So the launch of the year has happened. I’m not referring to Vista, of course. Nor to the launch of forthcoming server-side products from Microsoft that were promised for the end of this year, but which appear to have slipped to late February 2008. Or is it that the marketing launch has moved? It’s so hard to tell these days, when a product “release” done electronically to a few favoured corporate guinea pigs just before Christmas means they met the target, even if they won’t get officially excited until nearly Easter next year. It’s all so confusing.


No, this launch was big. You couldn’t miss it, people were even stupid enough to fall for the “only two per customer” line and plonk their new purchases on Ebay, only to find there was no stock supply problem and each item lost money. I laughed into my gin & tonic when I read that.

The iPhone, for it is this, has now been dissected like no other product in computing history. It hasn’t been pounced upon by the hacker, cracker and fanboy community. Almost every blog has had something to say on the subject. A few weeks after release, it’s clear that the outrageous expectations attached to the poor thing were never going to be satisfied. It would have required the iPhone to come preloaded with a solution to world hunger and minute-by-minute maps of the ozone layer being depleted before anyone would believe it had truly delivered on the promise.

All of which is a pity. I’ve now played with one fairly seriously for well over a week, and my view has changed. At the risk of the “mindless fanboy” tag being stuck on my forehead, I have to say it’s a remarkable device. Talking to sources inside Microsoft and other phone vendors, it’s clear they’re in full-blown panic mode. They don’t know how to respond, but are putting on their best PR face, notable for the quivering edges to their mouths.

The reality is the cellphone manufacturers have been stuck in a rut. On the one hand, we’ve had the various attempts by Microsoft to come up with an OS that works well in a phone. And the company has kept failing. The usability of every one I’ve tried has been poor, because there’s an implicit reliance on the easily lost toothpick to move around the user interface. Finger operation is nasty on the cramped keyboard, and just plain horrible on the touchscreen. Worse still, there’s an explicit prevention of satisfactory end-user customisation, especially in the email accounts area, and the application software in the shape of Word, Excel and Internet Explorer are feeble. And that’s being polite.

Other manufacturers haven’t fared any better. Nokia, Sony Ericsson and the rest have come up with baubles. Their UI attempts have also verged on the laughable, and every one is different. Worse still, many have been buggy beyond belief, and they’ve had the gall to pull software support on many.

The iPhone blows them all away. Yes, I accept that a person addicted to their CrackBerry will find the soft keyboard a little annoying. Someone who dials lots of phone numbers directly might prefer a mechanical keyboard rather than looking up a contact by name. But the iPhone isn’t aimed at the Exchange Server wielding BlackBerry aficionados. It’s designed for the rest of us.

The iPod functionality is stunning. The calendaring, phone books and other data synchronisation make ActiveSync in Windows look sick. The auto-rotate, dim and so forth just ooze quality and thought. And that’s just the software. The hardware is something that can only be called magical. The touchscreen is a solid glass-like substance, with none of that nasty thin plastic layer required for a toothpick. The build quality is beyond reproach, and it feels like a million dollars.

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