iPhone as computer, revisited
August 07, 2009
When the iPhone came out, we were one of the few who didn’t parade around the idea that it was the cell-phone Messiah. Heck, the iPhone didn’t do much that our Danger Sidekick didn’t, though the user experience was admittedly cleaner. But with iPhone OS 2.0 and the realization of an open AppStore (with some issues, admittedly), the iPhone user experience is as varied as the thousands of applications available. That’s why we weren’t so much taken aback by Meg Hourihan’s comment about whether or not she would purchase an iPhone 3GS: upgrading the iPhone was akin to upgrading her computer. John Gruber was quick to confirm this idea:
A decade ago, my first PowerBook was a secondary machine to the desktop anchored at my desk. Now, my main machine is my MacBook Pro, but it feels a bit like an anchor now. My mobile secondary computer is my iPhone.
And now that we have an iPhone 3GS, we too acknowledge the shift in computing gadgetry: on the very day we activated our 3GS, our MacBook Pro’s screen refused to turn back on after we set the 3GS up, and rebooted after the most recent Safari 4 patch. It turns out that the logic board needed to be replaced, since there was a known issue with the NVidia graphics card in our 17” version of the MacBook Pro. While the repairs were done at an Apple Store an hour away, it still took a couple days to get the computer back, and in that time, we relied almost entirely on the iPhone for our internet-related tasks after work. And we weren’t very disappointed with the experience. In fact, in many ways, reliance on the 3GS versus the MacBook Pro was a relief: the device was always on us or nearby.
Now we’re hardly saying that the 3GS is an appropriate stand-in for a full-fledged computer. We still maintain that the iPhone is a poor device for inputting of most meaningful text, which is why we use the iPhone as a reader more than we rely on it to respond to people outside Twitter and SMS. But for this former purpose, the 3GS shines, because it’s snappy in most every sense of the word, and the experience of using it on the road (via 3G) is pretty much the same as using it at home on wi-fi. And that consistency makes the iPhone shine. For many, with greater storage (to hold all one’s songs, movies, and photos) and a bluetooth keyboard, the iPhone could theoretically become a replacement for the average home computer user almost entirely.
So changed were we by our forced use of the 3GS for nearly a week, we decided to offer our fixed MacBook Pro on craigslist. Not to rid ourselves of the anchor for our home computer use, but because we now find the device to be overkill for what we need to get done at home, and we see little reason not to downgrade to a smaller anchor now. Indeed, Apple’s “low-end” lineup is now ever-more attractive to us, and for the limited computer needs we have at home, we can finally agree that a 17” monitor isn’t much of a necessity now that we’re not tied to an online game that benefits from it. Thanks in great part to AppStore apps, and the rise of mobile web pages tailored to the iPhone’s display, there’s an easy case to be made for iPhone’s replacing netbooks and many common-use notebooks/desktops. Again, the only obvious items holding the iPhone back from becoming a true computer replacement is its poor input mechanic and limited storage space, but the former can easily be remedied with technology that Apple appears to have green-lighted with better Bluetooth gadget operability.
We’re still holding out for a mid-way solution between the iPhone and MacBook, and we’re hoping that the iTablet fits the bill. But in the meantime, we’re only seeing use of our 3GS go up, while our MacBook is getting lonelier by the day.