Published Aug 14, 2009

Perhaps I didn’t blog because I didn’t have anything to talk about! If that’s the case, then apparently getting a new iPhone is going to give me something to talk about. Because I love my iPhone. It really is a clever device. In fact, it reminds me of my last truly clever phone: the Nokia 3620.

In Which I Bore You With a History of the Cell Phones I’ve Owned

My first cell phone was a really awful Motorola. It was maybe the least cool phone in the world. I didn’t know anything at all about cell phones beyond that I wanted a free phone, which meant you got very little back in 1998. I picked the C520 because it had a big screen — somehow the nice people at Moto used only one line of that big screen for any information at all.

I replaced that briefly with an Ericsson that was beautiful but didn’t work because it didn’t actually support the Cingular network, even though Cingular had sold it to me. After deciding that I had to actually have a conversation on my phone, I grabbed a stylish Nokia 8290. You know, from back when cell phones were tiny and going to become small enough that you could lose them in your pocket because they were dwarfed by the pack of gum.

Deciding that my phone was a tool, not couture, I upgraded to a Nokia 3620, my first smartphone.

Thence I switched to a Treo, and, after that was stolen, to a Palm Centro. Capable, full-featured, sure, but not brilliant in any particular way. Tools that worked, more like.

What Makes the iPhone and the 3620 Brilliant

The iPhone reminds me of the 3620. Compared to what we think of as a smartphone, the 3620 wasn’t much. It had only your classic 0-9, * and # keys, and, of all things, Nokia decided to put them in a pretty circle rather than your usual configuration, so the thing was harder to use. It had exceedingly mediocre predictive text input that I turned off pretty quickly. But it had a big, bright screen, it synced with my calendar and address book, and, best of all, a thriving developer community. Thousands of programs were available online, and I could download them and install them directly from my computer! Wirelessly! Over Bluetooth! In 2003!

What was great about those programs was that they accepted what the 3620 could do, so they aimed to do very little — but do it well. I had timers,1 note-taking programs, an outliner, games, and even a personal finance program on the phone. I think it’s really the finance program that illustrates what developers did on the 3620 vs. the Palm smartphones that I got later. Since the 3620 couldn’t do a lot, the finance program was very simple — it was just there to record the transactions you did. Balances? Budget? Feh! All you could do was enter transactions into your credit card or checking register (unlimited accounts supported); then, at the end of the month, you could export the activity to a Quicken import file. It worked perfectly for me: since the phone was always with me, it was always easy to enter my transactions.

Then I switched to the Treo, which had a touchscreen and a full keyboard. Treo developers thought it was so brilliant that it should be a whole computer, so the personal finance programs there kept every little piece of data for me — budgets, balances, etc. Except it was never really that good to peck away on the Treo keyboard, so I never wanted to use one of those programs. Hey, they were overkill — I just wanted to enter my transactions! Few Treo programs were as brilliant as the 3620’s.

Now, the iPhone has no such hardware limitations, but it does have a price limitation. Everything seems to cost $0.99 in the App Store, which means that no developer has the incentive to make a big, complex program. Instead, most every app does one thing and does it very well. And that’s something I love about the iPhone; there are few things better than working with beauty.

1 I like to time my tea. To make sure it’s brewed perfectly. What’s the point if you don’t make it right?