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You & Your iPhone: The Perfect Relationship?

Mark Simpson on the MEphone

(Arena Hommes Plus, Winter 2007)

Imagine the perfect relationship.

Imagine a relationship so perfect that it will be the only one you need. One that is better and cooler and smarter than all the rest. A relationship that will make you the envy of your friends and the centre of attention at dinner parties. Imagine a relationship that is entirely controlled by you.

A relationship, in fact, that is – finally! – ALL about you. (I know I have.)

Imagine the iPhone.

The perfect lover. The perfect friend. The perfect child. The perfect accessory. The perfect kit. The perfect kick. Walking, talking technosexual porn.

Due to be launched in the UK this autumn, after provoking near-hysteria on its release in the US this summer, Apple’s iPhone is unquestionably an object of desire. Perhaps the object of desire (so far) of the 21st Century. You ache for one, admit it. You feel hollow and empty and ugly and unplugged without one. You would flog your dear old Nan’s internal organs on Ebay just to hold one for a few precious seconds.

You may tell yourself it appeals to you because it is a wonderful synergy of iPod, email terminal, Web browser, video player, camera, Palm-type organizer and, oh yes, mobile phone. Or you may kid yourself that you yearn to possess it because it has really fast software that is menu-free and surprisingly simple to use. Or because you can see your voicemails listed on-screen like emails (and decide who you deign to listen to pleading for a response). Or because it has the best Wi-Fi pickup available on a mobile device. Or because it is a thing of appetising Apple-flavoured gorgeousness.

You may even tell yourself that it represents a technological revolution – that if mobiles were Kirk’s communicator, the iPhone is Spock’s Tricorder but smaller and better and even cooler.

But really, you know deep down that the iPhone is something you want because, just like the iPod, it’s all about YOU. And what a wonderful, irresistible, indispensable – and priceless – thing you are!

The iPhone is really the Iphone. It’s a direct line to yourself. Now, isn’t that a call we all want to take? Anytime, anyplace? If the iPod was such a wonderful way of magicking away millions of people in the busy, hostile metropolis, full as it is of things that have the effrontery to be non-you, and curling up instead with several gigabytes of you on the subway or the plane – how much better will the iPhone be at blotting out the evidence of other people’s existence!

In fact, the iPhone assimilates the ‘real’ world to your imagined one: YouTube, iTunes, and even your ‘iFriends’ will become part of your digital, portable, solipsism of sounds and hypnotic lights.

No, no, no, you say. You misunderstand me. I’m a hardware man. Practical. That ARM 1176 CPU is the thing. Or the 2 Megapixel camera. Or the 4/8 GB internal flash memory. Or Bluetooth 2.0. Or the Very High Resolution 3.5″ (320×480 px at 160 ppi) LCD floats my boat.

Yeah, right. The hardware on the iPhone you really covet is the silky touch-sensitive optical quality glass screen. The screen which will literally light up your face – and reflect it back when dark. Touch screens aren’t an Apple innovation, of course. LG’s sleek Prada phone has a touch-sensitive screen – and in fact LG have, rather bitterly, accused Apple of stealing their design. But Apple have succeeded in turning it into… a beautiful, if slightly ill relationship.

Coquettishly, the screen refuses to respond unless you touch it with bare skin. Gloved fingers or stylus produce not a flicker. There is only one button – the ‘Home’ button. Typing has to be done by tapping the screen. Scrolling can only be performed by stroking the screen. Zooming in and out by pinching. Touch me. Stroke me. Caress me. I’m always here for you. I share all your interests – and all your secrets. We even have the same friends. We were meant for one another. Don’t look away!!

The iPhone is the adult, incestuous, convergent Tamagotchi. Your very own technobaby to gaze at, fuss over and flirt with endlessly. One that, moreover, reproduces you, disseminating you and your thoughts out into the world. How could anyone not want one? American consumerism has finally achieved its greatest ambition, the thing it has been working towards ever since Edison recorded the first human voice – to replace scratchy analogue people with shiny digital things. iRobot anyone? (Actually, there’s already an iRobot, an ‘intelligent’ automatic hoover – and, like you, I want one of those in my lazy, lonely life too.)

There’s only one small problem with this iPhone. No, not the fact you can’t send MMS, or make videos. Or voice-dial. Or watch Flash videos or handle Java. Or that typing on the touch sensitive virtual keyboard is rather ttrucky. No. It’s much worse than that. Sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but… it’s not your baby at all.

It’s Steve Job’s baby. The iPhone is something of an iCuckoo.

Apple are such teases. They coo in your ear that their products are all about YOU, but really they’re all about APPLE. Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, may well be God, but he is a jealous and selfish God that will countenance no others. Itunes cannot be played on other devices. Likewise the iPhone won’t play non Apple software and, for the moment, you’re tied into a single network that offer Apple all the things they demanded but might not be offering you very much in the way of price plans, coverage, or download speeds. And, like the iPod, you can’t even replace the battery yourself. You have to give custody of your pride and joy – full of all your love and your sins – to Apple to do that (and pay them a fee for the privilege).

So much for the perfect relationship. To paraphrase Princess Di, there are two people in this marriage – you and Steve Jobs. And it’s a bit crowded.

(Special thanks to DAKrolak)

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