It’s really, really, really, really, really fucking fun, and a big disappointment.
The “fun” part should not be dismissed. The UI is possibly the best resolved of any I’ve ever seen: it all works flawlessly, intuitively, so effortlessly that you want to do stuff just for the sake of doing it.
Let’s be clear about something: the iPhone will change the shape of business, and it will change the shape of life.
On the life side of the equation: it’s the first device that will become as organic and as helplessly necessary to ordinary – i.e., non-Blackberry-wielding – Americans as mobiles have always been to Europeans and Asians. So far this morning, I’ve used my iPhone as an alarm clock, a timer, a phone, a map, and a handy means of getting the answer to a question that came up in conversation. I wondered if there were any laundromats handy, got a map of a few likely candidates, and clicked on the nearest to call them and ask them if they were open yet. (They were.) In other words, it’s performing exactly as intended. I have questions about the wisdom of shoving it heedlessly in my pocket, as is generally my wont with phones, but that’ll be dealt with one way or another.
On the business side, though, I did something I have never, ever done before, in my twelve years of mobile-device consumership – signed up for unlimited, all-you-can-eat access, with all the bells and whistles – because a few minutes playing with Cal‘s convinced me that I’d be using the thing utterly nonstop. I will not be the only consumer to have come to a similar realization, and I’m entirely sure the results will show up in Monday’s Business section.
A happy picture
Now for the bad news. You knew it was coming – in fact, almost everyone paying even a smidge of attention had seen it coming way back in January. And it’s just exactly what you thought it would be, too: while just about everything Apple about the iPhone is flawless or nearly so (and yes, I include the keyboard, for reasons I’ll get into), a similar proportion of everything AT&T about the experience is ass.
The provisioning process is a drag, the EDGE service is every bit as slow as you’d heard it would be, the coverage (even from, say, San Francisco down to San Jose, which you’d think would be a gimme) is spotty, and call quality is likely to remain what the spinmeisters call “an issue” for the foresseable future.
And then there’s the fundamental, underlying, root-deep flaw with the iPhone, the one thing which can and should be laid at Steve’s door, and regarding which it’s impossible for anyone with integrity to pull the wool over their own eyes about. The UI is so seductive and so accomplished that you almost forget it, but in the end there’s no getting around it: this is a closed shop. A locked-down device. What Jonathan Zittrain calls a “non-generative” piece of kit.
You can’t code on it. You can’t hack on it – not without a lot of effort, which is to say, more effort than all but a very few will devote to the attempt. By and large, you cannot make culture with this device, not unless you construct “making culture” as everything you’re doing when you use the iPhone. Consume, yes – painlessly, pleasantly, engagingly. But not produce.
That’s a problem.
Putting aside for the moment how utterly pwn3d I was by the Spectacle around this thing – and that’s not a trivial thing, but it’s grist for a different mill – the iPhone as it stands now is in the end more likely to disempower than to give rise to other outcomes. Despite what I had naively imagined here, I couldn’t even use its WiFi before registering it with AT&T. Registered, it sure seems like a king-hell everyware device, but before provisioning, it was an inert brick. And that sense of playing footsie with the status quo left a nasty, nasty residue.
So, summing up: truckloads of fun. Effortless. Elegant. Seductive. Bound to become indispensible. Far and away the most beautiful experience of unboxing and of use of any mobile device I’ve ever laid a finger on. Destined to redefine what we think of as a “phone” – if, that is, it hasn’t already. Will definitely get you lots of attention; will, in fact, trigger the most wonderful conversations, with perfect (and, if my experiences so far are any indication, highly attractive) strangers, in the middle of the street. You will learn to know and love the cloth with which you wipe away greasy fingerprints. Instantly makes everyone else’s device look dowdy, to the point that your friends will all be forced to hide their N95s and whatnot. Not nearly as non-Evil as I’d like. Make of all this what you will.