Steve Jobs for Pope?

Last week i found myself wondering whether Apple aren’t the Catholic Church to Microsoft’s C of E. Think about it. Unloved and uninspiring as the Anglican Church may be, people have historically relied on it to do the necessary business of baptising, marrying and burying them. Ditto Microsoft for office work.

The Catholic Church does the same stuff as the C of E but somehow comes across as slicker and more opulent and also – in Britain at any rate – has a certain underdog glamour. The religion of oppressed Irish peasants and all that. Ditto Apple in comparison with Microsoft. Their stuff costs more but is stylish. And somehow – or so it’s implied – choosing Apple means you’re a bit of a maverick, rather than a company bod.

Like the Catholic Church (in the past if not now) and unlike the C of E, Apple succeed in inspiring fanatical loyalty in their believers. Indeed this is where these thoughts of mine originated. In a fit of optimism last week i decided to upgrade the operating system on my iPhone to the latest version, ios4. Not only did i lose my contacts, settings, passwords and data but i also discovered that my backup had been overwritten by another backup, apparently initiated spontaneously by iTunes.

Nightmare, but not especially amazing. I’ve had plenty of IT disasters before. What was amazing were the attitudes on display in answers to the desperate pleas for help that had been posted by people who’d gone down this road before me (and suffered similar data losses). Over and over again these sinners were admonished for having the temerity to suggest that Apple hadn’t tested the upgrade properly for the older 3G iPhone, for daring to suggest that an Apple backup is perhaps not all it should be and for in any way suggesting that Steve Jobs is not the Son of God. OK, i made that last one up.

The more i think about it the more it all makes sense. Linux users, of course, are the Protestants of IT, ranging from Methodists (Ubuntu) to crazy holy rollers (obscure distro of your choice).

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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.