Where were you, our grandchildren will say, when Steve launched the iPhone? We'll chuckle over our Meerschaum Hashish iPipes, take a breezy puff, and say, "Well, kids… I was watching the live blogging feeds like everyone else, but let me tell you what it felt like when Steve dropped the bomb on us…"
Watching Steve Jobs play the Apple faithful like a skilled masseur can be quite embarrassing if you're not in the club. To describe the audience that comes to praise him in MacWorld as "adoring" isn't quite up to the mark. Apple fans hang on his every word like teenyboppers watching their favourite boy band. I was watching it being live blogged on Engadget.com, and the comments from the assembled Apple faithful were downright lewd. My favourite was the person who, exhausted by his rapture at the announcement of the iPhone, wrote, "I think I need a towel and a cigarette".
Exactly how does Steve provide such a pleasant, almost sexual, release to his willing audience, and why is the whole thing so overtly passionate and emotional? The truth is that Steve is the Barry iPod White of tech. He makes sweet tech love to his geek audience and they purr with pleasure as he gives them exactly what they want, when they want it. The sense that the Apple launches are a seduction came through in my other favourite line from the iPhone event. Steve put up a slide about one person's reaction to seeing the iPhone's magical scrolling, cool music features, innovative phone interface and superior Web browsing capabilities: "You had me at scrolling." Aw. His audience are all Renée Zellweger, tearfully welcoming back their Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire.
There's one physical gesture -- and one feature of the phone -- that sums up what Apple fans want. Steve delivered it powerfully in San Francisco last Tuesday. You see, he set his sights high with the iPhone: he knew he could do the iPod thing, and once you're on OS X with a great screen, doing the Internet communicator via the Safari browser should be entirely possible. The real creative challenge was thinking differently about the actual phone interface. How do you do that? Well, how about first principle: how do you turn the damn thing on? To turn on the iPhone, you run your finger across the touch-sensitive screen as though moving an imaginary slider.
If you watch the video of Steve's speech, you can hear the audience issue a deep, relieved, amused sigh of wonder when they see this gesture. Watching the speech in our office, my colleagues and I burst out laughing when we saw the elegance and simplicity of this choice. It's brilliant, and it also perfectly captures the incredible cool smugness of the Apple interface. Like lazy Gods, the Apple user moves his or her fingers, and the machine springs into life.
The funny thing is I already have a phone that I quite like that does pretty much everything the iPhone will do, albeit with half the elegance, much less performance and very little of the style of Apple's new toy. My Palm Treo 650 will play music, after a fashion, on its Real Player software. It has a touch-sensitive screen which works fine with my finger, (it has an attached stylus I rarely use.) It also has Blazer, a perfectly good browser that I use to access Google. It has all my emails, contacts and a calendar as well as syncs via Goodlink software to my corporate Outlook account. It's basically an iPhone. So what's the fuss?
Well, when I take out the Palm Treo 650 people laugh and say, "That thing looks like a TV, not a phone." It's not enormous, but it looks enormous next to today's razor-thin phones. One look at the keyboard and you think, "tragic PC geek who doesn't ever, ever get laid." There's an excellent Web site called Treonauts devoted to these phones, and while I might surf there to check out what leather holster to carry my Treo in, gunslinger style, on the belt of my Gap chinos, I wouldn't want anyone I care about -- and certainly no woman I care about -- to see me visit the site because it's impossibly, tragically, Dilbertly geeky.
With the iPhone, I can have all the same features but with design-led style, ease of use and Star Trek glamour. Like the iPod, the iPhone looks like alien technology, sent from another galaxy to teach mere humans how products should be made. There are real advances here: getting Mac OS X running on a device this small is impressive. But it's the overall packaging, the attention to detail, the sheer stylish grandeur of the thing, summed up in that elegant finger gesture to turn the device on, that made all those Apple 'fanbois' (and, if you haven't guessed yet, me) purr as Steve ruffled our hair and pinched our cheeks and told us we were beautiful.
I want one. All the geeks I know want one. Once it's been delivered I'll wager long odds we'll discover some tragic flaws: perhaps battery life, perhaps screw-ups with carriers. Maybe one of the sensors will fail, and there will be mass recalls. Who cares? It won't matter. I'm on my third iPod. The first two broke. But I keep going back for more because I, along with several million other love-lorn geeks, have been utterly, utterly had by a sweet-talking billionaire in a black polo neck. We love him. He completes us. And he had us at scrolling.