Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Apple's iPhone - only one reason why I won't (until...)

Apple's iPhone will be to mobile devices as the Mac is to personal computing.

Like most people, I've had a bunch of different mobile devices over the past 10 years or so. At first, they were just phones, but now? I like the basics, so I have an old Nokia 3220 - just about as basic a phone as you can get today. I use it as a travel alarm and I make phone calls with it. It has a camera, which I use mostly to create wallpaper for the phone. No PDA. It works anywhere in the world.

I also have £19.95 mp3 player that I bought at Heathrow Airport. I can drag and drop music to it from the iTunes player (or the O/S), record face-to-face interviews using the built-in microphone, digitize music with it via stereo line-in or record music from the built in FM radio. Way more than the iPod, for way less money (when will Apple put encoding into the iPod?!).

Simplicity rules my computing experience also. When it comes to my computer, I find Windows totally unusable. Windows does not accommodate the user - the user has to accommodate Windows. As close as it gets to helping is when it says something like "You don't seem to have an Internet connection - would you like to use the connection wizard to find it?" OK. So why the blank do I need to give this little wizard guy (which looks more like a dialog box than a wizard) my "permission" to find an Internet connection?

In contrast, when I first opened my 3 year old Powerbook G4 and hit the power switch, it fired up and asked me whether I was using DSL, cable or some other connection. When I answered the question, the next screen asked me to register the computer. It had automagically found the Internet. It didn't ask me if I had the drivers for the third-party wireless router in the house. In about two minutes, I was using my computer. Later, using Firewire, the new computer transferred everything from the old computer, including all my software, files, preferences, serial numbers, everything. If this were Windows, I'd probably still be transferring files (and why does Windows still have a file manager?!). By the way, it has crashed only a couple of times since 2004, when running Microsoft Office.

So simplicity and minimalism have always driven my technology decisions. Back in the '80s, computer-savviness would win arguments and impress your friends, but nobody really cares now (unless they are insufferable geeks, which is OK, but let's keep that in its place).

My take on "devices" is that they're supposed to make you more powerful while simplifying your life, not make you feel small and weak for not understanding their commands or make your life more complicated.

This is EXACTLY why I would consider an iPhone. The fact that the iPhone doesn't have some of the features that non-iPhones have (like GPS) doesn't matter to me. The whole "missing features" discussion misses the point altogether. As for GPS, if I needed directions I'd use the Web (it's an iPhone, for Pete's sake) and get a map.

So here is the point: Apple's real product isn't computers, phones, set-top boxes or media players. It isn't even hardware or software, although it is intellectual property.

Apple's REAL product is HUMAN FACTORS ENGINEERING. Not "usability engineering." The latter is what Microsoft does. If you've ever been subject to a Microsoft usability study, you know that Microsoft spends lavishly on usbility. Their studios are to make a product manager drool (I know: as a product manager, I've conducted usability studies). But Microsoft's usability testing makes sure that people understand the tasks that their software puts you through. It doesn't promote the kind of 'out of the box' thinking that true Human Factors Engineering does.

So yes, I would buy another dose of Apple's peerless Human Factors Engineering, in the form of an iPhone. Except for one thing. They signed an exclusive with AT&T. I will never, ever buy another product or service from AT&T. Ever again. In my life. Why? Because, over the course of thirty years, inept management turned one of America's greatest companies into a shell of its former self.

I think that Divestiture was right, but in the years subsequent, it seemed that the company did everything it possibly could do - wrong - by failing in virtually every business it stayed in, while spinning out is successful ones. Until finally, AT&T was so weak and clueless that it allowed SBC, the predatory champion of "Revestiture" (thanks to Gary Arlen for inventing that term) to ingest its bones and take over its name.

So yes, it's now a different AT&T, but between its former cluelessness and its current arrogance, I won't buy from them. And I won't even get into how AT&T allowed itself to be used by Bush's NSA to spy on Americans.

So, if Apple ever signs with Deutsche Telekom, maybe I'll buy an iPhone in Europe and bring it home, where I can use it with my existing T-Mobile account. Hopefully they don't hit me up for roaming.

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