All the big guns want an iPhone killer. Even I, mad for all things Apple as I am, want an iPhone killer. I want smart digital devices to be as good as mankind’s ingenuity can make them. I want us eternally to strive to improve and surprise. Bring on the iPhone killers. Bring them on.
YOU might, somewhere along the way, have picked up the impression that I am a passionate Mac advocate: I bought my first 128K machine in 1984, the second Macintosh to be sold in the UK – at least so I’ve always maintained and believed (the first went to the still desperately missed Douglas Adams) and I have never had fewer than ten working Macs on the go since the late 80s. It is true that I value both the platform and the hardware, that I admire the imagination, flair, elegance, quality and pioneering spirit of the Apple corporation. All quite true.
I have, over the past twenty years been passionately addicted to all manner of digital devices, Mac-friendly or not; I have gorged myself on electronic gismos, computer accessories, toys, gadgets and what-have-yous of all descriptions, but most especially what are now known as SmartPhones. PDAs, Wireless PIMs, call them what you will. My motto is:
I have never seen a SmartPhone I haven’t bought
After all, the Mac itself was founded on a notional smart device, the Dynabook, fruit of the many brains of the legendary Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC). The Dynabook concept gave us the WIMP user interface, (Windows, Icons, Mice, Pull down menus) and thence the Apple Lisa and its successor, the Macintosh. The Dynabook was a posited form, a notional device that would deliver information to its user with the greatest ease and intuitive functionality. As a result of this mission statement, the command code line found in all standard computing of the time was made to yield to a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Apple took up the call (poached some PARC staff) and produced the Mac OS; IBM and latterly MS took years and years to get the message. But that is how the GUI was born, out of a quest for a better relationship between man and machine, individual and digital device.
Whether you talked into it, stroked it, operated a stylus or pointing device the essence of the Dynabook was not that it might actually be built (technology in the 1970s couldn’t begin to provide such an object, nor indeed can it now) but to predicate a useful Platonic Ideal. The Device. The Chosen One. One Electronic Object To Rule Them All. Like any Platonic ideal, it cannot ever exist: to postulate its existence is enough to set clever people on the right path to creating remarkable technologies that contribute to the digital world and our interactions with it. It is in this sense the computer designer’s Holy Grail – the adventures, romances and interior quests along the way are what counts – the Grail itself will always be out of reach. We are getting closer however. A single handheld device that can summon up a vast repository of human knowledge, communicate with anyone, tell you to within five meters where on the planet you are, take and show photographs, record and play music, send and receive vox or data communications; a device you can speak into and that can speak to you, a device that you can manipulate without fiddly controls or technical knowledge, a juke-box, a cinema, a radio, a library, a community centre, a parish pump, the school gates and the city university. Not considered to be computers, although computers is most assuredly what they are, these devices are for the moment designated SmartPhones, and it is on them that I wish to discourse and expatiate in an entirely disinterested (if you think I mean uninterested, think again and look up the difference) and mostly non-technical way.
Of course, this essay, if it can be described as such, is a response to the rise and rise of the SmartPhone, as most publicly trumpeted a few weeks ago with the arrival of Apple’s iPhone. I am not here to laud or review that device however, it has had enough publicity and I really want you to believe that, Apple addict as I am, my eyes have always been open to the virtues of anything good, exciting, functional, elegant, pleasing to use. In fact the real precipitating reason for writing this is the fact that within three weeks I have bought/been sent, aside from my iPhone (which, yes, I dearly love), three soi-disant ‘iPhone killers’ – the HTC Touch, the Nokia E90 and the Sony Ericsson P1i. While I don’t intend fully to review, road-test or benchmark each device (as if I could, anyway), I do want to share my thoughts about where these devices appear to be going. (I’m not even going to mention outside these parentheses the LG Prada phone, that’s an iPhone beater in the same way Tim Henman is a Federer beater).
One more thing: I’m writing this in short bursts of time between filming in the middle of rural Norfolk, where GPRS, let alone EDGE, is a rare, momentary treat. This means I haven’t been able to check up on all my facts all the time: sometimes a tethered modem DUN connection allows me to jack into the matrix, but mostly I’m in a field fondly fingering a phone. There will be errors here. Forgive me. This is a blog, not an article and I haven’t time to get home in the evening and do much more than check the hyperlinks, such as they almost randomly are. You aren’t paying for it. I’m human. So, let’s slip in a SIM, power up and see what happens.
My obsession with SmartPhones began many, many years ago. Certainly well before such devices existed in the real world. From the first Sharp contact-and-calendar “electronic organisers” , through the early Psions, the sadly missed AgendA (see above: no QWERTY there, more a kind of weird courtroom stenographer’s chord-based input pad: never have I been able to write faster than with that splendid object – I had another device using the same input system called, I think, Qinky, which connected to the Centronix port of a BBC Micro), to the opening salvo of Palm Pilots, Apple’s Newton and the arrival of Handspring. If they existed I had to have them. Had to. Some could be used with a phone: they might generate dial-tones for example, or somehow, like the later Psions, come with the optional extra of an infrared modem that could shake hands with a Nokia mobile phone and put one on the path to something approaching what today we might call a SmartPhone experience. Those infrared modem scripts still lurk in the system preference and plugin files of even the most up-to-the-minute computer, like a Kodak Instamatic in the back of a drawer. Obsolete, but too charming to throw away. And you never know – one day you might just need them …
There is always, in the way of these things, a model that’s just right. The Psion 3, the Treo 180 – such close-to-perfect devices are always overtaken by newcomers that arrive shimmering with newer technology and higher functionality but don’t do what they do as satisfyingly, as perfectly, as their predecessors. The brilliant Psion 3 was superseded by the inferior 5 series and then the not-quite-up-there Revo (which I helped launch, I have to confess: maybe my fondness for the Series 3 is felt for the Revo by these people, they certainly seem very keen), and pretty soon it was goodbye Psion plc. Another pioneering British company founds a whole niche and then bites the dust.
But Psion, British, innovative and doomed certainly, did leave the world a lasting legacy aside from the new marketplace itself – an operating system that still does its stuff in over a hundred million phones. Originally called EPOC, its ARM processor power (it addressed more bits in its day than most people’s PCs) and simple elegance has evolved into the complex organism known as Symbian, like Bluetooth a largely Scandiwegian/Japanese co-owned entity.
In the years that followed the demise of Psion and the to-ing and fro-ing of Palm, (the US early leaders in the field), a number of things happened. Cellular telephony went from GSM to GPRS to EDGE to WCDMA, HSDPA, UMTS or whatever we like to call 3G these days. Microsoft introduced a cut-down Windows for PDA/SmartPhones, one with stylus operated touch-screen, one without, the RIM Blackberry came on the scene with its business oriented push email and the whole market went from niche to general. Bandwidth and memory ceased almost to be an issue and those of us who had once spent hundreds on a 256MB Compact Flash looked in amazement at the cheap 2Gb thumbnails hanging in blister-packs from any old airport Dixon’s.
Palm split itself in two, reluctantly (IMHO) retaining the Palm OS in the shape of the excellent 650 and the wildly disappointing 680 and allying itself big-time-stylie with Windows Mobile, all of which devices (again IMHO) more or less stink. Since then, in one of the most astonishing public suicide attempts in the history of this industry, Palm have produced a item that EVEN I DO NOT WANT, the Foleo. If it’s got a chip in it, and a keyboard, and WiFi and a screen and I haven’t sent off for one, then by God you’d better believe it’s in trouble. Though mind you, knowing me, I probably would have bought one in the end. Palm, however, have come to their senses, swallowed their pride (and $10 million) and ditched the dreadful thing, as their CEO’s blog recently revealed. Maybe Palm have finally realised that what those of us who have used, abused, loved and lived the original Treos yearn for is a fast 3G, WiFi and FULLY PALM OS Treo 800 or whatever they’d want to call it. The newish 755p would be an acceptable stopgap – high speed, better battery life, keyboard response and imagination behind it than the pitiful 680 – if only the damned thing weren’t tied to the CDMA EvDO protocol, which is useless in Europe. Give us our Treo 800p, GPRS/3G phone and we will love you for ever. For the Palm OS, ageing as it is, still has something of an edge over its competitors. Superb address-book design and functionality (still the quickest way, from the draw, to find a name out of 2,000 and call it, text it or email it on any device I’ve ever seen, is on a Palm. Blackberry comes a pretty close second in my unscientific tests), next there is its sheer speed as a GUI. Never a hint of a screen redrawing, never any lag (not counting the 680’s irritating address book line drop – if you’ve got one you’ll know what I mean, if not, it’s too complicated and dull to explain), this is a stable, lightning-fast OS (as unlike Windows for Mobile or Windows for SmartPhones as you can imagine, therefore). Add to this the inestimable pleasure and benefit of SMS threading (it simply STAGGERS me that no one until now, with the arrival of the iPhone, aside from Palm, offers this, to my mind, essential feature, something that’s been available on the Treo since the get-go), a good Today screen, fabulous speed-dialing options (including one button URL and texting – great for AQA, for example) and related calendar functions, simple flexible bluetoothing (though it’s a bugger to get one to work with a Tom Tom or similar in-car B’tooth device), all the media requirements, a really fast keyboard which (surprisingly, for it looks fiddly) allows about the same text entry speed as a Blackberry 8800, superb syncing with either PC or Mac, neither favoured over the other, and you’ve got the ideal package. It’s been around a long time, a very long time for the digital world, testament to the imagination, foresight and brilliance of its first engineers and designers. But that also means that the old girl is showing her age. I’ve been syncing, disabling conduits, deleting unwanted duplicates and generally faffing about with Palm devices for well over a decade and I have a very, very soft spot for them. How dumb of them therefore to reduce the quality with the 680. Worse battery life, no longer the inestimable pleasure of an exterior SIM slot, irritating reassignment of keys, slow boot up time, absence of reset button – etc etc etc.
So we’ll leave Palm, hoping that they won’t be squeezed out by the big boys and by their own suicidal tendencies. They have no iPhone killers at market as I write. We’ll believe in the idea of a Treo 800 when it comes. If they upgrade the OS, fully commit to it and ditch nonsenses like the Foleo I see a real future for Palm yet. Admittedly it has barely penetrated the European market, but worldwide and in the USA especially it has a real presence and a strong and committed user base.
HTC and the No-Win Mob
Let’s look at the WinMob now. The HTC Touch is called (by idiots) an iPhone killer because it comes without a keyboard and makes a brief and rather feeble nod towards the idea of a strokeably operated touch-screen offering a silly cube transformation effect with big buttons. Oh, and the Touch is WinMob 6 rather than 5 (you won’t notice the difference – a quite cool coloured line fribble in the agenda which shows you which days of the week are busy is the best addition, otherwise it’s virtually indistinguishable from WM5). In theory you can remove the SIM card without dislodging the battery, but in practice springing it out causes a reboot anyway. But that’s it, 2MP camera, no to 3G, WiFi/WLAN capable. The thundering nuisance of the Touch is that it encourages one to use the side of one’s thumb, the fat of one’s finger, one’s nose etc etc, all of which work with the big buttons – but when it comes to text entry and innumerable other choices, sure enough, the old thumbnail has to be ready to go behind and hoik out the stylus. It is not badly designed at all, most people who have seen me playing with it are impressed and want one, which is some kind of a test, I suppose. The front page weather app is pleasing (owing a lot as it does to Apple’s bundled Dashboard widget, see the pic above). Otherwise the Touch is nothing like as good as the HTC 3600, which is a true 3G, inbuilt GPS, elegant, keyboardless device of more power, flexibility and purpose. Far and away the best WinMob device I’ve seen, it’s good to look at, reliable and genuinely usable. Input, as with the Touch and all WinMob stylus devices, is via a choice of handwriting recognition (including the old Palm Graffiti rebadged as Block Recognizer, which competes with a virtual keyboard and two other systems). HTC are bringing out a 6300 (aimed at “enterprise solutions,” yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn, yawn) which looks identical to the O2 and Orange badged versions of these things, a Windows button, an OK button etc., dull silvery finish, the usual bad design that “corporates” always seem prepared to put up with, as if they’re embarrassed and ashamed by any stylishness which might draw attention to them. The SmartPhone equivalent of living in a block of modern flats. Most mod cons, but no style, delight or emotional attachment to be had. Windows for Mobiles is certainly better than Windows for PCs or, God help us all, Vista, but it is still an insulting offering. The feeling, as with all things Microsoft, is that all design features and functions are there to suit MS rather than to delight, enthuse and compel the user. Compromise, short-cuts, inconveniences, vestigial residues – no one responsible is likely to pat themselves on the back for the design or the s’ware engineering, any more than the architect or project manager of a 60s council flat is likely to point it out with pride as he rides by with his grandchildren. You’re only on this planet once – do something extraordinary, imaginative and inspiring. That’s the difference, ultimately. Those behind Palm OS and the Psion can justifiably be proud of what they did, what they created. WinMob just muscled in on a market they never spotted and they did it in a clumsy, bullying, ugly manner, exactly as they had with Windows before, and exactly as IBM had with the PC itself a decade earlier. Break free, all you corporate software engineers and designers: the excuse that you are under the rule of dullards, greedy share-price number crunchers and visually and ergonomically illiterate yahoos is not good enough. Persuade them. Otherwise we all get a digital environment that’s a vile as a 60s housing estate.
Syncing Issues – A Sidebar
On WinMob devices the syncing software, an almost useless PC app called ActiveSync, allows no control over the syncing process and therefore gets any power user into trouble with duplicates, the bane of our lives. Much better, if you’ve a Mac, to invest in Mark Space’s Missing Sync for Windows Mobile, which has just had a round of upgrades that cope well with the HTC Touch and other WinMob 6 devices. Those of us who fiddle around with Plaxo, Google Calendars, and other server-side apps and utilities really need to know what we’re doing or we can get into the most awful pickle with our address books and calendars. Essential to have the ability to guarantee priorities and overwrites. Any Mac user who plays as much as I do has been forced to try every variation of Bootcamp, Virtual Machines and actual real, live PCs as a means of syncing and controlling their various SmartPhones. My conclusion is that as far as WinMob devices are concerned it’s better to stay in Mac OS and look for iSync plug-ins and third party apps. Nokia and Sony Ericsson have reasonable PC Suite software that justifies a visit to a PC or via Bootcamp or Parallels for Mac, but with WinMob, stay away from the truly insulting feebleness of ActiveSync. I have spoken.
The very nice people at Symbian (the OS that arose from the ashes of Psion’s EPOC, remember), hearing through a mutual friend of my passion for all things mobilic and phonular, sent me the new Sony Ericsson P1i, which is only just out in the world. It’s pictured above there in the middle, between its parents. I’ve owned and used two P990i models (that’s the daddy on the left) as well its forerunner the P900, the 910 and one M600i (that’s the mummy on the right).
What the family have in common is their commitment to one of Symbian’s two major platforms. I mentioned that Symbian as an OS had evolved since its EPOC days – the two chief sub-species are called UIQ and S60 (there’s another called MOAP which needn’t worry us, as it’s only used in Japan so far as I can tell. As a matter of fact, it’s my washpot) … if you try and download a Symbian application, WorldMate for example, you’ll find it comes in those two Symbian flavours (as well as in Java and Palm and WinMob of course) UIQ stands for something like User Interface Quartz and S60 for System 60. Go figure, as they say in America. Well, Sony Ericsson in the “i” series of SmartPhones as shown above has gone big time for UIQ. Nokia, as we shall see, has thrown its might behind S60.
The 990i, when it came out to replace the 900, boasted 3G, a 2MP camera, WiFi, memory stick, bluetooth and a new rather impressive all singing, all dancing UIQ environment. But it was also big. Almost 1980s sized, or so it seemed next to the Slim Jims that were becoming popular amongst standard mobile phone users then (two and half years ago, a lifetime in this world), with a not very satisfactory flip phonepad which swung down to reveal a hideously unusable QWERTY keyboard. Full function wasn’t possible with the flip pad up (although I liked its four-way navigation buttons, which complemented the left side thumb-wheel superbly), yet with the flip down in full-function mode you were staring at the waste of space offered by the awful keyboard and depending wholly upon the stylus and (admittedly impressive) handwriting recognition. Battery life was a joke (a major problem with UIQ) and worse still stability was a huge issue. This thing crashed more times than an Italian dodgem car; actually it didn’t even have the dramatic wit to crash, it just hung and wasted your time. Plus it had an internet/access point/wifi set-up system that made you want to weep, stamp your feet and disembowel the team responsible.
But then along came the M600i (on the right above, also available in White, as used by Bond in Casino Royale). More elegant, pleasingly turquoise highlights, same UIQ GUI but this time a QWERTY keyboard in which each key does office for two letters (not unlike the slightly later Blackberry “Pearl” 8100, but with nothing like as elegant and useful an implementation). 3G, but without camera, so no videocalling, and no WiFi. Result? a slightly handier, but ultimately less function-rich object than its big progenitor, the 990i.
The rumour flew around that something new was in the works combining all the power of Daddy and all the elegance of Mummy. We couldn’t wait. This will be the Big One, we thought, the justification and apotheosis of UIQ.
Mine arrived at the beginning of this week. What a crushing, lowering, fury-inducing disappointment. Just how dumb are the software engineers, designers and marketeers at Sony E? Believe me, I so wanted this to be good. Instead, it is nothing more than a gesture, an under-considered, badly implemented nod at the market. It’s an M600i running Symbian v 9.1 and UIQ v 3.0 equipped with a camera and WiFi.. That’s it. No attempt has been made to alter the UI or the OS. The result: the clumsiest, most asinine method of internet connection ever devised (yes it has a wizard to download your network’s APN etc., but that’s not enough) comes unaltered, the bugginess and the slowness too have all have been inherited, and the short battery life. Did they really think slinging on a 3.2MP camera and WiFi would make a desirable device, let alone an iPhone killer?
I could issue forth quires of intemperate fury on the subject of how bad internet account configuration is on the UIQ Sony Ericssons. It’s utterly pointless. Is there not one person at either Sony E or Symbian who themselves uses the phone and says “hang on, we could do this better”? That’s all it takes. Just one person to point at the Emperor and shout “nudie!” That’s why Apple is Apple, they have people there (and of course it comes from the top) who say – “woah, not good enough, not cool enough, not simple enough, not fun enough, not sexy enough, not clever enough, not useful enough”. The P1i is what happens when “oh, that’ll do” becomes the corporate motto. UIQ promised something, the actual GUI is reasonable, in fact quite delightful, but it needed refinement, it needed acceleration and it needed flair. Instead we’ve got a very, very slow device that eats power, is difficult to use in varying environments and frequently hangs and crashes. In a word unusable. And I can just hear them hiding behind the excuse of “price” and “sectors of the market” and other bullshit. What, Apple’s a bigger company than Sony? Got more muscle? What muscle it has got, it got from daring to be better. That was once true of Sony too. Of Ericsson I cannot speak …
Don’t these people get it? A new sidebar coming on …
By design here, I mean GUI and OS as much as outer case design. Let’s go back to houses. The sixties taught us, surely, that architectural design, commercial and domestic, is not an extra. The office you work in every day, the house you live in every day, they are more than the sum of their functions. We know that sick building syndrome is real, and we know what an insult to the human spirit were some of the monstrosities constructed in past decades. An office with strip lighting, drab carpets, vile partitions and dull furniture and fittings is unacceptable these days, as much perhaps because of the poor productivity it engenders as the assault on dignity it represents. Well, computers and SmartPhones are no less environments: to say “well my WinMob device does all that your iPhone can do” is like saying my Barratt home has got the same number of bedrooms as your Georgian watermill, it’s got a kitchen too, and a bathroom.” … I accept that price is an issue here; if budget is a consideration then you’ll have to forgive me, I’m writing from the privileged position of being able to indulge my taste for these objects. But who can deny that design really matters? Or that good design need not be more expensive? We spend our lives inside the virtual environment of digital platforms – why should a faceless, graceless, styleless nerd or a greedy hog of a corporate twat deny us simplicity, beauty, grace, fun, sexiness, delight, imagination and creative energy in our digital lives? And why should Apple be the only company that sees that? Why don’t the other bastards GET IT??
My disappointment in the P1i turned to anger as the real structural flaws emerged. The awful laggardly horrors of the mail inboxes with their perpetual “Busy” box flashing away. The miserable nonsense of the browser (a bad implementation of Opera) – I mean what on earth is the point of having menu shortcuts that involve using two fingers? Typing a “1” on the keyboard to pull up the URL entry box is fine if you’ve a numeric keypad, but to have to depress a modifier key too? Bah!
AND THERE’S NO OFFLINE MODE!!!! A SmartPhone that insists you have a SIM card in at all times? Just bugger off Sony Ericsson, you’ve lost my respect. You’ve had thousands of pounds out of me in the past. But stick to student mobile phones called Kxxx with crap silly little jukeboxes on them, SmartPhones are out of your league. If you’re going to use UIQ, then take a leaf out of Motorola’s book and apply it (in a newer version, Symbian 9.2, UIQ 3.1) to a teen phone, like the excellent new Z8. Either that or do the real design work and make a proper SmartPhone, not this insulting halfway house. As it stands, the P990i is a better phone that this P1i – it has all the same faults, but at least its double action transformer style flip makes it more usable.
“Please Steve Jobs. Eat us for breakfast. Make us look slow-witted, clumsy, unimaginative, grey and idiotic. Help yourself to the entire market that isn’t Blackberry, we don’t want it. We’d rather make toys for children and knock-off Macbooks for credulous adults. And somebody might buy the P1i if they want a slow, joyless experience. You never know. And anyway Apple cheat by having better products, which is unfair. We were once Sony. Goodbye cruel world.”
I could scream with vexation. This truly is NOT WHAT I WANTED. I don’t know how many times I have to say this for you to believe me, but I want iPhone killers. HTC haven’t done it, Sony Ericsson have rolled over and asked to be kicked and shagged roughly, so what of the Big Finn? What of Nokia. Perhaps they can come up with something? Forward the E90.
Nokia E90 Communicator
I have owned at least one of every Communicator since the brand arrived in the shape of the 9000 in … well it must be over ten years ago because I had one when I was making the film Wilde in 1996. I remember being upbraided for having it poke out of the top of my velvet jacket in one of the courtroom scenes …
What a breakthrough it was (the phone, not the film). Black and white originally, but with some very advanced features for the time. I was recording silly high quality ring tones at a time when everyone else was monotimbral, monophonic and tinkly. It was big, but it was powerful and a wonder to use. The 9 series line (running an operating system called GEOS) was slowly upgraded with the 9110 and I think another (the 9200?) until the more modern, Symbian 9500, and 9300/9300i, the latter two without camera, but smaller and neater.
And today (almost literally today) comes the E90 Communicator, a brick dressed in Symbian S60 cothes. The “E” designation is revealing. Nokia have had a dismal few years in which hardware design has faltered appallingly (my dear, have you seen the E61 and E61i? possibly the ugliest objects ever designed by man. Simply disgusting to look upon, handle or use) but another arm seems to have branched out with better design. The N95 is beautiful, really lovely and very powerful. Shame that it uses a standard telephone keypad, the N series are really multimedia toys for adolescents, aimed I would guess at the Sony Ericsson K and W series. And then there is the wholly gorgeous 8600 Luna, an indulgent chocolate-box of a mobile phone. As they say in Australia, “ideal for gift-giving interstate or overseas.”
The E series models use an especially clunky and unsightly family of icons (rather like Vodafone’s dreadful offering. If you want to uglify a Blackberry 8100 or 8800, a hard thing to do, use the proprietary V’fone theme set. Yuk. They impose it on all their badged phones and it smells). In the E61s which are so fuck-off ugly that you stretch your eyes and wonder at who on earth is running Nokia, the addition of an ugly GUI is enough to tip the whole thing over the edge. Not just an repellent concrete house, but one filled with disgusting furniture. In the case of the E90 Communicator, you have a rather pleasing house (I know, I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, de gustibus etc. but take it from Mother, the E90 is pleasing in exactly the way the E61 isn’t) which somehow exonerates the UI. The E90 is thick-as-a-brick, expensive (ex-contract as an offline purchase it’s well over £600. Or maybe they just saw me coming) and yet …
I LIKE IT!
I really, really do. I can’t explain why. It’s the same UI, pointlessly (at first glance) doubled on both screens. No SMS threading (for God’s sake!) Yet something about the layout and something about the feel (the actual object is really strong and has a satisfyingly robust heft) pleases me and draws me to it. Functionally it works a lot more easily than the UIQ devices, on which I have so reluctantly been forced to spit. It’s hopeless with a Mac, but with a little smart to-ing and fro-ing you can transfer address books from a Mac-synced SmartPhone to the Communicator via Bluetooth, or you can bite the bullet and run the Nokia PC Suite on a PC, virtual or otherwise. (If you’re going virtual, then do upgrade to the latest version of Parallels – they are eventually starting to get USB connections right).
God knows this is NO iPhone killer. But unlike the iPhone it does have something approaching a manageable filing system, Bluetooth that works, GPS, quick text entry via a keyboard (Steve Jobs here you are wrong, much as it grieves me to say it – more below), the ability to save and move around attachments, to download applications and to create documents. The battery life is hours better than on a UIQ Sony Ericsson, the response is quicker than a UIQ Sony Ericsson too (but then the response you get from a dead walrus is better than that of a UIQ Sony Ericsson) and quicker than that of an iPhone in some arenas. All in all a Good Product. I’ve been using it solidly for two days now (in harness with an iPhone and a BB 8800) and it has that indefinable quality that marks out a device one knows one could live with. The ancient Nokia virtues from way back are there – the power button that when swiftly depressed offers profile changes as well as switch-off, the network controls, auto redialing, straightforward navigation and good old infrared (bless). To this have been added the 3.2MP camera, a videocalling second camera, amusing 3D ringtones (the only concession to teenage silliness) good WiFi (though still only 802.11b and g), USB 2.0 and Bluetooth 2.0. Yes, I like it, but – as I say – iPhone killer it isn’t. Which brings us on to the big beast.
myPhone • fryPhone • iPhone
I’m not here to review the iPhone. Enough to say that in Britain at the moment, this extraordinary device remains one hell of a luxury. I have a full working model because, as a green carded US resident alien, I have an American bank account and billing address, without which AT&T authorisation would be impossible. It’s not easy after that to persuade them to allow you an international roaming account either. Until the UK release one is functionally an American in Europe roaming expensively on inferior networks. I say inferior because the UK EDGE networks are a great deal slower than the US. I have no idea why, it’s just so. My friends at Apple say there is much to be done to ready the iPhone for its projected late 2007 release over here. Perhaps it will be delayed. You see me above in my trailer, between scenes, making eyes at the device. To get EDGE in Norfolk is feat enough, believe me.
I hereby offer a few remarks – to show that I am not in Apple’s fee, and do have a totally independent way of looking at these things. There are issues. Problems. They’ve been gone over before but I’ll outline my sense of what needs looking at.
Server side apps only. No, no, no, no, no. This is NOT good. It’s one thing to want to keep the proprietary system closed, but to present a device sealed in digital Araldite is a Bad Idea. An Ubuntu flavoured Linux for mobiles is in the works, and you don’t get more open source than that. Damn it, there’s Linux for the Palm available these days. Even Microsoft are making gestures towards client-side open source apps. Only amateurs are going to want to create server side apps for the iPhone. In case you don’t know what I mean, I should explain that the only third party programs available for the iPhone are run out of Safari (the resident browser) pages. You can’t download squat. Enthusiastic individuals will come up with WorldMate or Splash Photo or other top ten smartphone app lookie-likies but until Apple introduces a Java implementation or allows the bonnet to be unwelded and lifted up, the device will remain a fraction of what it should be.
Text entry. I’m sorry Steve, but physical keyboards are okay. They’re fine. When in your iPhone introductory keynote late last year you dissed the stylus and keyboard, you may have noticed a deafening silence as tumbleweed and sage-brush whizzed through the hall. It is certainly true that the virtual kb used in the iPhone gets better the more you use it. It is also true that the glossary autocorrect system is immensely impressive. But I challenge anyone to type an email as fast on an iPhone than I can on a BB or Treo. I assure you it can’t be done. I’m pretty quick with an iPhone now, but nonetheless text entry just isn’t as satisfying as everything else about the device. It’s an example perhaps of ideology overcoming practicality, as in the early days of the single click mouse. Don’t be stubborn about this Steve, you know I’m right, as in their heart of hearts do the guys at Cupertino. Hence the lack of Quicktime movies on the Apple site showing happy users typing proper length emails and texts. Why else is the only footage of text entry hurried and very much on the short side? Because they know … they know perfectly well it’s a drawback.
Bluetooth? It might as well not be there.
D’loadable ringtones? C’mon.
Mail attachments? See and touch but can’t download? No, no, no!
And yes, it should probably be 3G. A power consumption issue mostly, no doubt, but one hopes it’ll be addressed over the next few digital years.
Three months, by my reckoning is a digital year. Or to put it another way, a human year is four digital years.
But that’s about it. Everything else in the iPhone lives up to, even surpasses the hype. Another triumph for Jonathan Ive and his design team, Apple have made a wholly desirable and beautiful object. Only a cross and silly person would pretend to be unimpressed or make claims of parity about their O2 xda Trion or similar lumpen beast.
My guess is that iPhone 3 is going to be closer to the Dynabook than anyone dreamed possible. It’s a small wait by anybody’s standards. Except mine. Except the standards of the impatient early adopter.
I might as well end with a wish list.
Someone to take the UIQ platform and give a bolt of lighting.
The Palm OS to receive ditto.
The iPhone to open and expand.
D’loadable ringtones? C’mon, Apple, you can do better than the sop you’ve thrown us with the latest iTunes release. You wouldn’t want to look greedy would you?
For me it’s an addiction. Swapping SIMS, syncing, testing, probing, playing. I can’t pretend I’ve any higher purpose. What cars are to some, SmartPhones are to me – much, much more than just a functional tool. We live in the age of these devices. It should be the age of the greatest imaginative drive, flair and creativity in the digital arena. I am disappointed that not everyone in the industry sees it that way.
As the General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer has it, “I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart.” Amen.
© Stephen Fry 2007
Post script. The forum is also a great place to express your views
This entry was posted on Sunday, September 16th, 2007 at 7:42 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
252 Responses to “Device and Desires”
- kathmuse Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 12:53 amI don’t pretend to understand your kind (tech freaks), but I do try to be open-minded. I even married one. My husband runs an entire web site that reviews cell phones, so he’s always got some device or another around the place. It’s his job to play with them and take them apart, which takes quite a burden off of us financially as he doesn’t need to purchase them, just use them and then send them back to the manufacturer. They’re fun, but I prefer it when he was doing camcorders.
I don’t have a cell phone, actually, but I will admit to a fondness for the spouse’s IPhone. But you are correct, it needs an actual keyboard. Although the way the letters jump up at you like seals grabbing at bits of sardine I do find somewhat diverting.
- jillydoc Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 3:27 amThank you so much for your blog. Reading you is like a drink of icy cold water to my parched throat. I quite agree about the Palm and have been praying to the OS gods that they would one day upgrade theirs. Hope returned when the original owners bought back the company, but it’s been at LEAST four digital years, and still no word (sigh).
I have not yet had an opportunity to see an iPhone, as it’s only available on AT&T network and I have Verizon (who enjoy nothing more than crippling their phones Bluetooth. I had to seem edit to get the OBEX to sync wirelessly with my MAC 17″ powerbook) and I just can’t deal with the knowledge that it will be at least two digital years before it’s available to me.
Someday, somewhere, someone will hear us. Someone who actually MAKES phones and LIKES people who like phones. They will create phones with WiFi, infrared and OS’s that sync address books and calendars effortlessly, allow 3rd party apps GALORE, and download and manage said apps and files without having to do some sort of crazy Cirque du Soleil trapeze act (in full makeup, no less).
Sorry, wishful thinking. But I hope and pray that Steve Jobs reads your blog. And takes it to heart.
- baggers Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 4:28 amStephen, I edit a web site about cell phones (www.wirelessinfo.com); in case you hadn’t heard, Apple just announced a UK iPhone: http://www.wirelessinfo.com/content/iPhone-Launches-in-UK-for—269.htm
The iPhone has also been hacked three ways from sunday already, including fully native apps, and an easy install process that means you can install stuff straight to the phone itself. It’s not difficult to do; drop me an email if you need a hand with that (mine is hacked, unlocked from AT&T, and runs stuff like NES games). But I agree with you; at the moment, the iPhone is crippled, an that’s a deliberate decision from Apple. However, I hope that it won’t stay that way; it runs a version of MacOS, and I hope that Apple will release an SDK that will allow full access to the device sometime soon.
- AxmxZ Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 9:54 amRight, I’m removing the xkcd RSS feed from my LJ. I just got my weekly dose of geekdom, neat. =X-))
Quick question: are you starting to see any dead spots on your iPhone from all the screen tapping?
- Swiss Metablog » Stephen Fry hat einen Blog! Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 10:47 am[…] erste Beitrag ist ausgerechnet übers iPhone. Ich hätte mir etwas weniger abgedroschenes gewünscht, aber macht auch nichts. Ich bin jedenfalls […]
- Lori Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 10:51 amI only recently “needed” to upgrade to a SmartPhone and I dare say that, future finances notwithstanding, I’ll never look back. As there’s no way on God’s green earth or the Devil’s scorched one that I could afford an iPhone (nor would I go back to AT&T), I decided to get T-Mobile’s Wing (it’s a rebranded HTC phone also known as the P4350 or Herald.)
It has its fair share of problems (it’s a WinMob6 device after all), and it’s almost an inch thick and weighty, but my God do I love the Wing. I haven’t yet had a problem syncing it and I use a PC with ActiveSync. Maybe I’m just lucky…
The other phone I was looking into before I decided to go with the Wing was Helio’s Ocean. I’m a sucker for the sliders (the Wing has a full slide-out qwerty keyboard, though the “send” softkey is positioned in an irritatingly convenient spot) and the Ocean is, dare I say it…sexy. However, (technically) one can’t use the Ocean unless one’s on the Helio network — there’s no SIM slot. So no Ocean for me.
I hope the filming is going well!
all the best,
- Mandibles Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 11:09 amWhat a smashing first post.
I haven’t had an oppertunity to see an iPhone and instead I am stuck with an old Sony Ericsson K750i. I have to admit that whilst it’s IQ is nowhere near that of the latest models my phone is a smashing little luxury with impressive video extras. Perfect for catching your drunken spouses at their very worst and then showing them in the mornings.. hehe.
With love as ever,
- whattocallmyself Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 1:28 pmHello Mr Fry.
Thank you very much for this wonderful blog! I´m glad to see it really did appear online.
(If you feel the need to discard of any of your old thinggummies.. ;))
Wow, what now, to say that sounds interresting?
If you could design and build a tech devise, what would it be/do/be named?
-I like you!!
- Monomelodies Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 3:20 pmGood to see you have a blog, Stephen – though I must say, WordPress is one of the worser choices one could make for a platform.
I was going to say it suprised me to find you such an Apple fan, but having taken two moments to think it over – about the time it took me to receive my password e-mail – I can’t say I’m really surprised. Apple is all about elegance, and you are – as far as I can judge – about intelligence. These two sit neatly together. I’m a sucker for both elegance and wit myself, and it’s only through a fluke of destiny that I’m not a Mac user (I do Linux, which isn’t that far off these days anyway).
What does continue to surprise me, however, is that people get so infatuated with a piece of hardware. Yeah, sure, I’m waiting for that Linux phone to finally arrive, and I’ll be one of the first to buy one. But that’s not about the hardware – it’s about the software. I don’t care if it looks like a refrigerator from Tchernobyl – I just want my device to run on the operating system of my choice. Then I can do everything I want via a command line, which is what all geeks want anyway
The point I want to make is this: I have sympathy for Apple, even though I don’t use it myself (in my humble opinion, they’re not programmers’ machines). I understand deals have to be struck with providers. But why in Pete’s name is it limited to AT&T??? It’s a piece of friggin’ hardware! It’s analogous to buying a computer and only being able to access the internet via AOL. No one would stomach that these days. I’m sure the gadget is neat, but apart from that it won’t do what *I* want it to do, why the lock-in?
It makes me sad. I had high hopes for Apple when they built OSX on FreeBSD, but it now seems their iPhone is built on the same lock-in iTunes was built on. And that’s not a good thing in my book…. software is portable, hardware isn’t.
- ysabella Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 3:25 pmVery happy to see you blogging!
Given the advent of using mobile phones to pay for purchases at the point of sale, I look forward to your future entries about which personal electronics are best for the efficient purchase of more personal electronics.
- PEACE Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 3:31 pmWow. If anyone ever doubts your wide range of knowledge, I think you should just link them here. That was a lot of information, I regret to say I didn’t read it all, but I did like the little snips that I read. I hadn’t heard the term “iPhone-killer” before, but of course, I’m not very well read in technology.
Jeez, Mr. Fry, you really do inspire one to broaden one’s knowledge!
And yes, maybe one day when I have money I’ll buy and iPhone, but until then if I ever want a pretty touch screen I’ll just go into the Apple store and poke at the display phone.
Thanks for putting your many thoughts online!
- Erika Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 3:38 pmWow that is an impressing first post. Many interesting machines. I thought about the iPhone but I’ve heard about the problems that you described before and that makes me unsure. I am also unsure about the sice and the touch-screan. And as a swede I have to stay faithful to Ericson (which isn’t that anymore swedish I know). But it still is so much better than Nokia when it comes to the battery.
Othewice I must say that I am a huge fan of you. I saw QI when I was i London and loved it. It doesn’t seem like the Swedish state television have bought it which is a shame. I hope that they will. What they did air was your docementry about Manic Depression that was very good.
It is wonderful that you have your own blog.
Thank you for all your work in television, movies and such
- asamaki Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 3:53 pmGreat first post Welcome to blogosphere and thanks for your thoughts on the iPhone which is appreciated by UK Mac Users digesting news of the 02 iPhone release today.
Perfection is not destination but a direction, and this is so true for all digital devices today. I don’t expect to ever get the perfect gadget but in small steps it gets closer to my idea of what those devices should do, and I speak as a cyber-nomad of many years. I loved the idea of Symbian OS but the developers behind the 3rd edition user interface on my E65 just don’t get it ! Even though I can run TomTom Mobile 6 with GPS and make free calls with VOIP, the user interface just makes me want to throw the damn thing sometimes.
The iPhone isn’t perfect but it’s on a evolutionary route that has to be better then what we’ve experienced so far, for a more perfect iPhone we’ll have to wait for the 3G version which Jobs mentioned is dependant on aquiring power saving technology on current 3G chipsets,
I don’t understand what Apple is doing with Bluetooth technology on the iPhone. Apple was one of the first to promote and use this technology so one must again assume that it’s limitation in the iPhone is a power conservation measure until a suitable chipset is available. So many of the current iPhone limitations could be removed if only better Bluetooth technology is provided in iPhone v2. External GPS units, stereo headsets, wireless Apple razor thin keyboards – come on Apple, why do you expect me to sync my iPhone with a cable, when it was Apple that introduced me to the technology in the first place which allowed me to use my T68 is novel ways. Even on my ancient T610 I can still do things that I can’t do with an iPhone. Why can’t I connect Addressbook.app to an iPhone and recieve and type my SMS messages on my PowerBook (waiting for ultra-compact SSD based device Mr Jobs). I’m not sure but can you browse the iPhone directory with Bluetooth? Why can I use my T610 as a remote control (using Sailing Clicker) for my PowerBook, but I can’t do that on an iPhone. Make cover-flow and the Share Mac remote admin features of Leopard work on an iPhone, unlimited data access and remote administration of your Mac at home or at work, that’s the direction we want to go Mr. Jobs.
Love from caMMac (http://www.cammac.org.uk – under develoment)
- asamaki Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 4:10 pmtest
- StickyKeys Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 4:21 pmLet’s try this again (darn explorer, locking up on me! Ahem)
mostly I’m in a field fondly fingering a phone. There will be errors here. Forgive me.
Hee! We’ll forgive you as long as you keep up the alliteration and the fun vintage AgendA pics.
I have an intensely jealous love of tech geeks and while I consider myself tech saavy, I’m far too much of a hands-on learner to fully grasp the lingo. That’s why I depend on liaisons such as yourself to integrate me into that world in a literary and user friendly way. Also, I like the pictures
I desperately want to play with the iPhone, but it is exactly too much money and only available on Cingular (blech). I’m actually more interested in the new edition iPods that are coming out and will wait until the iPohone is sufficiently hacked and works with several carriers.
re: The HTC
dull silvery finish, the usual bad design that “corporates” always seem prepared to put up with, as if they’re embarrassed and ashamed by any stylishness which might draw attention to them.
Isn’t that just completely frustrating? I briefly considered the HTC on paper since all of it’s stats were quite nice, then I looked the darn thing and promptly discarded it from my list. I’m not quite to the point professionally where I need such a device so for the time being I’m content to be of the shallow persuasion when it comes to looks.
That said I do appreciate functionality. You used the excellent example of Vista, which has got to be one of the most gorgeously designed operating systems on the market, and yet seems to be almost inherently flawed (and yet it’s a blast to hack!).
So much bile for the Ericsson! And it couldn’t be more deserved IMHO. After Nokia the very next cell phone I owned was an Ericsson and it worked splendidly. I’d had such a good time with it that when it was time to upgrade I researched more in the line and was extremely disappointed. No style upgrades, no 3rd party functionality much less any native feature updates. It was as if they released something and then just stopped. Said, “well, we’re done here” and decided to resist growing. Which is a great disservice to their company and their customers.
If I have any hangups with Mac it is that they seem to overtly try to corner the market. You can’t get an iTunes account without a credit card and they only want you to use iTunes music on an iPod (which, shyeah right!). I had a feeling the iPhone would be just as overprotective and it seems I’m right. Sad thing is that Microsoft is just as guilty only even more open in their egregiousness. I think we expect more of a moral code and soul from Mac than we do from Microsoft, or it may just be my affiliating them with TEH DEVILZZ!!1! Ahem again.
And Amen to the closing prayer. May Jobs have mercy on us all
- TheDailyBumbler Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 4:33 pm10 Macintosh computers?! Are you out of yarn?!
I don’t even have a basic, tippy tap computer, let alone ONE Mac!
Infact, I’m writing this reply on a brick, with the letters QD inscribed upon it with a rusty nail. See, so dyslexic I couldn’t manage the PC.
Anyway, not to be curt, impudent or impolite in anyway, but this blog should adhere in its entirety to my interests…AND MY INTERESTS ONLY.
Think I’m gonna get myself one of those phoney thingamajigs.
- asamaki Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 5:34 pmPS have you tried the Nokia Multimedia Transfer 1.1 Beta for Mac OS X – having been using it with my E65 and works fairly well – though for most purposes I find the builtin Bluetooth file transfer in Tiger works well with the E65 when you want to grab a file quickly without doing a full sync…
- completely_rubbish Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 7:07 pmThank you kindly for the sidebar referencing Mark Space’s Missing Sync, it just so happens that I’m in (or was, rather, as you have, apparently, spoken) the process of searching for software to make my Mac play nice with a recently inherited Dell Axim. I agree completely with you on Active Sync; completely worthless as anything more then a migraine inducer. The bugger keeps sending out blank e-mails to my contacts right left and centre for no discernible reason.
- StickyKeys Says:
September 18th, 2007 at 10:29 pm@Monomelodies
WordPress has it’s advantages, but I actually prefer typepad just because it’s a bit more reliable and user friendly. There seems to be some comments wonkiness, but I can’t tell if they’re moderated or maybe there’s a tiny bug in the system? At any rate, it’s a great jumping off program to get your feet wet.
I too wondered about the AT&T connection and the only thing I could gather is they wanted to sort of test drive the phone on a smaller base to get the kinks out before fully opening it up, and AT&T gave the largest bid? I certainly hope that’s the case and I expect it should be available on several carriers very soon.
- amyl_nitrate Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 3:36 amWow. Thankyou so much for taking your time writing this. It’s so lovely to see someone as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about something they love as you are. It’s so cool that you put your best into everything you do, even a blogpost. Thankyou for spending time doing this when you have so many other things to be doing. You really are amazing. Good luck with your trip in America btw. ^_^
- philwatts Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 4:48 amBack in the day it was impossible to walk into a mobile phone retailer, demand a particular phone, require a specific network and sign up for a certain package. It was a case of “you can’t have that phone on that network” for ages. Nowadays, you can get any phone on any network on any package. I think this will apply to the iPhone within twelve months – you’ll be able to buy a SIM-free unit in the same way you can today. It’s the only way Apple will be able to reach the mass market effectively. I think they’re just testing the water at the moment.
Great article, Stephen. Your attention to detail holds no bounds!
- Selma Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 4:48 amAnother copy and paste job here as I didn’t want to stay up all night waiting for that blasted confirmation email. So this is lifted off the forum, but I might as well post it here too…
The blog… here it is. There it is. It’s up, it’s alive (very much) and it’s, frankly, refreshing. For a start, my parents can’t even operate a VCR (I’m absolutely certain they could do it ten years ago, even as recently as five) and here is a man (50 not out) who can not only use the most up-to-date technology available but actually understand it (and the related acronyms)!
Then (and I’ve had to pause in my reading of said blog so I don’t forget to mention this), in the middle of all this marvellously well-informed techno-blogging, he, in a single sentence, both uses “IMHO” and informs us which of these high-tech devices “more or less stink”. To me this evokes much the same delight as, while walking the streets of Paris, passing the elegant buildings, poodles, and patisseries offering delicate delicacies, and turning the corner to find oneself engulfed in the overwhelming cacophony of sight, sound and smell that is an African market in full swing. Well, almost the same delight. The same goes for having a Nokia Thingumibob stick out of Oscar Wilde’s jacket pocket. Brilliant.
I must confess that I am far from savy in these matters. I have recently borrowed a mobile phone (though never owned one), most of my cameras still take film (though that’s pretty difficult to get for Kodak Brownies these days) and I got an iPod because they do look nice. Not sure how you replace the stylus though (the needle, not the thing you write with). Wouldn’t want to damage my records. I’ve got this wonderful portable device (which I found in a box under a pile of papers in a corner) which lasts for days before it needs charging. It could do with more ink at the moment actually. It’s very compact, with a threaded lid which guards quite nicely against leaks. I’m not a luddite, as such. Just a retrophile.
I do have some questions. Is SMS threading as difficult as trying to rescue a draw cord whose end has disappeared into the seam of a garment? Is a PC suite more comfortable than a Presidential one? Are SmartPhone designers allowed to be on Countdown? “WinMop, AMP, Psetamab, Nimap, ITP, NIS…”
I’m amazed to find that anyone can talk about a realm so complex as these devices in a similar way to how Clarkson talks about cars. Cars I understand. Cars have moving parts (at least, my triumph Herald does) and dashboards with dials and switches (not a widget in sight on a Herald).
My hat, therefore, comes off to one so clever as to perfectly grasp both as much knowledge as is available in an encyclopaedia which might still come in volumes and contain page numbers, as well as a veritable expertise in the field of objects that are capable of squishing an entire world of information into something so small that Oscar Wilde could have had it sticking out of his jacket.
- Adam Rakunas Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 1:21 pmMy favorite device was the Palm Tungsten T3, aka The One That Slides. It was my portable word processor during long bus/train commutes, and it Just Worked. That was the part I loved best about it: the damn thing did everything I needed (except make phone calls) and did it well.
But carrying the T3, the IR keyboard (only tricky to use when it was really bright, which was rare during the commute) and SE T630 (and what a miserable phone that was) got to be a pain, so I took the plunge and got me an unlocked Nokia E61 (cringe, Stephen, cringe!). It’s okay. I miss the touch screen, and the lack of scroll wheel is a pain, but it does what I need for now.
But, oh, imagine blasting the Treo out of the sky and replacing it with a T3!
- edparsons.com » Blog Archive » Stephen Fry and the iphone Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 1:44 pm[…] really appreciate the issue take a look a the first blog post by Stephen Fry. Yes it is the Stephen Fry, one of the great treasures of Britain, and it now appears an excellent […]
- blackbeltjones Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 1:55 pmI wonder why there aren’t more public intellectuals (ahem, Clarkson?!) talking about personal technology? It’s arguably more transformative, and as Stephen says could and should display more vitruvian virtues of commodity, firmness and delight than they currently do.
Stephen – music to my ears a lot of this… Especially about design being a holistic quality -experienced in the industrial design, the UI and the service design.
I wonder if you’ve seen some of the concept video from Nokia, (http://www.youtube.com/user/NokiaDesign) which got jumped on by Apple fanboys as copycat, but you might find it intriguing. Disclosure: I worked at Nokia till June this year and still have lots of friends there.
The bashing above is fair enough in a lot of cases – from my perspective it’s more about the dynamics of the corporation that leads to the let-downs when it comes to the holistic design of devices and user-experience. Jobs’ Holy Fire to MAKE THINGS BEAUTIFUL inside and out isn’t present in a lot of the other companies you list above, including unfortunately the higher levels of The Big N.
A final link: Khoi Vinh (design director of the NYT online) on the iphone keypad… An interesting insight I think on non-physical input i.e. You can get *good enough*, but you can’t become a virtuoso: http://www.subtraction.com/archives/2007/0905_the_little_k.php
Congratulations on the blog (and years of joy you’ve brought… was listening to mp3’s of ’saturday night fry’ from 1988 on the way to work today. I’m getting quite good at my conversational Strom, though the written is eluding me, sadly.)
- nicksweeney Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 2:52 pmOh my, this is a work of geeky beauty. Chapeau, sir.
I had such high hopes for UIQ, and yet the P800 which cost me a pretty penny sits on my shelf, and the old Nokia 6310i is back in my pocket. StickyKeys is quite right: call it complacency or stubbornness, but SE seem content to rest on their laurels and never mind the twiggy discomfort.
The iPhone is a fascinating test case, though, developed with an eye and three-quarters on a home market that’s so very different to the one encapsulated by your grand historical sweep. Blackberrys and Windows Mobile rule the US, with a dash of Treo but barely a S60 or UIQ device to be found. Apple’s desire for global product uniformity may hit the buffers somewhat when that slender little debutante encounters a European audience whose expectations have been shaped by Nokia and SE.
- bynkii Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 2:54 pmWhile I will agree that the iPhone keyboard is not anything nice for lots of typing, there is one area in which that virtual keyboard is head, shoulders, and lumbar vertebrae above every other smart phone I’ve used or supported:
Some supporting information. I am an IT administrator. I have, in my career, supported and run everything but Amigas. If it was a computer in the US built after 1977 and it wasn’t an Amiga, I’ve had to deal with it.
In other words, passwords are my life. And I don’t mean the fluff that most use..”prettykitty1″ or even “pr3ttyk1tty1″. I mean *passwords*. Things that make even the most determined hacker tremble. Special characters, numbers, capital letters, lower case letters, the gamut. No less than 8 characters, preferably ten. (In a bit of irony, the passwords I use for minor things are a joke, but when you have to use good ones a lot, not wasting brainpower just to post to a blog, even this one, is important.)
While I must recuse myself from any talking about Sony or Nokia devices due to a complete lack of experience with them, when it comes to Palm or WM devices, I can say this about typing complex passwords on them:
You’d rather eat Lutefisk. Cold. Sans aquavit.
The dance I have to do to deal with special characters and even numbers is painful. I’m never sure just WHAT i’ve pressed, as I’ve rather large fingers. But with the iPhone, the way you get that happy little popup to tell you the key you’re pressing? I wept. I wept when I realized that at long last, I had a phone that I could EASILY ENTER A PASSWORD ON.
SInce I use a lot of SSL VPNs, I’m not unhappy about Safari either.
On the third party applications thing, again, within the realms of Palm and WM devices, I can say that if there is a way to design a mobile device SDK that allows for a wide range of applications written in a safe, reliable manner that doesn’t cause the phone to endlessly soft reset or lock up the stupid thing, well, could whomever knows how to do this go have a talk with the boys and girls in Redmond and whatever corner of hell the Palm OS devs have been relegated to? Because neither of those two groups have figured it out.
On the whole, i can wait for Apple to release an SDK if it means I never have to put up with the feces I’ve had to endure with Palm and WM’s idea of a “good” SDK.
- Peeeeeeet Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 3:01 pmCourse, if you got yourself a LiveJournal, you could have threaded comments on your blog…
- mjs110 Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 3:35 pmWonderful. Wonderful. Wonderful! Geekery and the Book of Common Prayer. Any thoughts on the sad demise of the Tapwave Zodiac, perhaps the most lovely, curvaceous, palmtop ever? And wrt text iPhone input, should there perhaps be a portable bluetooth keyboard, a cross between the new iMac keyboards and the quite stylish ThinkOutside offerings?
- philbridges Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 3:41 pmWow, we (the great unwashed) always knew you were an amazing actor and author Stephen, but hey, you’re an even better Tech it seems, nice one!
- Гаврилов 2.0 » Думаю, это мания Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 3:50 pm[…] Видимо, скоро блоги будут заводить принудительно при рождении. Эт’ я к чему, собственно? Стивен Фрай – тот самый, который великий Дживз из Дживза и Вустера, который голос аудиокниг про Гарри Поттера и который Лжец, Гиппопотам, и Неполная и окончательная история классической музыки – так вот, Стивен Фрай завел себе блог. И вместо того, чтобы предаваться там изящным литературным игрищам, накатал простыню текста о том, какой смартфон мог бы быть лучше… […]
- ianbetteridge Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 3:57 pmGood lord, I was at that Revo launch. If I remember rightly you made a quip about them not updating the Mac software… and you were completely right about the Revo.
- John Connell Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 4:51 pmWow – I’ve never read a novel about mobile phones before
It is so good to welcome such an erudite, funny and humble man to the blogosphere, especially when that man was the second person in Britain to own a Mac (Dougls Adams just beat you to it?).
- RachelC Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 5:39 pmWow, that’s a great first post. Love it.
I’m lucky enough to have a trial version from Palm of the Treo 680 – my first SmartPhone – and the first experience is mainly great. Threaded SMS is lovely, the browser works well for me, although I’ve switched to using the web based mail as the client is unstable. Downloadable apps are a must – one of the key reasons I’ve not switched to an iPhone (along with the lock in to one carrier) despite it’s gorgeousness, shinyness and lickability. I’ve also found that having a red Treo is a great talking point, people are always asking what it is.
But I’ve soon got to give my handset back and I’m not sure what to do next. I know what i want though, just need to find it – unlocked, GPS, 3G data (ok, evdo or something as I currently live in the US), wifi, open to apps, video and camera. Calender synched to the web, browser that works well, threaded SMS, bluetooth to act as a modem, with Mac, and not going to bankrupt me! looking forward to more stuff.
- John Connell Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 5:46 pmCould the gphone from Google be the iPhone killer that Stephen seeks?
- jon Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 5:47 pmGreat day in the morning, what an opening salvo. Must subscribe now.
I have been a phone obsessive from the day the US got multiple GSM carriers (in my case, August 2002, when AT&T switched to GSM in Washington DC). My third GSM phone in a year was the SonyEricsson P800, which I can only describe as “iPhone: the Phantom Menace.” Bought for way too much money in a dodgy shop in Manhattan’s Chinatown, it was rich with promise but failed utterly at the core competency of a phone, to wit: placing and receiving calls. Had to touch it to a tower to get a signal. I have also used a Nokia 6620 in the past, whose battery life was limited to one full day before going to pieces – and that was just for calls and email.
I got my iPhone about a month after they shipped – free from work, so I have avoided the buyer’s remorse that came with the price cut – and have stopped carrying my laptop since. I think I can survive with the keyboard because I rarely write more than a couple of lines on the road; mobile email for me is much more reading than writing.
I concur utterly that the iPhone is approaching the Dynabook; heretofore I have felt that the MacBook represented the apotheosis of Alan Kay’s vision, but it wouldn’t take much to get the iPhone to that point. The kicker is that I will carry it places I’d never think to take my laptop – including to the UK in November (although I’ll spring for a prepaid SIM and one of my old flip phones rather than paying AT&T’s usury rates for roaming…)
- Mwongozi Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 5:47 pmHello Mr. Fry. Glad to see I share my tastes in silicon with you.
My current phone is an E90 and I like it too, though my American iPhone arrives tomorrow. Unlike you I’m not an international person, so instead I will be performing a little digital surgery in order to gently convince my iPhone to work on T-Mobile UK instead. I look forward to playing with it!
Feel free to drop me a line if want your iPhone to be “convinced” as well.
- Mija Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 5:53 pmI’m so delighted to find you blogging — and such an amazing entry to start with. I confess to having spent hours playing with the iPhone at the Apple store near me. Its flaws are definitely there. But unlike you I’m not a phone person (though I confess to living in a house with 5 functioning macs) — this is the first phone I’ve ever wanted to play with at all.
The point you make about Apple, with all their faults, being the only company out there who seems to care about how their products look rings completely true. I live in a small apartment and can’t have my technology hidden. Apple makes it easy to live with their machines as well designed objects that are lovely to use, but also pleasing just to have around.
As to the iPhone? I’m too poor to be a first or second gen sort of user. Next year though I don’t think I’ll be able to resist.
- Ludwig Von Kitt Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 6:12 pmI recently parted company with my HTC Wizard (O2 XDA Mini S) and moved on to a ‘trendy’ Motorola Z8. I think I regret my decision, still in 17 months I can upgrade to whatever device is ruling the world. I expect all phones will be AI by then, it will choose me.
- Mo Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 6:34 pmHello, Mr Fry! There really is no end to your talents, is there? Anybody would be forgiven for thinking PG Wodehouse prophesied your intellectual prowess in the literary form of Jeeves.
Honestly, I had no idea you were a Mac fiend (why would I have done, after all? I merely enjoy your work), but an all-round gadget freak extraordinaire? Wow.
I must say, the most salient part of this wonderful piece was, without a doubt, “…why should Apple be the only company that sees that? Why don’t the other bastards GET IT??”. I love Apple dearly, but I simply fail to understand—on a relatively continual basis—why they’re the only ones who have managed it. In fact, I was sat on the train to work this morning, musing to myself (as one does) as to what the train would be like if Apple had designed it. The answer, of course, is that it would be fantastic but slightly pricey—but people would flock from miles around to ride the Apple train, whilst others complained bitterly that they can’t really see what’s so great about it and that the ordinary Silverlink Class 150s are just fine thankyouverymuch.
But that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? Companies such Sony don’t see any value in producing intricately designed as-near-to-perfect as they can manage products, because adhering to the corporate motto sells just fine. Apple has wondrous profit margins, without skimping, and the premium you pay somehow manages to be minimal. You’d think that proposition would be pretty straightforward to the likes of Sony, but apparently it’s not, despite traditionally being a premium brand.
Still, the world continues to turn, and Apple continues to sell things which are closer to the ideal than anybody else. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than them not doing so, I suppose. In any case, I look forward to your next entry!
- Tim Houghton Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 6:38 pmI’m a big fan, so i was delighted to discover that you are a fellow Mac head, blogger, and also suffering from iPhone fever. Great post, keep ‘em coming!
- pauldwaite Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 6:39 pmI’ve got a Motorola RAZR from a couple of years back. The software can’t display letters on the screen as fast as I can type them. I’m not particularly fast, but I’ve had this problem with my last couple of phones.
I just don’t understand how Motorola can release a phone that can’t put letters on a screen fast enough to keep up with my thumbs. This is primary school stuff: responsive = good, unresponsive = bad. I bet I’ll type slower on my iPhone, but that my messages get done quicker, and that I never have to put up with that level of software idiocy from Apple.
That’s my excuse for planning to queue all day on 9th November to get one, anyway
- Morrick Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 6:47 pmOne of my favourite English actors has a blog! It’s excellent news indeed. And what a first post. My sincere compliments. I shall link to it from my blog, to point here those 3 or 4 readers I have.
- Jonathan Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 7:55 pmSo glad you’re posting. Happy 50th birthday and all the best!
- stevep Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 8:11 pmThe brilliant Psion 3 was superseded by the inferior 5 series
Sacrilege! The 5mx was the mobile writing tool of kings.
I’m with you on keyboards. Immune to current-smartphone-lust, I am still soldiering on with a 4-year-old Sony T610, even though the joystick is half-broken so often I am unable to navigate down through menus, which can be irritating.
But what I really want, in fact deserve, as do we all, is a clamshell iPhone with a full qwerty keyboard inside: like a tiny laptop, or a MacBook Nano. Or, indeed, a Psion 5mx. Surely it cannot be far away.
- chien Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 8:13 pmGreat article. I have always been a Sony Ericsson phone fan and I have to admit, their latest Smartphone offerings are just a cosmetic change. I have used P900i and M600i, and wondered why they can’t improve on the UI since… 2002?
In a way, I grew up with a lot of Sony products (I was a HUGE HUGE fan of the cassette Walkman and their high quality earphones). In a way, they are still innovating in some areas but never seem to follow through once they start something good and unique.
Nokia E61 is ugly and the Nokia communicator is not? I think both are things I won’t put near my ear. Have you actually seen them used flat on the side of the head? It’s not a pleasant sight.
As for the iPhone, it’s on my top wanted list since Jan and I don’t think it will be in Australia anytime soon. I will just have to settle with the crippled iPhone, called the iPod touch, for now.
- Matt Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 8:15 pmI first found out you were an Apple fan on your programme on depression (thank you for making that, by the way), but I never knew you were this knowledgable about gadgets. It’s an absolute delight to read this blog post, and there was so much in here that I didn’t know about, so it’s been very informative too. I look forward to reading more (you’ve been added to my RSS reader anyway).
And, on the subject of phones, as a relatively poor soon-to-be university student, I’m still stuck on a most-definitely-un-Smart Sony Ericsson T610 My money was better spent on my MacBook, which I absolutely cherish, than a new phone, I think. I find it hard to comprehend how only Apple seems to be paying attention to the wants of the consumer, one day Steve Jobs will step down from there, I just hope that it retains its vision. Apple truly is a shining example of how if you just focus on making good products, your business will succeed. Other companies seem to focus so much on costcutting by offshoring and placating shareholders and year-on-year profit margins and that sort of thing, that I’m sure their CEOs forget about the product their making. I sometimes wonder if the CEOs of rival companies even use their own products.
P.S. The iPod Touch! What more can I say? A godsend for people who can’t afford the mobile contracts for an iPhone. Perhaps if (or when?) you get one you’ll leave your impressions of it for us on your blog?
- Ejecutive » Stephen Fry’s Blog Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 8:29 pm[…] writer and presenter — is also a gadget fanatic and has a blog where he’s written a whopping article about his obsession for “SmartPhones” and his quest for an iPhone […]
- Matthew Walster Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 8:44 pmQuite truly one of the most interesting and honest technology blogs I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
I, myself, am awaiting my replacement handset (a Nokia E61 you so despise) and found your observations both accurate and informative.
I’ve spoken with a number of technology journalists in the past few months (from Leo Laporte in the US, to Jon Bentley in the UK and alose in Finland and France) and we’ve lamented the loss of all technology programming on the television in the past decade. Whilst I do not produce any media content (outside of some volunteer work in Finland for AssemblyTV, which I’ve always wanted to recreate on our shores) I can recognise a good tech journalist when I see one. If you irregularly posted here and wrote entries as sincerely as you have done, I can imagine this blog being frequented by many-a-geek.
Well done, and I hope the trials and tribulations of the iPhone UK move serve you well!
In the proud geek tradition:
/me tips hat.
- MarkP Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 9:32 pmMore like this please
- scottymac Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 9:40 pmMr. Fry, if you haven’t tried yet, make sure you download:
New applications are showing up almost every day. I’ve been reading eBooks, playing old Infocom games, and all sorts of fun stuff:
- Nick Sweeney · and turned our dearth and scarcity into cheapness and plenty Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 10:44 pm[…] so delicious about Stephen Fry’s survey of smartphones, as deep as it is wide, isn’t the unabashed geekery, though that has generated an antiphonal […]
- longbourne Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 10:55 pmReading this article, it struck me that perhaps no new device will be good enough.
Hi Stephen. I’ve been reading/watching/listening to your works for some time, so it’s an added pleasure to stumble across this blog, particularly as it’s in an area–current technological gadgetry–both immensely interesting and ridicule-in-waiting. One need only read Popular Science in its early years (and, indeed, now) to see how men can be enslaved by the mouth-wateringly asinine.
I’ve settled into a comfortable P900-shaped rut for three years and always seem to find some reason to reject new offerings. What, no touchscreen! How could someone upgrade without the carrot of WiFi? That GUI…who would find it tolerable! We are spoiled by the lengthy bespoke process we have built up, brick by brick, around ourselves. It was the desire to do this that first led me away from Apple.
I was on my sixth Mac (actually, it was a clone…) and had grown deeply envious of the dexterous freeware world of Windows. I gave in, trading the starched collar of the Apple compound for the loosely-laced kaftan of Windows. Over the years I have built up a termite’s mound of software, shortcuts, GTD processes and other tailored touches on my PC. I only realised how much my house had become a well when I switched over to laptop/Vista and had to do it all over again.
Will any new device be good enough, unless it can be cut down, built up, pulped, spindled, transgendered and gently prodded into micron-perfect alignment with our own mercurial tastes?
- Positively Atlanta Georgia Says:
September 19th, 2007 at 10:55 pmJeeves and Jobs….
Does this gentleman (at left) look familiar? How about if I said he was a “gentleman’s gentleman”? Well, I might be confusing the point, because he’s in fact one of Britain’s acting treasures…holding his latest tech …
- links for 2007-09-20 « Richard@Home Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 12:21 am[…] Stephen Fry » Blog Archive » Device and Desires Stephen Fry has a blog! (tags: stephenfry blog) Posted by Richard@Home Filed in Uncategorized […]
- cthellis Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 1:13 amThe only thing I figure I should chime in about is concerning the keyboard, as it’s the only part that particularly impressed me…
I’m a fast typer (80-90 WPM on a regular ol’ keyboard) and a fast texter (though only through the limiting “multitap” method shared by numpad phones, the PSP, and such), and was reasonably concerned about the iPhone’s text entry, since I have such meaty hands and all… Even performance on a Blackberry or Treo gets fumbled by my overlarge thumbs.
Yet the very FIRST time I picked up an iPhone, I opened the notepad and two-thumb-typed out a paragraph (with caps, punctuation and numbers. I’m kind of a stickler with that), and I think I averaged 25-30 WPM. The FIRST time! WITHOUT (uncorrected) errors! (I’ll point out that I already knew the trick to fast entry of only one character from the number/punctuation screen.)
Frankly, I’m a bit astonished, as I know I couldn’t pull near that on the teeny keyboards on most devices… My meaty prongs eternally hit more than one button and/or take longer to settle centered on one so I KNOW I’m only hitting the one, and lack of really intelligent auto-correcting/auto-finishing…? I think the iPhone may be a lot BETTER for the large-digited, since you can program in quite a deal more than you can account for with locked-configuation physical keys.
Due to no extended use with either the iPhone or a QWERTY device like the Treo I can’t tell for sure, but it seems to me like you build to as much speed if not more on the iPhone once you’ve trained yourself out of old methods and into new ones, and that it has plenty more headroom. (I’m not sure what Apple will put in as far as options go, but they could certainly add some speed-enhancing new characteristics for text entry.)
I think many people might be feeling more by having to train OUT of one method they’ve been used to and/or support more than one at once, but… Coming to it from a clean slate, I’m more impressed with the iPhone and what I think I can pull off with it.
Not being able to use it blindly is something of a setback, of course… Just needs some proper voice recognition. Prior to launch people were eternally complaining “how can I type in a number if I’m driving?!” (which seems like a bad idea in general) to which I always replied “I just hit one button then talk to my phone. Seems much easier and less dangerous to me.” Really GOOD voice recognition seems like something Apple would be all over, so I assume they’re waiting to get it together in non-halfassed fashion. “In Apple’s own special way,” as The Steve might say.
(And just to chime in, yes ringtones suck. I don’t think we’re all on top of the convoluted terms of the RIAA in regards to copyright/licensing/whatever of them, however. Since this is very unlike Apple, I rather assume they’re stuck at the moment, and need to get their wedge placed before they can use any influence to affect ringtones in general. The truth of the matter will roll out eventually.)
- uk69 Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 2:37 amDearest Stephen
Welcome to the world of blogging – I hope we see much more of you.
At last a ‘review’ that tells me what I need to know!. I am an early adopter, when I can afford to be and I was so hoping the P1i variant W960i was going to be ‘the one’. An ardent mac fan myself (3 ipods, macbook & imac) I am so p***ed off that the iphone is EDGE only – if it was 3G and 16G then the decision would be a ‘no brainer’. Already owning a w950i (bloody awful keypad, slow but at least ipod, palm and phone all-in-one) I wanted the w960i to be better – your comments tell me it won’t be – not from an apple perspective anyway. SO now you have reintroduced my dilemma – do I get an iphone on 9th November. Probably – at least that way I can play with it and get used to it until the real one comes out next tech year (rumours say early 2008). So in some ways, tahnk you, in others – bugger!!. Now I have to justify soending a ridiculous amount of mony on already obselete tech – but at leat it’s apple tech
- williamdeed Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 2:38 amI am so very pleased to have been pointed towards this blog. Only one entry and already one of the best.
Thank you Stephen, look forward to the next posting.
- An Unreliable Witness Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 2:54 amQuite tragically, as a confirmed addict of all things Apple, I can easily imagine blindly stumbling – without a care for my meagre finances – into buying an iPhone. Not that I need an iPhone. Indeed, I barely need a mobile phone at all, since I normally leap away from the infernal gadget in horror when it rings, and don’t understand texting since 160 characters is really not enough to send a message to anyone, once you factor in verbosity and punctuation. However, the iPhone is shiny. It has no buttons but relies only on smooth and respectful touches. It is an Apple product and, damn them, they do make their gizmos and gadgets utterly desirable.
However, if I do buy one, I will probably never use it; merely stare at it lovingly and touch it late at night when there’s no one around.
I give in. I am off to steal the pensions of elderly relatives.
- SMS Text News » Archives » Stephen Fry is a huge, huge mobile geek! Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 3:00 am[…] Stephen Fry » Blog Archive » Device and Desires My guess is that iPhone 3 is going to be closer to the Dynabook than anyone dreamed possible. […]
- humungous chump Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 3:01 amAnd my fellow East Anglian and Aha those clever yankies, it’ll never work. Brits are too ingenious (well most of the time). I too managed to get my iphone working with an American telephone number. Would appear that if you know of a valid US address and can make up a social security number (did you know they actually tell you the format it should be in?) with a valid ZIP code they don’t cross reference your credit card with the details they’ve just taken. Needless to say though its bloomin expensive.
Well AT&T Mobility (as they are now known) came along to the 21C Global Summit (www.21cglobalsummit.com) at Blenheim Palace last week to tell their story, and it was fascinating. The video will be online soon on your favourite YouTube channel.
Peter Cochrane spoke, sadly Douglas Adams can’t speak from the grave but we have found an old video tape of him in a technology debate with Peter. We’ll try to post this soon as well. Maybe you, Stephen, would like to come along next year in June?
All the best. I’m slightly frightened though. A technical expert who doesn’t actually work in the industry? Scandalous, do you realise how much bumpf most people on here read to persuade their mates down the pub that they actually know what they are talking about.
You should go into acting…. or politics… !
- Stephen Fry and his new Blog! at FCHouse Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 3:35 am[…] Great news for we, little humans. Another spectacular news is that his first post is about the iPhone, or as he calls it, the fryPhone! Let me tell you two things about the […]
- gan Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 3:36 amShurely, “MOAP is my washBot, sayeth the Lord” . Yours truly, Revd Spooner.
- The Daydream Blog » Blog Archive » Stephen Fry on Smart Phones Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 3:41 am[…] Stephen Fry has started a blog and picks smart phones as his first topic. Stephen Fry is a gadget freak, who knew? Devices And Desires […]
- Mr and Mrs Mobile » Blog Archive » Stephen Fry is a huge, huge mobile geek! Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 3:59 am[…] Stephen Fry » Blog Archive » Device and Desires My guess is that iPhone 3 is going to be closer to the Dynabook than anyone dreamed possible. […]
- morrijr Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 4:10 amThis device isn’t finished but you might like to look into the openmoko project… http://www.openmoko.com/ and it’s (upcoming) first release of open hardware (meaning that anyone can make the phone (assuming they have the necessary abilities)) running open software phone (meaning anyone can write software for the phone (again, assuming they have the necessary abilities)).
To quote from the site…
“Mobile phones, currently closed and self limited, will rival broadband computers. When based on Open standards, they will deliver ubiquitous computing and vanish.
Ubiquitous computing means more than computing wherever you wander: It means knowing the locale, weaving seamlessly into the local fabric, and vanishing.
Devices disappear when developers have unrestricted access to hardware.
Neo gives you this control for the first time.
We want your mind in OpenMoko. Let’s work together. You’ll have our full support. Now, Free Your Phone.”
Now I have absolutely no doubt that this will not fit all your needs. However, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to get together with others who see the same short comings (be it hardware or software) and change the reference implementation.
Why rely on somebody whom you can’t suggest ideas too. Personally I can’t wait to see what their first, non-developer, release is like.
- Nseries WOM World » Blog Archive » Stephan Fry on devices desires and the N95 Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 4:15 am[…] opinion this is a great place to start, or even if you’re just really into your mobiles it’s a great read. Be sure to join the massive discussion happening in his comments […]
- jovike Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 4:24 amHello Stephen, nice to see you here. (My 50th birthday next week, so I enjoyed watching yours on Freeview!)
Very perceptive and well-written piece; I wrote an essay about design and Apple on my blog when the iPhone was launched. Of course it is all about design: the ghastly Nokias I have to use at work are a case in point. Trying to text without exiting the mode and thus losing all the input is dicy.
And of course the Apple Mac is a lovely machine to come home to after problems using Windows at work.
Thank you Stephen, I look forward to you exposing more of your enormous hinterland.
- JeFurry Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 4:55 amThank you for writing this, Mr Fry. As a technical person, it’s all too easy for me to get bogged down in the specifications and potential of a device, and forget that one has to actually use it in order for a given feature to actually be… well, useful!
I too remember the Psion Series 3 fondly, and while the Series 5 had considerable technical superiority, and several genuine advantages, it lacked the sheer polished grace and perfection achieved by its predecessor, which has yet to be equalled by any device that I (or by the sound of it, you) have seen. The integration and reliability were near-perfection, though the perceived need for flashier multimedia features pushed into the Series 5 and beyond caused the sacrifice of that integration and polish.
The iPhone, driven as it is by Apple’s insight into users’ wishes and implementation thereof, is in a position where it could achieve that rare nirvana of being a genuinely good device which /also/ has public recognition and acceptance. As I’m still awaiting the UK version, this is merely a hope rather than a conviction. However, it’s also held back by Apple’s usual approach of producing a device that does a few things well, and anything it can’t do well it doesn’t do at all This is in many ways a sensible approach – often that which the customer wants is not the same as what the customer /needs/ – but it’s somewhat risky for a device so clearly in the public eye. The same could be said of the iPod, and of course the iPod is doing well, but I imagine it would do even better if it adopted some of the features its rivals boast over it.
I hope that Apple will develop many major software upgrades for the iPhone before doing what it did with the iPod and dropping support for the older models. It’s a good platform, and while the compromises are there in terms of the keyboard, EDGE and camera quality, I believe it has the priorities right – better to have widespread-but-slowish internet access (once O2 EDGE is more widespread, at least) than faster-but-unreliable. The average user won’t be using Mobile Safari all the time, because in many places we now have hardwired alternatives. But with the EDGE approach as opposed to 3G, at least there’s a reasonable likelihood that they’ll get /something/ when they’re up to their knees in mud at Glastonbury, for example.
On the other hand, I agree completely about the lack of a proper software development kit. The current approach of allowing home-brew software at the user’s own risk is better than nothing, but half-hearted to say the least. Fortunately, if you’re prepared to spend the time exploring (and the detail of your post strongly suggests you’re a fellow tweaker) there is some extremely good software starting to appear, and the developers are mainly continuing Apple’s design ethic and pleasing interfaces. Interesting times.
- DominicSayers Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 4:56 amOne wonders why, if you’re standing in a field in Norfolk, that you would value a weather app on your mobile device.
- brian.griffin Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 4:59 amStephen you’re an amateur. Until you’ve owned the thigh-scraping beauty that _is_ the Pogo (http://tinyurl.com/yncqqs) then you have no place speaking on matters of smart phone addiction.
Although curiously with that exception we seem to have followed an all-but-identical path when it comes to devices, having also consumed from the range of Palm, Psion Symbian products and more besides.
Do they put something in the plastic? Perhaps it’s chili? Is that what it is? I know Apple do that with their products. Probably.
Ahhh… IIcx with standard keyboard. Was there ever anything more satisfying than an Apple standard keyboard. I even bought an ADB > USB adaptor so I could carry on using it with the MacBook.
And what is it with EDGE? Cambridge appears to have coverage on a per-street basis. Strange.
- tompaine Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 5:11 amIt’s quite scary how many of those devices we have in common. I occasionally take my Microwriter Agenda out of the drawer and wonder why that technology dead-ended. Psion didn’t die, by the way. It simply gave up on hardware. It seems to be prospering in a quiet way.
Congrats on the new blog and – if an old hand may drop a hint – good luck with becoming your own editor. The toughest part of blogging is the pruning of one’s gloriously wordy effusions. Of course every finely-wrought phrase is a gem, but few read anything they can’t see on the first screen (which given your slim and elegant template is not a great deal – even on the screen of my 17′ MacBook Pro at max resolution).
- Extenuating Circumstances – links for 2007-09-20 Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 5:20 am[…] Stephen Fry » Blog Archive » Device and Desires Oh my god I’m in love (tags: stephenfry apple blog design hardware interface mobile 3g dynabook iphone nokia sonyericsson ui hci stephenfuckingfry smartphones rant swoon) […]
- Kerry Buckley » Steven Fry’s call to arms Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 5:23 am[…] Fry’s call to arms By Kerry Steven Fry has written a detailed comparison of smartphones on his blog. It’s quite long, but very entertaining (as you would expect) and well worth a […]
- lundman Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:08 amIt was quite frustrating sitting here in Tokyo when the iPhone was announce as everyone seemed to drop everything and only talk about the iPhone. It was everywhere. Yet, it does not seem to be any great innovation, at least not when compared to the phones that are already available (perhaps only here?).
But, it is out now, collectively everyone took some Panadol to control the fever and we can start looking for the next thing on the horizon. But I am pleased they managed to hack it, relatively promptly at that. Hurrah! Although the powers that be will try whatever they can to stop it. Hurroh!
- Badger Madge Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:10 amGah! I just entered a hilariously witty entry (it was honest!) about my awful hone and how it can’t do anything. Even good ringtones. But it hasn’t appeared for some reason.
Oh well. Rest assured it would have had everyone in stitches.
- once more with feeling » Blog Archive » 2 more iPhone entries Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:21 am[…] Then I discovered that the professional reader of Harry Potter books has an entry about the iPhone. (In fact, he is a passionate machead.) Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]
- CasdraBlog » Blog Archive » links for 2007-09-20 Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:23 am[…] Stephen Fry » Blog Archive » Device and Desires Great post! (tags: iphone cellphone) […]
- chuckdarwin Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:36 amThou Shalt Always Kill iPhones? Not that I’m questioning you
- Susan Hated Literature » She wants that delicacy of tint, and mellowness of sneer, which distinguishes Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:48 am[…] you know that Stephen Fry has a blog? And such a scandalous first post. Title is from The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan Similarly […]
- NeilHoskins Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 7:28 amThank you for an extremely interesting and enjoyable essay.
To extend your architecture analogy, I would contend that the iPhone is one of those marvellous exhibition homes you used to get on show estates in Milton Keynes. It’s clearly a work of art on the outside, designed by Italian design masters, clearly. However, once you get inside you realise it doesn’t really work: the gas hasn’t been plumbed in yet, and they forgot to include a television. Or possibly like Minnie Mouse’s home at Disneyworld: it looks fantastic, but the fixtures and fittings inside are just “pretend” and don’t really work. In the vernacular, the iPhone is very “shiny” but doesn’t actually do much.
It also occurs to me that there is not one unachievable platonic ideal, but several. Personally, I’d hardly ever use a qwerty keyboard, and decent one-handed operation is much more important than having a touch-screen. The LG Prada may be close to being Naomi Campbell’s favourite for throwing at servants this month, but next month it will be something else. To give them their due, the marketing droids understand this.
My own ideal for a few months now has been an N95 (yes, I’m a 47-year-old adolescent). The music playing, radio (streaming and broadcast), podcasting, VoIP, direct Flickr upload, downloadable games, etc, are all killer apps for me, and I recently spent a week on holiday using it as my only camera/camcorder. Now, however, there’s the N95 8GB on the horizon, with quadrupled free RAM…
On the subject of the iPhone and EDGE: Orange are the only network in the UK with any form of EDGE. Most of the operators bypassed it and went straight for 3G. Apple have now confusingly given the UK rights to O2, who are having to implement EDGE, at great cost. Realistically, they will only do so in London as a token gesture, and will be praying nightly for a 3G iPhone. By that time, of course, Nokia will have the N100 or whatever.
- CraigB Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 7:34 amStephen, you have truly and utterly amazed me with your in-depth knowledge about this! I have to admit that I have been wandering around the phone market for years for a decent phone (I am hard of hearing and texting/email/web is essential) and the iPhone fits perfectly around what I want to do!
Anyway! Let me thrown a little something here about the iPhone.
There are numerous guides about ‘hacking’ the iPhone and my goodness, those team are intelligent to get in the system. The result of this has inspired more people to create true applications (not web based) for the phone.
- Alfies’ Blog » Blog Archive » Stephen Fry – A God Amongst Smarphone users Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 7:52 am[…] On Smartphones, WIMP, the IPhone and everything inbetween […]
- StephenK Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 8:27 amHi Stephen,
Welcome to the Blogosphere and thanks for such an interesting first post. I too am a lover of shiny gizmos and found your post to be an immensely fulfilling read. I don’t have an iPhone yet but I’m afraid that I won’t be able to resist when it finally arrives (on my birthday of all days!). Until then, however, I’m stuck pretending that the annoying little box in my pocket is a perfectly good device and that I don’t really need that seductive iPhone temptress!
I look forward to your next post
- MattLazycat Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 8:28 amYour persistence is admirable, Stephen. I’ve also been buying SmartPhones since Nokia 9000, but I’ve recently given up and settled for a plain, simple Nokia 6300 after a brief and sweaty affair with an M600i. I just can’t take the disappointment any more. Ironically that simple, no-nonsense phone has more (and better) features and usability than many of my earlier smartphones.
Surely it’s just nostalgia, but my fondest smartphone memories are of Nokia’s Communicator series. Everything since has been technologically superior in theory – smaller, prettier, more capable – but in practice successively worse. Why, the SPV C600 (one of the innumerable HTC winmob varieties) was so appalling that it failed both at being smart *and* at being a phone! That’s right, the winmob program that handled the telephone functions would crash silently and seemingly at random, transforming the handset into nothing more than a mildly carcinogenic solitaire game. No sir, this will not do. I’m putting my telephonic desires on hold until someone actually manages to produce a smartphone that can actually deliver on its promises. I suspect it’ll be the 2nd or 3rd generation iPhone, but of course my resolve took a blow at the UK announcement of the iPhone, so I’ll no doubt be back in the masochistic smartphone-buying vicious circle before long.
Have you considered trying a Bananaphone? I’ve never seen one, but from the song alone they sound fantastic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bananaphone
- Treonauts Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 10:40 amHi Stephen,
Thanks for your rather refreshing take on the smartphone revolution and the difficulties in finding the “perfect” device.
As the founder of http://www.treonauts.com I have had the opportunity to be at the centre of many of these developments and I certainly share your pains and complaints about both Palm and our Treo in general (even though I feel that you were a little bit too harsh on the Treo 680 – a smartphone that I have very happily used daily for nearly a year now).
The latest Treo 500 may be running Windows Mobile but it’s nonetheless a smartphone that you should take a look at and the soon to be announced Palm Centro (Treo 550?) should be quite an interesting device as well. In this respect you may enjoy reading my latest post about the Treo
Given the fact that I spend a great deal of my time in the UK I’d greatly welcome the opportunity to get together sometime. You can reach me via email: treonauts [at] pobox.com
- cod liver oil & jam » Blog Archive » famous apple-lover, stephen fry, disses the iphone Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 10:56 am[…] all things technical (and usually all things mac) you’ll probably get a lot more out of his blog entry on the […]
- Steve Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 11:00 amHi Stephen, great to see you blogging!! It’s good to be able to read opinions from someone as erudite (can’t believe someone else above beat me to using that word!) as yourself. And who knew you were such a geek, let alone a smartphone geek!!
I have no particular comment on the iPhone, as the only experience I have of one was when my brother (also a US resident alien) came to visit last month. It seemed nice, but not for me.
I have been a regular Palm user for a long time now, my progression having been thus: Palm III, Palm Vx, Palm m505, Tungsten T2 and now my trusty beloved Treo 650.
I have been considering a replacement for said Treo for a while; it has seen better days, I can’t sync with Vista (I had to get a new PC this year, and it came with Vista – apart from Palm issues, I am actually happy with it) and I am getting itchy feet (fingers?) having had the Treo for a couple of years now.
I was considering jumping ship and looking elsewhere than Palm, for some of the reasons you outline above. I do not, however, know if this is the best thing to do, nor which of the many surrounding lifeboats I should jump into – Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Symbian… I list operating systems as lifeboats, rather than hardware models, simply because this is my main dilemma.
Your article has given me much food for thought, and has – for the time being, at least – given me cause to stay on board for now, and hope for rescue. Either that, or wait for a much better lifeboat to come along.
My needs are simple: full QWERTY keyboard, decent screen, decent OS with a good range of software, decent sync with PC (yes, with Vista), good battery life, Bluetooth, sizeable RAM.
My wants are slightly more demanding: 3G, WiFi, slimline form factor, more probably that escape me now.
We can but hope… At least now I have your blog to look forward to. Once again, thank you for a thought-provoking, witty article, and for sharing your love of all things “mobilic” and “phonular” (love it!!). It’s good to know that someone of your intelligence and knowledge can be rendered equally as gaga as the rest of us when it comes to technology. Gadgets can apparently be a great leveller!!
I hope we can expect more reviews from you in the near future.
- Drood Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 5:29 pmAll I can say is if Stephen is blogging, the internet just became a little bit nicer, and I will have to revise my “All blogs are crap” statement to add “except Stephen Fry’s” at the end.
- nicepaul Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:09 pmIt’s such a shame that O2 have been chosen as the exclusive UK carried for the iPhone. Their disregard for Apple customers is apparent from the fact that the navigation on their website doesn’t work in Safari. http://paulannett.co.uk/uk-iphone-carrier-o2-doesnt-support-apples-safari-browser
- nicepaul Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:10 pmThis made me chuckle:
“Stephen Fry is proudly powered by WordPress”
- scottymac Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:13 pmSome more iPhone fun for you: http://www.jonsthoughtsoneverything.com/iphone_apper/
- szabi4 Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:13 pmHi Stephen!
I like your style and I found the blog entry quite informative. I agree with you on 99% of your thoughts, except the Nokia E61. Okay, It’s not Prada, but it’s nowhere near ugly. The E61i looks a lot more cheaply designed, but the E61 is simple and non-provoking. And it’s two times more smartphone than the blackberry (I own two BBs), and even the 9300 (that’s just outdated, I guess).
Being a smartphone, you can change the default theme (which is the first thing I do anyway), so you can’t blame it for that. Also, default themes are designed to look bad (see winxp, etc.). Why else would you change them?
Cheers and productive blogging!
- Jyoti Mishra Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:16 pmThanks for the in-depth reviews. I have a 990i and I was considering an iPhone. But now I’m put off by the price, no 3G, inflexible contract, O2 being bag of shite… Maybe I’ll have a look at an E90
- berley Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 6:33 pmYou should so be dating my husband
He also looked up some Georgette Heyer books and they are very much his cup of tea!
Love your work Mr Fry.
- Gadgetophile » I give up Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 10:18 pm[…] up. I try to blog, honestly I do. But when someone like Stephen Fry comes along with a 10,000 word opening post about one’s own all-consuming passion, it all gets a bit much. How am I supposed to […]
- Stephen Fry, smartphones y el iPhone como excusa | Denken Über Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 10:37 pm[…] Esta es una de las cosas que me fascinan de los blogs; descubrir (en realidad manu escribió sobre el tema y me pasó el link) que el de Stephen Fry, actor inglés, compañero de Hugh Laurie, y que uno conoce por su filmografía y libros es capaz de hablar del iPhone como excusa para pasar por toda la historia de los Smartphones, compararlos, analizarlos por marca, por sistema operativo y escribir uno de los mejores posts que leí en mucho tiempo sobre el tema. […]
- Friends in Fry Places « Andrew Currie on WordPress Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 11:12 pm[…] For anyone who’s ever thought it odd that someone like yours truly can be equally passionate about the seemingly disparate pursuits of comedy and technology, may I present Mr. Stephen Fry’s latest blog post on the subject of… Smartphones! […]
- Develops.mobi » Stephen Fry is a huge, huge mobile geek! Says:
September 20th, 2007 at 11:22 pm[…] Stephen Fry » Blog Archive » Device and Desires My guess is that iPhone 3 is going to be closer to the Dynabook than anyone dreamed possible. […]
- pixelseventy2 Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 4:13 amYou should check out the Nokia N800 – portable internet tablet with VERY high quality screen and large resolution. I used to be a devout Pocket PC user (iPaqs and XDAs) until the N800 came out. The mail and web clients put everything else of a similar form factor to shame, the media capabilities are excellent, and the amount of third party software is staggering. Combined with a bluetooth keyboard I no longer need to use a laptop when on the road.
See http://tabletblog.com/2007/09/ipod-touch-vs-nokia-n800-filling-other.html for a good comparison of the N800 and iPhone
- NeilHoskins Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 4:32 amStephen, I just discovered that Nokia have released an app called “conversation”, which gives something like threaded sms:
- AngusR Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 4:55 amAhh, the Psion 3… I had my 3a for many years (in fact I still do), and only really found a replacement when I managed to win a Communicator 9300 in a Nokia competition. I knew I’d found my soulmate (soon to be my wife) when I discovered that she used an increasingly dodgy Psion Revo to organise her life… she now has my old 9300 for that task. I’m stuck with an HTC Wizard, which is okay-ish. The E90… not convinced by it.
The iPhone is very pretty, and quite clever… but it is thunderously expensive, and I don’t think any of the in-built apps are feature-rich enough that I’m never going to think “if only I could install a compile of (insert application) and use that instead then this would be perfect”. Locked down environments are a bad idea on a device that costs that much. When I’ve spent hundreds on something it had better perform as I wish rather than as the manufacturer wishes!
- dumbledad Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 4:57 amI know this is more of a “phone” than a “SmartPhone” point, but the rise of touch screen phones in response to Apple’s iPhone bothers me. It may be more of a European than an American phenomena but I love those stories of kids secretly texting each other with their hands under their desks while maintaining the illusion of rapt attention with their teacher. Perhaps it was never really a big thing, and perhaps it is a mode of interaction that people are happy to say goodbye to, but there is no way you can text on a touch-screen phone without staring intently at the screen. There are fun interactions that touch screens enable, but some they preclude. Keys – I love them!
- Caroline Von B Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 5:04 amMr Fry, so good to see you back online for real. Adding your feed to my Netvibes page right now.
1000 years ago, I sent you an ASCII rose… here’s another one:
- charles Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 5:05 amWith regard to “send and receive vox or data communications”: “vox” strikes me as a rather nasty paleologism in this context replete with no-doubt undesired overtones of engineering snobbery. “Voice” or “vocal” convey the meaning perfectly without suggesting an ulterior sense.
- The Obligatory Blog » Blog Archive » Stephen Fry on Smartphones Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 5:12 am[…] disorder) Stephen Fry is a serious gadget nut. HeApos;s started a blog and his first post is a lengthy discourse on the merits of various smartphones, including this comment on Sony Ericsson: The P1i is what happens when “oh, that’ll […]
- jason hobbs Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 5:40 amPersonally, i still favour the carrier pigeon.
- links for 2007-09-20 | Not the kinda cool you’re looking for Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 5:44 am[…] Stephen Fry Blog […]
- JonathanCR Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 5:49 amGreat to see you blogging. I’ll be watching this closely! Thank you.
(Un)interesting note: originally, “disinterested” *did* mean “uninterested”, but it shifted meaning. It’s now moving back again to mean “uninterested”, at least judging by increasingly common usage. So when we pedants insist that it means something different, we’re basically saying that the first shift in meaning was legitimate, but the second is not. But on what basis?
This keeps me awake at night sometimes.
- Tom Shires Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 5:58 amIn the 70’s I used to fix telephones and telephone exchanges. We have progressed so much from 10pps ( pulses per second). I could still fix a tele 746 or a strowger exchange. I should now be an exhibit in the science museum next to the strowger exchange. Dressed in a brown dust coat and sandals, tool in hand ( no pun intended) ready to bend bits of metal to keep the exchange working. A sign on my glass box “In case of emergency break glass”. Now, when electrical equipment fails, just buy a new one. I’ve just upgraded my phone to a Nokia6310 so I’m way behind and one day no doubt I will have GPS in my car, until then it’s my £1.99 roadmap from Tesco’s.
- simong Says:
September 21st, 2007 at 6:04 amStephen, I have also been searching for the perfect smartphone for many years, although my ambition has been driven by, as a sysadmin, the ability to fix problems from the pub. I started with a Palm M500 and Nokia 8210 which required too much almost literal juggling to work with infra-red and have worked my way through what Nokia, Sony Ericsson and HTC have offered over the past few years, and through which have dismissed Windows Mobile as the same mistakes, but made smaller, and muttered with frustration at the shortcomings of Symbian S60 and S80. I have settled for the moment with the E61 as the thing that does the job for me. It is ugly, but the user interface works, it’s small, and on an ‘unlimited’ data tariff it’s quite simply the best phone I’ve ever had as it does approach that ideal of the portable device that does everything. It could be better of course, and probably will be, but for now it has been very nearly the do everything device that I have been looking for since I discovered the idea of the smartphone.
For that reason, the iPhone isn’t. As a weapons grade geek I love OS X as the best Unix desktop yet created. The combination of ‘just works’ and the power of Darwin makes it the perfect tool for the system administrator who doesn’t want to wrestle with the foibles of Linux. Ubuntu is nearly there and I will revisit it again soon, but for now my Macbook does the job perfectly. However, the iPhone is missing too much to be useful to me. 3G is the deal breaker, but the absence of the tools that I want, and the ability for anyone to give them to me makes it a pretty but useless toy. Yes, it may improve and version 2 or 3 might well be that ne plus ultra, but it could also be an iPod with a phone that works best for buying music in Starbucks.
At the moment I’m quietly excited about OpenMoko and the hope that Nokia will do something telephonic with Maemo but they are all currently vapourware, and a familiar itch is forming