A galaxy far far away


It all started when my mom gave me some money she had saved up on my behalf, with the hopes of instilling a long term fiscal responsibility in me. I thanked her, and bought a Nokia 3210 before the money could register as a positive bank balance. It was the business - Batman logo wallpaper, indiana jones ringtone, single button operation and built to last forever. I still have it in my drawer at home, albeit without its exterior... like some creepy techno corpse.

I went to university and obviously needed to grow up. And nothing said serious like a Personal Digital Assistant, or specifically a sony ericson P910. It had it all man, flip keyboard covering a touch screen and a stylus, polyphonics, vga camera, mp3s! This was the damn future man! I even managed to get a hacked version of doom running on it, kind of. Oh, and it could read ebooks, which were quite hard to find but I made due reading classics I scrounged off the network at university. I rocked the stylus, like a boss! But then I inevitably lost that little plastic hell raiser, I resorted to carving my own out of old chinese take out chopsticks. 'n boer maak 'n plan.

Then came a palm, I don't remember all that much about it except it also had a stylus, or chopstick equivalent. By the time I was in second year I could fashion a stylus out of any piece of driftwood in under 5 minutes. It was bigger, thinner and much more impressive than the P910, also, it was black.
Finally, my first blackberry. A slinky little pearl. New interface, new weird dual function keyboard and it had less features than my P910, but it was free and I was assured it was the way of the future. (Even though it looked more like my 3210 than any of the PDAs) But so they say, and so I believe. The camera had a flash, which was awesome, I had gotten used to carrying a little light source in my pocket. That phone lasted a while, nothing special but I could type messages devilishly fast.

Then a curve, and a bold and another curve...Now we're talking. Suddenly I could get email and unlimited internet on my phone. I could load gtalk to keep in touch. Then came the facebooks and the twitters and the messenger. It could sync with my computer, if I had the software installed. It could load apps, as long as someone cared to make them, which very few people did and Blackberry seemed to keep an orwelian grasp on any help for developers - today they are paying developers just to add some apps to the less than stellar appworld. The problem with that is obvious. I believe technology should be set free, that hardware and software can't thrive in the vice grip of the bureaucracy and that true innovation doesn't come from big companies, never has. The Kinect was an expensive toy until people started tinkering and playing, the wii was a unbalanced golf club until someone strapped it to their forehead. And the iphone was a fancy mp3 player with angry birds until greenpoison unlocked some of the amazing abilities even the designers weren't aware of or, being apple, purposefully put in place to make more money.

By their latest rendition, Blackberry has now reached a point where just being cheaper or reaaaally good at email isn't cutting it anymore.They have however absolutely dominated the South African market because they are cost effective, have a solid messaging application and a straightforward upgrade path. They aren't for fun, they are for getting something specific done easily. And it's noble and awesome, but that dedication has turned out to be shortsighted this far down the line. As far as smart phones go, I'd call them clever.

On the other side of the tracks, my friends were shifting to iPhone, by the bushel. It started with the iPhone 1, then 2,3,4 and now with the 4s I don't think those people will ever think about anything else again. It is still closer to a religious devotion than anything else. Honestly, I had as was my duty as a PC loyalist, fundamentally hated those people and dismissed them as raggedy assed posers that didn't know their ass from their elbow...as one should. But with blackberry land's sparkling exterior starting to crack, was all this blind judgement still justified? And considering all that most users of either really do is use their phones for calling, texting, social media and the occasional gps hint... Does it really matter which one you pick? As long as you have some way to whisper sweet nothings to your significant other, or just stroke your cyber ego?

I already own an iPod touch, it streams my music wirelessly through my car's radio and connects when the car switches on... Bloody nifty. The only thing I don't like about it is that I need iTunes to update my playlists. I hate iTunes, I hate its support for windows and the way it forces you to follow its weird overly friendly logic instead of molding to my needs. Given, if you are catering to the greatest number of people then this is the philosophy you need to follow. So I'm not begrudging Apple for that at all. But I don't see myself as the regular user, I'm of the generation where if I wanted my computer to do anything it meant tinkering, struggling and swearing for a while. But you had to know something about the internal mechanics of you computer, to a certain degree it does the same thing as Apple is doing now, albeit in a more fundamentally unavoidable way. You have to play by the computer's logic. But in the end you could get it to do anything, you could change the rules to suit whatever idiosyncratic whim you might have had - be that a media player with remapped buttons or a file browser that worked exclusively through mouse gestures... You could really push the processor and sometimes it even let you get away with it. I expect this level of tinkering to be open to me with anything I buy. In fact, it goes much deeper than that but let's just skim the surface so I can make my point about phones.

I was having a conversation with a guy over the weekend and he was rather adamant about interrogating me concerning my decision to drop my long term commitment to the berry. He is, for lack of a better word, a fan boy, but honestly it's is a professional requirement for him. And it's almost impossible to explain it... as long as you are still thinking of your phone as a phone. Phones are kind of separate from all other mobile technologies aren't they? They have separate rules, and until quite recently, technologically speaking, they even had an entirely different set of specifications to anything else. Network band lengths, java support, a separate OS structure, tiny screens, few colours, specialised browsing requirements... Hell, as the technologies started converging we were doing back flips in our living rooms about, what now seem like, silly little additions.

Phones started including FM radio, then cameras, later even GPS... It was a little like adding the eraser to the back of a pencil. But now both ends have a function, now where do we make it better? Today, If you have them side by side, it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell the specs apart between a current generation smart phone and a laptop. Sometimes the phones even outshine their bulky counterparts. For example, both the iPhone and the galaxy have a stronger processor, more memory and a better screen resolution than the computer I had when I started studying! They both have a higher resolution camera than my first DSLR, longer battery life than my dedicated GPS, I could list a thousand technological marvels but the point in the end is that these phones are now like that major technologically innovative pencil eraser combo, and  it is becoming ever more trivial to keep comparing this technology the way we have been. The phone is dead, long live the phone.

So now that your phone is your computer is your radio is your communicator and your television. What's left? The experience. The friends with iPhones get a little weird when I talk about my new phone, they all seem to chant the mantra "the iPhone can do all that too" and that's kind of the point now isn't it guys? It's no longer the pissing contest it might once have been. Yes, we can have an 8 megapixel camera party or a wi-fi shindig, but who really cares? All the hardware in the world is useless unless you can use it, harness it in a way that is non-destructive to your expectations. The phone now is the interface, and vice versa. The more applications I have access to, the more I expect them to blend effortlessly. In fact, I'd like to run more than one at a time. The more options I have to set, the more I need them to be easy to find. I don't want to go digging for my bluetooth settings every time I get into my car, which is why I stopped using the blackberry hands free.

I want to be able to watch a video and message my friends at the same time. I want to browse the internet and flick between tabs like I do at home... In fact, I want to browse at work and then pick up my phone and continue reading the same article! I want to control my downloads from the couch, I want to stream videos to my television and be able to stop carrying an external hard drive with me everywhere I go. I want to take a picture, edit it right there, crop it to size and post it to my blog when I go traveling. I want to book plane and movie tickets on the real sites, I don't ever want to see .mobi ever again. I want my contacts, my calender, my instant messaging and all my online personae to come with me and not be separated between devices and false barriers, but exist as openly and collaboratively as I do. I want the same browser as my computer, or even two different ones if I feel like it. I want to use every ounce of power this phone is capable of providing and I don't want to be told where the boundaries lie. These are not things that are out of reach, I'm doing them right now!
The next big phone war will be fought through interface and code, a number of companies already understand this. Apple knew it all along, if the experience is intuitive, you don't even need the best tech, bastardy visionaries. I'm sad that blackberry hadn't seen the light until so late in the game, and a lot of what they do feels like playing catch up and copying.  I will miss the physical keyboard because I've become rather accustomed to it, but I'm sure that I'll get over it given that I can write, dictate or type from now on.

So that is why I'm moving on to these things that have been made possible because of the methodology of companies that seem to understand that this new tech, these machines, are more powerful than they can immediately grasp and for them to truly shine they need to let us play. No one has ever jail broken or rooted a blackberry, because what would be the point...

I love my new Samsung Galaxy S III, and exclude it from all the things that I do not love.

Thank you Google.




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