Saturday, July 12, 2008

O blessed iPhone

My grandfather was impressed by airplanes. Of course, he was born in 1895 and grew up in Tomsk, Siberia. Freedom and electricity were pretty big deals, too. But whenever I arrived by jet at JFK airport in New York in the 1960s, it was an occasion. Sure, his grandson was arriving from Arizona for a summer at Seagate. But, ox carts be damned, look how he came!

Well, you know you're feeling older when technology surprises you, when it outpaces your wildest imagination. Take cell phones, for example. During my lifetime they have gone from science fiction (a la the communicators on the original Star Trek) to clunky imitations of real phones (remember the big box mobile phones of th
e George Herbert Walker Bush era?) to the iPhone 3G, which Apple's Steve Jobs calls "the internet in your pocket." (Speaking of wild imaginings, the -- um -- internet?)

Back in 2001, Marilyn and I bought our first cell phone. It was a Motorola Timeport. The name was absolute Sta
r Trek. It flipped open like Kirk's communicator. It had a screen with bright green display, which was forward-thinking back at the turn of the century, when most cell phones had dull black-on-gray LCDs. And it did a whole lot of stuff, things that would have dazzled Lt. Uhuru, the communications officer of the Enterprise.

That's another way you know you're getting older: When things like phones have functions you didn't know existed, and when they tend to baffle you, and when they require glasses to attempt. (There are ads here for a cell phone called "Jitterbug" which is intended for old people, has big numbers, and doesn't do a lot besides make ca
lls. Not wanting to cross entirely into codgerdom, I have refused to even consider the thought of getting such a, er, simple and functional device.)

For seven long years we used our trusty Timeport, which continued to function even though the "4" key began to fall into the body of the phone. Then, early in June, we went to the Verizon store and looked at the phones. Each one was smaller, thinner, and more complex than the next. If you have fingers the size of pencil lead and the eyesight of a spy satellite, you can work them. Other than that, they were unremarkable. The display screens were tiny and hard to read, web pages that loaded looked disjointed, not unlike they do when they load at home and there are several errors on the page.

Then we went to the Apple store. Now, I am not an Apple groupie. I prefer PC to Mac (sorry, but no delete
key?). The employees at the Apple store tend to look a bit like members of a cult, outfitted in light blue T-shirts emblazoned with the words "I could talk about this stuff all day." At any moment I expected to be asked, "Have you heard about the Rev. Steve Jobs?"

So it was with a ce
rtain amount of skepticism that we both approached the iPhone display. "Twaddle!" I muttered. "Hype!"

But within about five minutes we were in love. It was sensible. It was intuitive. It had a big screen, for a cell phone, and you could "dial" the numbers without pressing all the numbers around it. The web interface looked like the web. It had Google. You could search for "pho Phoenix," have 20 Vietnamese restaurants show up on a map, then touch one
, which would bring up a display showing the phone number as well as the website of the restaurant. You could touch the phone number to dial the restaurant, then ask the map to show you how to get there from the Apple store. It did everything but cook dinner.

Lest you think locating food is all it's good for, this "internet in your pocket" is a godsend for eBay sellers. Countless have been the times that we have run across a pile of something and said to ourselves "I wonder if this will sell on eBay." Now, envisioning God's gift to communication in our paws, we realized we could easily go to eBay and find out. It would pay for itself in a month.

Rev. Jobs, take my money! I'll sign over anyth
ing to have one of these magical devices!

But they were out of them. They had been out for a month. "Steve has
a big announcement next Monday," a starry-eyed young man confided. "We think it's the new iPhone 3G."

And so it was. And Steve described the improvements and new features. And
they were good. And it was half the price of the old iPhone. And we fell upon our knees and gave thanks.

And this is why we arrived at 7:15 a.m. on F
riday at the AT&T store in Flagstaff, Arizona. Now, Flagstaff is not a big city. It has less than 100,000 people. But it's the biggest thing for hundreds of miles in any direction, so it gets an AT&T store. And they get iPhones. There were a grand total of 15 people in line when we got there, 35 by the time the doors opened. As they say in questionable massage parlors, everyone had a "happy ending."

And so the little darling is at home now, wanting to connect to our in-home network but willing to bring us the net via AT&T (whic
h means we also have a backup way to get online the next time our $%@#! internet provider crashes). We have set up voice mail, which could not have been easier and which also is visual as well as aural. We went to eBay and saved it as an icon on the home screen of the phone. We have located pho in Denver.

It also takes pictures and plays music and synchronizes with your e-mail account and seems to burble when you call it (which I think is actually the vibrate function).

Like my grandpa, I have reached the age when I am, quite simply, blown away.