Sunday, July 11, 2010

(empo-tymshft) The iPhone *is* a phone - those old things attached to the wall are *not* phones

When I was growing up, a phone was something that was tied to a wall.

While this is still true for some people today, for many of us a phone is often something that you carry on your belt or in your purse.

Or is it?

Louis Gray and Robert Scoble have been having a friendly weekend battle over phone platforms. Gray, although an admirer of Steve Jobs, has decided to move toward the Android platform. Scoble, on the other hand, has stuck with Apple's iPhone platform. In the course of his post on the topic, Scoble mentioned the following:

I hate AT&T’s quality, but I don’t hate it enough to leave. I didn’t really understand that, but then I started keeping track of how often I use voice. On my phone I only use voice about 5% of the time I use my iPhone. Almost all the rest of the time I’m using it for Twitter, to read news, to interact with apps, to play games, to Facetime with my sons/wife, etc. In non-voice parts of using the iPhone AT&T’s lack of quality of service doesn’t matter at all. Most of the time I’m doing those kinds of things I’m on wifi anyway. To gain better voice quality, which I only use about 5% of the time, I’d have to give up a better experience on the web and in apps, which just isn’t acceptable to me.

In his post, Louis Gray made a similar point:

Most, thanks to my derogatory comments against AT&T (rightly deserved, I may add), thought I switched from my AT&T-fed iPhone to my Sprint contract on the HTC EVO and new HTC Hero because of the many frequent issues with the carrier. This is not true. Yes, AT&T has been dramatically underdelivering in terms of quality and functionality, but this did not drive me away from Apple as much as the lack of choice did. Not even the announcement of an imminent offering of a Verizon iPhone could have kept me on Apple.

But we have to hand it to Glen Campbell to say the one thing that Gray and Scoble implied, but didn't explicitly say. After reading about their experiences and thinking about his own, Glen Campbell wrote his own post. The title? "The iPhone is not a phone."

And the Android phones aren't phones either.

Even my not-so-smart env3 isn't a "phone" in the classic sense of the term. Sure, I use my phone for voice more than 5% of the time, but often I use it for things that I couldn't even have dreamed of back in the 1970s. I've already mentioned how I used it to find Wisk detergent.

I have another example. On Sunday afternoon I was meeting someone for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. The person that I was meeting obviously wanted to know where he was supposed to go. He called me (yes, via voice) on my cell phone to ask the name and address of the restaurant, and I told him that I'd call him back in a few minutes.

As it turned out, I didn't know the name and address of the restaurant either. All that I knew was that the restaurant was in Victoria Gardens, across the street from the AMC theater. (It turns out that this was the wrong restaurant, but that's another story.) After my voice call ended, I started my mobile web browser, went to mobile Google Maps, and typed "Japanese 91739" into the search box. That search gave me TWO Japanese restaurants on North Mainstreet, so I had to perform another search to find where the AMC theater was, and therefore figure out which of the two restaurants was actually across the street from the theater.

Sounds like something else to me. In essence, Glen Campbell is right when he says that the iPhone (or whatever) is not a phone.

Or is he?

Maybe those things that are still tied to the wall aren't phones. Perhaps they're voice communication devices, and NOT phones.

As technology evolves, the definitions of items can change. The thing that we thought of as a "computer" around 1950 is vastly different than most things that are called a "computer" in 2010. In fact, a valid argument can be made that the 1950 era item is not a computer because it doesn't have a pointing device, web access, or a reasonable amount of internal storage.

Similarly, the "television" of 1950 is vastly different than the "television" of 2010. Again, someone could argue that a cabinet in which the screen takes up a small portion of the entire device isn't really a television. Especially since it doesn't show color images or support connections to a satellite system.

So perhaps we can argue that Ma Bell's standard leased item is NOT a phone. Not only are you unable to transfer Ma Bell's data to another system - it doesn't even have any data for you to transfer to another system! And its input system is severely deficient - any REAL phone would at least allow you to enter letters such as A, B, and C. (And to tell the difference between an "A" and a "B.")

So perhaps Glen is wrong, and the iPhone IS a phone. Some of us just have a stunted understanding of what a "phone" is.
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