The iPhone: freedom, frustration & fun

I’ve had my iPhone* for about 6 months now. Long enough to get a sense of what I do and don’t like about it.

LIKE

It’s a computer pretending to be a phone! Much better than a phone pretending to be a computer which is what my previous ‘smartphone’ (a Nokia N77) tried to do. In no time at all it has become indispensable as a source of information, general communication aid and office tool: for example I now use it to take notes in meetings, which I can then sync. Saves all that time previously spent laboriously writing them up (made worse by the fact that occasionally even I can’t read my own handwriting). And I love the ease and abundance of connectivity: easy to set up email (I never did figure out how to configure it on the N77), access to my social networks, blogs synced to my phone so I can read them on the way to work… The iPhone has changed the way I interact with the virtual world.

It’s a GPS unit pretending to be a phone. Using an iPhone for navigation makes you realise just how clunky those handheld Garmin units are (never tried Satmap so can’t comment on them). Ridiculously expensive too: units and maps. At the moment all the iPhone apps providing maps (as opposed to access to online maps) are geared to drivers unfortunately, rather than us walkers. Come on app makers – and don’t worry about turn-by-turn: I don’t need a robotic voice accompanying me when i’m out for a stroll.

The App Store! It makes me feel like a kid in a sweet shop. Or at least it did when I first got the iPhone. So many apps to choose from: some practical, some pointless, some fun, some educational. I found an app which allows me to practise Japanese calligraphy (iShodo), an app which helps me to make and keep track of shopping lists (Shopper) – which would be great if I remembered to use it, and my most over-worked app of all: Echofon, my Twitter app.

DISLIKE

It’s a computer pretending to be a phone! The iPhone is the most uncomfortable unit I’ve ever used for the making and receiving of phone calls – the core purpose of a phone. Does that matter? To me, not much: I hate talking to people on the phone.

It’s a phone pretending to be a computer. You can type emails, take notes, theoretically even write a novel on the iPhone – but, dear God, is it painful. The keyboard – which I’m using right now to type this post – is an ordeal to use. The predictive text is bizarre: why did the coders think “Reading”, capitalised as in the name of the town, would be needed more than “reading” as in that thing you’re doing at this moment? Why prioritise “mr” over “me”? You daren’t turn it off however as the keys are just small enough to make mistyping a commonplace and the flat keypad means you won’t notice till it’s too late. Typing is also very very uncomfortable on a keyboard that doesn’t give. Don’t let anyone tell you that it gets easier. After 6 months I can tell you: it doesn’t.

It’s a phone pretending to be a games console. Yes, when you come to play games the iPhone does reveal itself to be a mere phone after all. Actually, it’s worse than that: my previous non-touchscreen phones (especially the Samsung D600) provided a much better game playing experience – for all their more basic graphical capabilities – than does the iPhone. The passion killer is the lack of tactile sensation: I long for the physicality of hammering buttons; but the touchscreen also causes problems at a more practical level: controls for FPS** and RPG*** games are typically awkward and sometimes near-unusable. The only type of game where the screen provides an advantage is strategy, as it allows you to use your finger as a mouse. Even then there’s a frustrating lack of precision and the screen seems often to fail to register when you’ve released a selection: resulting in the item being dropped in the wrong place.

OVERALL?

It looks at first glance as if it’s a 50-50 split, but actually that’s not true. The iPhone has one last trick up its sleeve: the fun factor. It’s bright, it’s colourful, it’s got funky icons and a slick interface. It really does make a difference. Functionality is great, but fun is fab.

* For the record it’s a 3G 8GB, but the model is irrelevant as far as the points above are concerned.
** FPS = first person shooter. In this kind of game you play ‘in the first person’, that is you see the gameworld through the eyes of the character you are playing. Storylines are relatively simple, your character is little more than a person with a weapon and most of the focus of the game is on killing the enemies you meet on your journey.
*** RPG = role playing game. Some of these games have you play ‘in the first person’, as above, and some in the ‘third’, that is you observe your character from the outside (a sort of ‘God’s eye view’). Storylines are usually complex, you will often have a choice of parameters with which to build your character – who will then have strengths, weaknesses, specific attributes, etc which reflect the choices you have made. In addition to the main quest there may be optional side quests. The scope and depth of these games varies according to the capabilities of the technology on which they’re played: a game designed for a modern state-of-the-art desktop computer can afford to be a lot more complicated than one created for the iPhone.

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The beige years

What do you remember about the Seventies? I remember they were beige. The bank in which we used to queue for hours for example: beige carpets, beige wallpaper, beige uniforms – I swear, even the wood of the counters was beige. I could be misremembering this of course, not least because beige is contagious: once it gets into one of your memories it spreads until it contaminates them all.

So my school too was beige: the headmaster’s suit, his shoes, his hair. Actually, I lie: his shoes weren’t beige, they were tan (even worse!). And they squeaked. My main memory of the school, apart from the headmaster’s feet, was the odour of “posh” instant coffee. Does anyone remember when there was such a thing as posh instant? Douwe Egberts for instance, such a step above Nescafé – though even Nescafé was better than that stuff made of chicory which came in a bottle. What on earth was that called? The teachers drank posh coffee. Their staff room, that mysterious place strictly forbidden to us, stank of it when the door opened. But then they were middle class and that meant something then.

Looking back, the Seventies is all about school for me. When weren’t at school we were on holiday from school. The summer break (six weeks!) was heaven. In my memory every summer was hot and sunny. Health & Safety hadn’t yet been invented so we ran wild “down the meadows” and in “the woods”. We swam with our dog in a river full of whirlpools. We dared one another to walk along a high wall of crumbling brick – with concrete on either side. We played football. We got into fights.

Easter i’m a bit vague about but Christmas was “ace”: suddenly beige was no more! The ceiling would be covered with crêpe streamers: pink, orange, green, red and blue. There would be balloons, there would be cards, a real Christmas tree (always huge in my memories) which we’d cover with tinsel and shiny balls, and then top with a star. Of course there were presents, almost all of them from Woolworth’s and only a few of which i can recall: a blue bike, a Monopoly set, two Tell Me Why books. Food: brazil nuts and tangerines. Television: Morecambe and Wise.

All too soon though it was Twelfth Night and time to take the bright colours down. Back to beige and back to school.

— For “M” —