So I did it.
It felt like a betrayal.
Very mucky. And it cost a lot (when I am used to getting it “free”).
Absolutely fed up with O2‘s hopeless upgrade options, I decided to buy a new phone. Apparently I have been eligible for an upgrade since 2006. That simply isn’t so, as I have had two phones since then, but neither appear to be registered on their system. No matter how many times I tell them, each call to their perky, perfectly-mannered team (“FFS, yes, you can call me Ben!”) is like a bizarrely personal production of Groundhog Day for phone geeks.
So, having read completely contrary accounts as to whether O2 intend to offer the phone I wanted, and thinking I might try speaking Esperanto to the customer services team next time to see if I can be any more comprehensible, I took the plunge and ordered online from Nokia. My N900 arrived promptly and, after a couple of days playing with it, I can safely say it is the most fascinating and powerful little gadget I’ve ever had.
To be clear: I am in love. Not the girly sort of romantic love that geekdom is infamously inept at. This is hardcore, soul-shaking gizmo love. Processing passion. Firmware rapture.
Of course, some people don’t get phones (I need to be careful here as the über geeks will remind me the N900 is not a mobile phone but an internet tablet with mobile telephony added). So I thought I would try a car analogy – with a view to winding up iPhone users. I should warn that this enterprise comes with health warnings: I don’t drive.
I think most ordinary folk are happy enough to own a phone that makes calls and that can send the occasional text message. They are after something simple and basic and functional. They are not interested in hacking it to pieces (we are talking coding, programming and general fiddling here rather than kindling axes) and are content for it to simply work.
That is: WORK.
This sort of phone is so common – because it is such a good ordinary workhorse – that it is practically invisible. To my mind this is the Ford Fiesta of phones: the Nokia N1100. If they were insects they would be Water Bears (that’s tardigrades to all you biologists) – prolific, unnoticed and utterly survivable. Thousands of aunties and grandparents the world over keep them neatly packed in their boxes for “emergencies”. Others, who have long since upgraded, have their N1100s languishing in a drawer – but only in stasis, ready to be reanimated the moment that flash capacitive screen decides it has been subject to one sticky finger too many.
The Flash Git
For some, the priorities are different. Being cool is a very serious consideration, particularly if “cool” can be dressed up as “useful“.
I can’t help it but every time I think of the iPhone I get this image of 1985, getting the bus to the Romford ABC to see Rocky IV and pimped out Ford Escorts (believe me – it is as bad as it sounds). All the cool kids have one – boy do you know they have one. And all the rest of us loser kids should want one (I did my 80s casual clothes shopping at Liberal Party jumble sales on a Saturday morning so no iPhone for guessing which category I fall into).
I don’t know if it is the contrarian in me, but for that reason alone I’ve held out against the entreaties of the Esperanto speakers of O2 and the various friends and colleagues who have evangelised about their iPhones and resisted the temptation to join the iHerd. XR3i, spoilers, alloy wheels, Ghia, Cabriolet… The iPhone has it all and in spades and just as the 80s cool kids used to congregate in gangs to check out the latest in Escort bling, so now iPhone users entertain their mates with their iFart and iSteam apps.
And yes – it is cool.
And no – I can’t pull it off.
(I also admit to a modicum of nervousness at this particular analogy as there is probably an equation that relates the number of iPhone-owning friends and relatives I have to my Escort-loving girlfriend in order to produce an accurate indication of the likely diminution of my social circle.)
The Power Geek Enthusiast
So this is where the self-styled l33t haxx0r ends up.
It’s not simple or bling that counts here.
To qualify for the ultra special category of Power Geek Enthusiast, you need raw horsepower, complexity and a love of Saturday mornings drowning in invective, epithets and machine love as you tinker under the bonnet. For me, the N900 is the Ford Capri of mobile phones (and yes – for me it is still easiest to call it a mobile phone). Why have a 1.6L when you can pack a 3.0 V6? The N900 is the sort of gadget those of us who fantasize about being secret agents have dreamed of – a phone and pocket computer combined, which we can use to save the world. Let’s face it. You wouldn’t have caught Bodie and Doyle driving Escorts – they were Capri men through and through (if you don’t believe me, you can check out their carpool here). If The Professionals were reinvented for the 21st Century you can bet your ass they’d be carrying N900s – not iPhones!
Read this piece from one Capri lover. Feel the passion? It could never be an iPhone.
Actually, sod saving the world. The N900 is for all those of us who believe that one day we might just take over the world – and need a super-techno gadget to help us do so…
And just in case any of you think you still want to chance an iPhone, just take a look at this clip below… Go on… I tell you – all the uncool kids are laughing now!
Very good article. I too have resisted the “wolf in sheep” device known as the iPhone. I use a few analogies when discussing Apple’s device with others. Replace discussing with arguing and that may be a bit more true, but anyway.
The iPhone is like AOL – You recommend AOL to grand parents and computer illiterate people whom need the coddling, hand-holding and safety net that are built into the product. Much like the iPhone. Sure, it brought with it a multi-touch interface that isn’t needed for a screen that size, but aside from that and the slick UI, not a thing else had any innovation from the strictly US-focused company.
Yet all we hear about are the good things it does, yet when you ask an owner what it can do, you get shown examples of games, useless apps and of course, pinch to zoom. Rarely anything more. How about browsing any and all websites? How about being able to install whatever you want on the phone? How about being able to use the touchscreen when it’s close to freezing outside, without removing your gloves? How about writing recognition? A decent camera with flash? Another instance that actually utilizes multi-touch in a serious manner, and not just some gimmick?
I hate the iPhone, but not without good reason. Apple is a company that force feeds it’s consumers what THEY think the consumer wants. They do not want you to do anything they feel can threaten that control over you, nor anything that strays far from what they believe is “necessary!” The sooner consumers wake up to that fact, the quicker Apple will be forced to come out with a halfway decent product that appeals to everyone, not just the silly sheep who are easily swayed with “cool gimmicks!”
I do wish Apple’s zeal for putting out a product that works almost flawlessly could be incorporated by some other companies, and I do understand part of that flawless nature comes with their control and restrictions, but really? When Jailbreaking your product is how most people get real functional use out of it, the company that made the product needs to take that to heart. As does the consumer who has to break laws to get it to do what they want!
Again, thanks for the article, sorry about my novel underneath it! 🙂
The novel is welcome and I largely agree with you.
The thing that excites me most about the N900 is the way that it has been thrown out there for anyone to play with, on an operating system that is an incarnation of one already familiar to hundreds of thousands of bedroom programmers (I wish I had the head for it). Nokia’s is a very different philosophy that basically lets you make of it what you will, compared to the control and restrictions of Apple that you refer to. Some people see that as unfinished and unsupported – and I’d be the first to say that there is a lot still to do with the N900 – but that is actually the point: it isn’t designed to be finished. Having only been on release a few days (pre-launch models with a few hundred early coders), the creativity on the Maemo.org community boards is astounding and it is a real revelation to see the evolution of something in this way. There is also plenty of honest criticism of Nokia (and the N900) which I think is healthy.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – much appreciated. 🙂
I had the same thoughts when I was reading some of the reviews on the N900 from “popular” sites that were calling this device I am typing on right now an “incomplete” product and just shook my head. Apple has created this..false need for apps, by they themselves releasing an unfinished product, yet a lot of people cheer them on and pay gladly. I just don’t get it!