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Six Scary Words

This week I heard six of the scariest words in the English language. The setting was the Apple store at the Chandler Fashion Mall — the big regional indoor shopping center not far from our home. Mizuki wanted to stop just to look at the new iPhone. In case you have been incommunicado during the last few months, the iPhone is Steve Jobs' effort to redesign the cellphone from the ground up — to create a whole new paradigm (I may be retired but I still recall some of the old business buzzwords — although I confess that this may be the first time I have used "paradigm" in many months).

Because it is so different from the standard cellphone, we needed to consult with one of the sales staff to understand how to operate it. The young woman (have you noticed that every salesperson in an Apple store is young?) patiently demonstrated the phone to Mizuki and me. And that is when I heard those scary words, "I love it — I want it". We were just there to look but there are slippery slopes in an Apple store and before long were were caught in the quicksand.

iPhone CaseThe very first thing that is different about an iPhone is that it must be activated online — it cannot be activated by store personnel either in the Apple store or at an ATT outlet (which is the only cellular carrier available). I don't know what someone would do if they didn't have a computer — but of course those folks would probably not constitute the target market for the iPhone.

In itself, that is not a problem for us (we have four PCs, all capable of managing the activation process). However, I was annoyed that ATT forced us to pay a $39 activation fee for the first phone and $29 for the second. I would think that online activation should be free since ATT does not have to pay store personnel for that process. Since we previously were using Alltel (where there are no such charges for store personnel to activate your phone), ATT and I got off to a bad start.

iPhone Main ScreenOnce the steam stopped coming from my ears, I noticed that the iPhone had already done its thing with iTunes and had captured my address book and calendar from Outlook and was ready for me to call someone — or check my appointments. The photo at left shows the main menu [all photos from the Internet] on the 3.5 inch (diagonal) screen, boasting a resolution of 320 x 480 at 160 pixels per inch. This must be a pre-release photo because there is one more application on ours — YouTube.

There is only one physical button on the iPhone — at the bottom — that brings up this main screen. All the other functions are selected by touching the screen with your finger. For instance to call someone, just press the phone button (looks like a telephone handset) then select a contact from your address book or touch the digits on the number pad.

iPhone Contact ListOf course then you ask about what about the fact that you have hundreds of contacts that have just been imported. Well, you can drag your finger down the right side column of letters and the list of names will scroll quickly in sync with your finger position. Then you can do the fine adjustment by stroking you finger up or down and the list scrolls with inertia, just like if you were moving a physical drum of names — quite a cool user interface feature, if you ask me. Then press the name and the detailed contact information will be displayed — touch the phone number you want to call such as home or mobile and the call is placed.

Also displayed are the email addresses and if you touch one of those, the iPhone takes you to the email composition application. A small keyboard is displayed — which looked too small for my fat fingers when I first looked at it. However, Apple uses a very ingenious letter enlargement when you touch a key — the enlargement allows you to decide if your finger is in the right place — if not, move it to the proper spot and the enlarged letter will change too. I stumbled at first but now I am getting used to it. Apple says that before long, you will be using both thumbs and typing quite quickly. We'll see.

Interestingly, part of your monthly fee to ATT is for the wireless Internet access on the Edge network. Honestly, this is one of the disappointments in that this network is not as fast as you might be used to on your computer. Better than dial-up but not as good as normal wireless. However, the iPhone can access your (or any publicly accessible) wireless network — and the speed is much better. That comes into play not just with email but also with YouTube.

iPhone YouTubeIn case you haven't been introduced to YouTube, it is a video sharing website that has become extremely popular with many new "stars" of a brand new medium. In fact, it has become so popular that Google bought the company. If you have never seen it, here is a cute sample of a baby laughing — just click here.

One of the really cool user interface features is that the iPhone senses if it is being held vertically or horizontally. When watching a video, it is often preferable to hold it horizontally (also true when looking at photos).

Ordinarily, I might consider the YouTube feature as a cute extra that I really would not use very often. But then I think about waiting in a doctor's office. With only ancient magazines to read. Maybe then a little YouTube might be entertaining.

Well, I have gone on and on — to the point that you might think I am getting a commission to sell these things. Hmmm, interesting idea. But no, I just have to say that I am impressed with this new paradigm. So my advice to you is to stay out of the Apple store — otherwise you might hear those six scary words — from your spouse or even from yourself.

 Life is good.

 B. David