20121205-070908.jpgTHE iPHONE 5

For some time now Mary has been lobbying for the purchase of a “smart” phone – one of those cellular phones that is capable of a myriad of functions in addition to run-of-the-mill phone calls. They are the electronic-age equivalent of the Swiss Army knife. Last Saturday I succumbed and we took the plunge by jumping into the deep end. We bought the current Albert Einstein of smart phones, the new Apple iPhone 5.

There were a number of instinctual hurdles that had to be surmounted before I came around. At the top of the list has to be my gut-level revulsion to being locked into a two-year service contract. At $80 to $150 per month these contracts approach home mortgages in the cumulative toll they take on one’s bank account. In particular, the long list of taxes masquerading as “fees” that inflate an $80 bill to $100 raises my hackles.

And then there is my natural aversion to engaging in the kind of aimless telephone chatter that seems to be the staple diet of so many cell phone users. I’m pretty much a takin’-care-of-business, get-to-the-point telephone user. A device that enhances the cultivation of a network of telephone buddies holds no appeal for me. This is perhaps best illustrated by my cell phone bill for all of last year: <$100. When Trac Phone came out with their pre-paid phone cards I was a natural fit.

My conversion was jump started in 2011 when I hiked much of the Pacific Crest Trail with a guy who had an iPhone. He used that phone for an incredible number of functions: telephone, camera, email, maps, weather updates, shopping, music, audiobooks, locating trailside resources, and much, much more.

Another turning point was our recent 5000-mile bicycle ride across the U.S. One of the biggest challenges we faced was intelligence (hold the laughter, I'm talking about information gathering.) Like the Conestoga wagoneers of old, we had to always make sure that food, water, and camping resources were available each day. Had we had a smart phone this job would have been much easier than it was.

Mary's most persuasive argument was referring to our imminent departure (mid-January) on an extensive, months-long sojourn through the Southwest in our RV. We expect to be out of WiFi range much of the time and the iPhone will enable us to email and scout the road ahead for Wal Marts and other resources.

We've only had this thing for a few days and I still have a lot to learn about its capabilities but I'm already greatly impressed. (And, yes, Hyekyung, I bought a copy of My iPhone to guide me through this daunting task. [See October 31 blog entry to read about Hyekyung’s opinion of this.]) One of the things this hunk of wizardry can do is understand everyday speech and intelligently respond to it (the Siri function.) The user can say, for example, “Where is the closest Mexican restaurant?” and within a few seconds the appropriate information is displayed and spoken!

Another feature that we have been quick to take advantage of is the ability to access a nearly infinite number of radio stations from around the world. Our iPhone is recharged when we’re home on a docking station that has nice speakers so we use it to listen to radio stations from New York and Los Angeles (or anywhere else.)

And then there is the quantum leap in price comparison capability offered by applications like Red Laser that enable real-time comparisons in the various prices offered by different retailers. This access to better information for the shopper is the equivalent of a nuclear weapon in the on-going battle between buyer and seller.

These functions only scratch the surface of what the iPhone is capable of. And believe me, I’m not an uncritical booster of Apple Inc. I’ll grant you that they make excellent products but the company has a sinister side that, frankly, pisses me off. The best illustration of this is the adapter plugs that I’ve had to purchase to use my camera with my iPad and to connect my iPhone with the docking station. These little pieces of plastic and metal probably cost less than a dollar apiece to manufacture and Apple charges $30 for one. This is a blatant example of f—ing over their customers. They have you by the balls on proprietary things like this and they don’t hesitate to stick it to you. You would think that after making a hefty profit on their big-ticket items they would cut you some slack. We can all thank Apple’s competitors like Samsung for keeping the price of their big-ticket items at reasonable levels.

Mary’s ace in the hole when it came to getting me to take the plunge was the fact that we really have no need any more for a land-line phone. We have only the most basic service for our land line but it costs $30/month so we could basically subtract that amount from the Verizon service plan for our iPhone.

The relentless progress of technology can be viewed as an incremental process punctuated by occasional sea changes – changes that fundamentally change the landscape. The introduction of radio, television, and the telephone are examples of sea changes. I think smart phones are in this category. The moment I realized how much the Siri function enabled me to do with the iPhone, it was an almost dream-like experience. It reminded me of those occasions when I have been dreaming that I can fly, only to wake up and realize that it was only a dream. So far, I haven’t awakened from this iPhone dream.