To the iPhone, With Love

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I thought I was too old for mobile -- until, last year, I got an iPhone. Yes, I was late to the game, but like millions of others I flipped over the iPhone's mix of whimsy and common sense. And like many people, I saw the iPhone as not only a breakthrough, but as a sign: Before long, this lovely device would be matched or exceeded by a fresh wave of mobile marvels.

I even went so far as to predict that Android, as an open platform, would leave iPhone in the dust. The UI was flawed but headed in roughly the same direction and would surely be lifted up by the open source community -- and a million wonderful new applications would bloom. Indeed, at Google I/O last week, efforts to accelerate Android app dev was in full swing, and by most accounts developers were fired up.

[ Don't miss Galen Gruman's Deathmatch: BlackBerry vs. iPhone, a controversial comparison of the market leaders. ]

But I was wrong. I underestimated the art and inspiration of the iPhone. You can't compare the iPhone with the beta version of Android 1.5, which arrived in InfoWorld's offices on an HTC Magic loaner device distributed at Google I/O. In fact, I am supposedly forbidden from comparing it: To get the loaner, Editor at Large Paul Krill had to sign an agreement saying that InfoWorld would not write about it in an evaluative sort of way. What does that restriction say to you?

Then there's BlackBerry Storm, a blatant attempt to generate some iPhone-like sizzle on a humdrum platform. Yes, the Storm has its fans, but most people find the button screen just plain annoying. Last week, in case you missed it, Executive Editor Galen Gruman did a very thorough comparison between the iPhone and the BlackBerry as mobile business devices. Guess which one won the day?

And finally we have the Palm Pre, set to launch this coming Saturday. I've seen the UI and it's sweet, with its own kind of flair -- as graphical and animated as the iPhone but arranged quite differently. The slide-out keyboard is nice, too. But as contributor Neil McAllister observed last summer, Palm is ill-equipped to compete for the hearts and minds of developers. And it appears that Palm has kept the Pre away from most developers as well. Not a good sign.

So we are left with the iPhone -- and next week, if rampant speculation about Apple's WWDC bears out, iPhone 3.0. Maybe it will be unveiled at WWDC; maybe it won't. Maybe 3.0 will be a leap beyond 2.0; maybe it will be an incremental advance. But please, don't change the iPhone too much.

I can't tell you how odd it feels to say that after years of spurning Apple's proprietary restrictions and cult of self-satisfied cuteness. But progress in computing is more than speeds and feeds. It's about narrowing the gap between human and machine. And until computers start reading minds, the way that happens is through the same mysterious means that a great piece of art connects the object and its observer. So far, the original masterpiece has nothing to fear from its imitators.

This story, "To the iPhone, With Love" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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