Before we begin, I should clear something up. Like a lot of autistic lads around my age, I had an interest in some things until I dug deep enough or saw them change enough to recoil in horror. Information techology, or rather the way it is implemented today, is one of those things. I could go on for a while about how it came to be this way, but it is not really all that relevant here. The reason I mention it is because I want you to understand where I am coming from when I talk about the new iPhone and certain details thereof.
In prior times, I have read documents in which Microsoft’s approach to programming Windows and the myriad of “utilities” that are thrown in with it is likened to the design of a Swiss Army Knife. That is, by the time you finish struggling with the in-built screwdrivers, corkscrews, or scissors, you find yourself wishing for just one of each specialised tool that happens to be good. One with a bit of leverage or force. Or to paraphrase something that Anton Chigurh says through Javier Bardem‘s mouth during the Coen Brothers’ awesome adaptation of No Country For Old Men, the all-in-one approach to programs and operating systems is foolish. You pick the one right tool for the job.
That, to a great extent, was how I felt about the Sony Xperia X10 mobile ‘phone and the operating system that drove it, namely Android. Indeed, much of my experience with Android was a direct rebuke to the whole “‘open source’ == automatically better” idea that drives the whole open source movement on the web these days. Problem is, as problematic and bad as so-called open source software tends to be, it is never as god-awful as Microsoft software tends to end up being. Every time I even look at a ‘phone that is powered by Microsoft software, I remember the stories I have heard concerning such folks as Paris Hilton having the contents of their ‘phone books released to parties unknown through a glitch or failing in their Microsoft-driven ‘phones.
Given that all mobile ‘phones are now more or less expected to be able to run software, take photographs, keep the user aware of their location, and more besides, it is laying bare just how badly shortchanged we have been compared to the future we were all promised when I was a child. Although some good future-based science fictions have provided explanations as to how devices would be powered, I doubt that anyone who worked on such naïve forays into the genre as Lost In Space or The Jetsons would call having to recharge a telecommunications device once a day a fulfilment of their dreams. It really is time that people in the infotech industry either find more cost-efficient ways to power their devices or stop thinking of the ridiculously bloated processor clock rates as a yardstick in a pissing competition. They should, in fact, be thinking of it as a liability, given its impact upon power consumption.
But that is not exactly the point I want to go into here. What I want to talk about with you, the reader, and anyone else with ears to hear, is why a person who grew up around a computer would adopt both the OS X software platform and the Apple iPhone, complete with its iOS ‘phone software.
Instead of throwing out a long stream of words about my perspective on computing, I instead want to give you an analogy that will likely make my view a little clearer. Let us say for example that when you get in your car, rather than it allowing you to manually drive it to wherever you wish to go, it instead simply takes you were you wish to go by voice command. All spur-of-the-moment decisions such as which lane to get into and when are removed. But there is a catch. The car’s artificial intelligence likes to cut things really close. Having no regard for how other Humans might respond, it will steer through turns at the last possible second, cutting things so tightly and with seeming disregard for the passengers’ well-being that by the time one arrives at their destination, one is a quivering, anxious mess. Or imagine a car with this automation that, when told by a passenger that said passenger wants to go here, the car responds with the equivalent of no, stuff you, I want to take you there.
Whilst I have waxed lyrical a lot on how much more efficient and user-serving Apple’s OS X has proven from my point of view, I cannot deny that to some degree or other, both OS X and Windoze offer mixes of both of the problems that I have just described. But from that point of view, Android is basically a complete fukking mess. In fact, one of the reasons I stopped using my Sony Ericsson ‘phone was because I would get an endless run of messages telling me I had nine or ten “apps” that now had an update available. But pursuing these updates was not only a nightmare from the standpoint that if I prematurely exited the store, any list of the apps that still had updates available would disappear. No, sometimes even accessing the Google app store from my ‘phone was not possible. Yet they always found a way to bug me about the need for updates.
Is the iPhone 5 a case of love at first sight for me? Hardly. Like just about every electronic-based device these days, there is a distinct feeling of intolerance towards people who do things in any manner that does not exactly match that of the designer. Oh sure, it is not nearly as bad in this respect as I am continuously hearing that Windoze 8 is, but when you feel serious pains travelling through the insides of your forearms on a regular basis (especially when your blood glucose is high), any attempt to force you to use a device in a manner that you are not comfortable with comes as a slap in the face. Much like the iPod, the iPhone 5 suggests the design team have a lot to learn about providing for customis-ability. Yes, that is a proper word now. Deal with it.
Also laid bare is the simple fact that whilst the camera provided in the iPhone 5 is an improvement upon the cameras provided in earlier mobile ‘phones with this feature (or indeed many early digital cameras), it still sucks poo through a hose compared to dedicated digital cameras of the present, especially SLR ones. How much poo does it suck? Well, take the photos recently published in my entry about my non-triumphant return to Central Western Sydney as an example.
Now, many professional photographers will tell you that it is the photographer, not the equipment that they use, that makes a good picture. And they are absolutely right about that, but there is a flipside to that coin. You see, the reason I love my D5100 SLR so much is because prior to acquiring it, my control over certain settings within the cameras used was very minimal. I had little or no idea of what an f-stop was or how exposure time affected the clarity of all elements in front of the camera. For years and years whilst shooting with does-it-all beginner cameras, I never really got a chance or inclination to learn.
Once you have learned how to operate the different functions and tricks that a digital SLR camera offers, using a cameraphone, to put it bluntly, sucks. Nowhere on the iPhone are any options provided to open or close the aperture, adjust the exposure time, or change the ISO sensitivity. Hence, as you can see in the self-taken pictures I will provide with this entry, nine out of ten shots come out with extreme motion blur, overexposure, and questionable colour balance (the last of these problems, I tried to correct somewhat in Photoshop Elements).
This, sadly, is symptomatic of modern ‘phones and their approach to doing everything other than making telephone calls. Although I have not ever had a close association with an engineer, I am sure that many would agree with me when I say that a fundamental rule of engineering is that when one has a job to be done, one picks the right tool for it. This, of course, is the evolutionary and design rationale behind specialisation. A little boy who is so fascinated by the sounds of words in his native language is not going to give two fukks about what these four five-digit numbers equate to when multiplied by one another, as a parallel. And when you try to force him to give two fukks about these things he is not naturally inclined towards, the result is somewhat like the camera, GPS, and internet functions in the iPhone 5.
Does this mean the iPhone 5 is a totally unusable piece of shit? Hell no. In fact, during my unintentionally extended vacation from the online world, it proved to be a lifesaver. Being able to access at least one email account from a ‘phone, or send messages to people who might care enough to help in a bad situation, is often a lifesaver in the most literal sense.
So this obviously prompts a question. Why did I sign up for a mobile access plan that works out a little more than twice as expensive as what I previously was using? In fact, let me clarify that. When I had the Android-driven Sony XPeria X10 or whatever it is called, my access rate was “capped” at twenty-nine dollars a month. Under the terms of what I signed up for with the iPhone 5, my access fee is forty-nine dollars, with an additional ten dollar premium for the privilege of having an iPhone. Originally, when I investigated this option, I balked, wondering who the hell Apple thought they were to charge this additional price for the privilege of having one of their ‘phone products. At that time, I went with the X10 because I could not fathom the reasoning behind this premium.
Oh sure, I had said that in the past about Apple’s computing products. But it is one thing to dismiss a manufacturer’s products out of hand based on the price tag before you have tried said product, and another thing entirely to do so after.
Does the Apple company still behave like a bunch of thugs with regard to software development and publication? Absolutely. Do they confuse innovation with telling rather than giving the customer what they want? You betcha. Would they get away with such shit if the core product that they are selling, a well-designed operating system with some well-designed hardware to run it on? I sincerely doubt it.
Between the years of 1993 and 2007 or thereabouts, I did the Windoze upgrade treadmill like a good little boy, furiously trying to keep up with the constant demand to update software, upgrade hardware, update software to work with the new hardware, rinse, repeat, recycle. I hated it. At one point I even worked a job in which I was expected, as one of my duties, to maintain hardware and software in order to keep a company that trained other companies’ employees how to use the software that drove computers on the IBuM PC platform. Regular reinstalls, reformats, repartitions, and repeats of same when doing just one thing not quite right during the process occurred, got old very, very fast.
My first iMac, I purchased in the closing stages of 2007 or thereabouts, and it lasted me until the middle of 2012. During that time, not one reinstall, reformat, or drive-clearing repartition was performed. Oh, sure, the inability to take individual pieces out of the computer and replace them with new things (say, for instance, replacing the obsolete DVD-whatever drive with a BD-RE drive) was a bit of a sticking point. But you know what? If that is the price of not having to reinstall everything and then spend hours reinstalling drivers, restoring backups, and tweaking personal settings, then so be it.
So from the perspective of a person who once wanted to persue a career in techie-ness but ran screaming after years of Microshaftian hell, why do I have an iPhone 5 now? Well, sure, there are still operational annoyances, and the battery life is often appallingly short, but I use it for the same reason I believe musicians use the particular variety of instruments they use. You see, whilst a number of musicians get endorsement deals from the manufacturers of the instruments they use, some companies, such as Alembic, have what is called a no endorsement policy. The logic being that paying musicians to endorse and use your product does not go nearly as far in terms of attesting to your quality as does being able to say that professional, famous musicians are willing to pay for your product.
That, after a fashion, is one reason I would rather pay more money to own an iMac or an iPhone than knock together a cheaper iteration of a similar product. Sure, there are drawbacks, such as the tap-and-pray keyboard that “smart”phones insist on making us use. But you know what? The reason I continue to purchase Apple products is the same reason that Microshit’s products continue to dominate the market. None of the alternatives proposed by the Linux community qualify as viable for most users of either Windoze or OS X. Hence, the real reason I am now an iPhone user is because Android as it was in the iteration I saw was so shit that I ran, not walked, to iOS.
And that, friends and neighbours, is a sign of a marketplace with a real problem.