com, GigaOm, TechCrunch). In the comments of these posts were many devil’s advocates (the devil in this case being Apple), and the defense seems to come down to three main points:

  1. Apple has always been closed, and Steve Jobs has always been a control freak, but it’s precisely because of this that Apple has had such a track record of quality and success.
  2. The iPhone and the App Store are actually awesome. Seriously, the thing is sweet, and there are like a gazillion apps for it. Stop whining!
  3. It’s really AT&T’s fault.

There’s certainly truth in all of these, but they ultimately leave me asking, “what is an iPhone, really?”

When Apple was just a computer company, and the Woz was still around, Apple catered to geeks and hobbyists, because they were the people who bought computers. Steve Jobs saw the future early, however. He knew that computers would be a mass-market product, and he helped make it so. He made it so by deciding (or understanding) that a computer should be like any other piece of consumer electronics – like your stereo or your tv. Most people don’t want to program those things, they want to play with them.

Apple took this philosophy to another level with the iPod – a bona fide consumer electronics gadget. No more, no less.

And now, there’s the iPhone, a product that is so firmly somewhere in-between (plus, a phone). And therein lies the problem…

Steve Jobs has always tried to have it both ways. He wants Apple to be the best computing platform on the market, and he wants Apple’s products together to make up a sexy, plug-and-play personal electronics ecosystem.

When you look at it this way, it’s surprising how well he’s managed to make this work.

So, what about the iPhone?

If the iPhone is a little computer, then I expect it to be open and infinitely customizable. Anyone should be able to make any kind of software they want for it, and I should be able to buy the software wherever they want to sell it. Furthermore, it should connect me to the Internet and all that the Internet offers.

If the iPhone is a personal electronics device, then first and foremost I expect it to be plug and play. It should be super easy to get my media onto it, and the experience of consuming or interacting with that media should be fun and easy.

If the iPhone is a phone, then well, first and foremost I expect the supreme suckage of the phone company. I expect to be able to make calls and send texts and get monthly bills that I don’t understand.

The problem of course is that the lines between these things are getting fuzzier and fuzzier. People are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the iPhone depending on which of these three perspectives they favor.

I tend to favor the idea that my iPhone is a little Macintosh computer, so I get cranky when I can’t install a different web browser or get rid of the stupid Yahoo! weather app.

But I also think it’s an awesome little gadget for listening to my tunes and my stories, and I appreciate the gazillion apps I can get for it.

One Reply to “What the F**k is an iPhone?”

  1. It’s good to remember that the thing is all of the above and none of the above, and people still seem to have an idea of what to expect from it: premium quality and usefulness. That’s a testament to design more than feature-set, market positioning, etc., as there are many products that are much more easily pegged.

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