iPhone? iPhooey!

I understand fanaticism.

As a kid, it was a footy team – my beloved Subiaco. In those days, the WAFL was all-consuming in Perth. The match of the day would draw 25,000+. A grand final 50,000 – these were the days of the outer, where you’d have to stand all day, wedged vertical like pencils in a quiver case because it was too packed to sit down. Subi games didn’t often draw big crowds, though. The Mighty Maroons, as they were known then, customarily languished at, or near, the bottom of the ladder. But my father, brother and I, and perhaps a mate or two as we got older, would religiously attend week after week and barrack ourselves hoarse, and when a win came it was joyous – it would make your week.

It was the losses, though, that were the real measure of supporter character. Year after year, there’d be that game – the long trip out to Bassendean Oval where the Swan Districts supporters occupied their covered home stand on the wing, and ne’er a more one-eyed pack of footy terrorists has scorched God’s earth.

We’d sit on the weathered grey wooden benching on the opposite wing, feeble straws leaning into the roaring hurricane of cheers, cries, rebukes and admonitions that were unleashed with every kick, mark, handball, tackle, shirtfront (them were the days). More often than not, it wasn’t only a metaphorical hurricane we braved on those bleak winter trials at Bassendean. It was uncanny how often those afternoons were the dirtiest a Perth winter could chuck up. Only a Subi supporter of that era understands what it took to front up at Bassendean year after year with the rain squalling into your face, infiltrating your raincoat so you were wet through by quarter time and shivering in the chill for the rest of the game, urging on the Mighty Maroons as Swans tore them apart and their rampant tribe stamped and hooted and radiated mayhem and murder from their stand, baying for more blood, more, more!

As a teenager, my fanaticism switched to rock music. And Jeanette. She was my first date. Far more than that, she was my Catherine (Wuthering Heights was another of my obsessions), the unwitting object of my ludicrously extreme romantic fantasies for two years before I found the guts to issue her a stammering phone invitation to the school social, which she foolishly accepted.

I bored her fine arse off all night discussing the Top 40. Well, not discussing. Shouting in her ear (and inhaling the scent of her hair, as it tingled against my cheek). The band – Aquarius – was loud. Gloriously loud. I assumed poor Jeanette would be as enthralled as I over analysing why Three Dog Night had moved up 15 places in a week with a shithouse song while Creedence hadn’t budged. Or determining whether Aquarius’s drummer had inserted an extra roll in the chorus of the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s One Two Three Red Light. Actually, did you know, Jeanette, that the 1910 Fruitgum Company has gone heavy? There’s only one original member left, and he was never into bubblegum and…she wasn’t enthralled.

Thankfully, my social sensibilities and musical taste developed (although my relationship with Jeanette did not – at least, not outside my cranium). I saw almost every international and Eastern States rock act that made it to Perth – including many I didn’t much care for (eg: Elton John, Santana, Rick Wakeman). My first concert – in 1971, on my 16th birthday – was thrilling: Deep Purple, Free, Manfred Mann, Chain on the same bill at Beatty Park. 9 months later, the legendary Led Zeppelin concert at Subi Oval that was so loud it drew complaints from City Beach. Disappointing Creedence the week after. Garry Glitter, Lou Reed, Blackfeather, Suzi Quatro, Focus, Supernaught, Donovan, Captain Matchbox, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC with Bon Scott at the Sandgroper pub in Leederville, the marvellous first incarnation of Split Enz, who blew Zappa away at the WACA…

I spent all my money on concerts, records, hi-fi, and guzzling beer at the rock barns that were youth meccas in Perth in the 70s. Oh, and dope. Needless to say.

I was there at the beginning of punk in Perth, an initiate, and an inspirational time that was – see www.perthpunk.com for the full story in obsessive detail. This was when my rock fanaticism peaked. I would have camped outside the Entertainment Centre overnight – over two or three nights, whatever it took – to see Patti Smith, or The Ramones, or Iggy, or Television. None of them made it to Perth during that time. But The Ramones gigged in Adelaide. A small group of Perth devotees drove across the Nullarbor to see them. I found out after the event. Otherwise, I would have joined them.

So yes, I understand fanaticism.

But what the hell is all this iPhone 3G shit about? Queuing for days to see an artist or band, I can get. Or overnight to get good Grand Final seats. A great concert stays with you for life. As does the enveloping fragrance of your first love’s hair. A Grand Final win is the culmination of years of hope and yearning, the realisation of a cherished dream, glorious and transient (and therein lies its preciousness). But a phone? One that will still be available the next day, next week, next month? And superseded the month after that! WTF?

Maybe this iPhone 3G is something special, unique in the history of phones? So in an effort to understand, I researched it. It plays music and videos. Uh huh. So it replaces that terribly inconvenient MP3 player that is so light and tiny it will fit on your key ring. And what a bonus it must be to squint at videos on a miniscule LCD screen on yer mobile. But there’s more.

It’s internet and email capable. Uh huh. Just like your computer, but not as good, then? And forgive me, but PDAs have been around a while now, haven’t they? Oh, but this one, you can phone people on. Which you can already do on your $50 mobile.

Wait…it’s got a camera – by all accounts a crappy one, just like on any number of cheap mobiles that have been around forever.

So, let’s make sure we’ve got this right. The iPhone 3G doesn’t do anything new. It simply combines features that have been in common use on other devices for years, and as with any all-in-one setup, with compromised quality. And has the Apple spunk appeal. THAT’S IT?!

So is this an Apple thing?

My first puter was a Mac. I bought into that Mac cult hoohah for a while. Then it dawned on me that Macs were far less convenient than PCs because of all the file compatibility issues.

My next computer was a PC. No more problems opening files. And that stuff you hear from Macphiles about the Windows OS being so much more difficult to find your way around – well, maybe with Windows 95, but not now. Mac OS’s are not better than Windows. They both work fine; one is as simple (or difficult) as the other. It’s simply a matter of what you’re used to.

Mac maniacs are usually, in my experience at least, music recording buffs, artists or academics. Understandable. Mac was once state of the art for graphics and music. Now though, the gap has narrowed to, oh, around zero. As for the academics…well, Mac cornered the academic market computer-eons ago – little wonder the eggheads have remained loyal when they’ve known nothing else. They’ve always been a bit dozey and staid. Besides, they like to think of themselves as beings of superior taste, and Apple has positioned itself adroitly to pamper the egos of snobs, cultivating an image of sophistication, innovation, aesthetic flair, radicalism. And their oh-so-sophisticated devotees have chomped down on that juicy bait campaign after campaign. And still they blame PCs when they can’t open those pesky files that somehow still undermine Apple’s 100% compatibility guarantees.

So are the mobs huddled outside Telstra and Optus in the early hours waiting to grab an iPhone 3G all musos, artists and academics? Nope. Mac computer fanatics are cultists. This iPhone movement is way too mainstream for them.

So what is it? Apart from a marketing coup and fucking stupid?

Who knows? A symptom of communal emptiness, perhaps? People seeking something to look forward to? To belong to? (Ye shall know me by my iPhone).

Is it some badge of social standing, like designer clothes and lux cars and living in a hip suburb?

Or is it simply brilliant hype at its most potent in an environment of compulsive brainless consumerism? Merely another symptom of the affluenza epidemic?

Well, I dunno, but I couldn’t avoid the sense that something’s really rotten in the state of Denmark when I read an online report of some fuckwit 3rd in the queue outside Optus’ Sydney store booking a room at the nearby Four Seasons hotel, so she could belt back there to be alone with her new iPhone as soon as she bought it. And she’s not some geeky kid. This cotcase is a 38 year old manager.

The guy at the head of the same parade of marketing victims – a 36 year old business analyst – intended to delay gratification: “The first thing I’m going to do when I get it is go home and put it on charge and go to bed. It will wait until the morning – all that matters is that I’ve got the phone.”

Is this a bloody phone they’re referring to, or a sex toy? Jaisus!

When these bozos’ batteries run low and they review their dial tone of a life, are they going to look back on that moment when they first took possession of their iPhone 3G as revelatory? As their mortal coil begins to slip away like a thief in the night of eternity, are they going to feel for a final time the sweet touch of those buttons as they made their first call on their new iPhone, hear again the voice of the privileged friend at the other end full of the false cheer of camouflaged envy at the news of their purchasing triumph?

Or are they already scanning the future for the next big THING?

The downside of this constant veneration of the trivial is that the void will always be there. The upside is there’ll always be something to fill it. Like this breaking news headline that greeted me first thing when I booted up the computer this morning: “World Waits For Brangelina Twins Photos”. O still my beating heart…

9 thoughts on “iPhone? iPhooey!”

  1. Pretty much sums up my own feelings on the subject, though as a snotty nosed academic of the worst possible type (symbolic analyst) I can tell you that the sole driver of iPhone desire is status.

    “Is it some badge of social standing, like designer clothes and lux cars and living in a hip suburb?” Yes.

    Other than brand, the selling point is convergence, but the whole net access side of that is compromised because the Telstra/Optus/Vodaphone monopoly on the gadget all chose to skew their plans in favour of calls. So you can read maybe three of your emails before you reach the cap and it starts costing a fortune.

  2. To be honest, Lyn, I’m not sure what a symbolic analyst is! Anything close to semiotics?

    Roland Barthes pushed me into a confidence crisis when I was studying Lit! Couldn’t understand the bloke, although some peers I respected a lot found him scintillating. Barthes was Enid Blyton next to Derrida, though, who finished the job on me Barthes started and ensured that the mere mention of deconstructionism would bring on a bodywide ripple of nervous tics and a Tourettes-like flood of high-pitched profanities, regardless of time or place. Fortunately, the condition abates within minutes and stays away until the next time I encounter the D word.

    Don’t even mention Foucault.

    Traumatised thus, I fled crosseyed from the weirdness of the French to Russian Formalism, which everyone else thought dry and boring. I, however, could understand the Formalists, at least, and sought refuge in their approach for the rest of the damned Lit course.

    Somehow, I emerged with a degree and a distinction – ne’er so little deserved! (Thank God you could double major in Creative Writing and Lit – hopefully, they’ve removed that CW soft option now, though Arts at uni being what it was and probably still is, imposters like me are no doubt continuing to undermine the reputation of the system).

    Pause for breath…

    Thanks for the detail on the net costs of the iPhone – the whole phenomenon is even more stupid than I thought. Nasty and reprehensible that 3 companies have coralled the iPhone lemmings like that. Bit like a trio of sharks. Still the minnows seem happy to be on the menu – the price of a symbol, huh?

  3. The term ‘symbolic analyst’ is mostly used in a derogatory sense by those who see no value in, for example, knowing why the iPhone is so popular. Any symbolic analyst worth their salt could point out that using the term in that way is itself a symbol intended to mark the critic as a pragmatist, then ask said pragmatist to estimate the value of pragmatism, or the advertising industry which, of course, revolves around symbolism.

    The most frightening thing about all those French theorists is how dead simple their ideas are once the labyrinthine waffle is peeled away. Barthes: A rose is not love itself, but a symbol of love when given to the object of one’s affection. Duh. Barthes: An iPhone does not make one more worthy, nor is it worthy in itself, but symbolises worthiness among a specific group of people.

    Derrida: The iPhone is a perpetually unfinished project as its meaning and value shift over time and among people. It is an ideal. Its value, meaning and function can never be fully achieved. That’s partly because people like you and I think it’s a con. And let’s face it, it’s already the predecessor of something else currently under wraps somewhere.

    Foucault: We’re slaves to technology because people smarter than us invented it and we’ve convinced ourselves it’s normal.

    Imposters: Anyone who doesn’t feel like an imposter in a university has an inflated sense of self worth in my opinion. Academics are people who have perfected the art of appearing to be academics.

    The two top stories of the week are the iPhone and the Pope. It’s a symbolic analyst’s paradise, if you can stomach it.

  4. Lyn

    Vot? She dares to say “duh” to Barthes!? Anyone who can do that and reduce his work AND that of Derrida and Foucault to three dismissive sentences has my utmost respect!

    I hate that LOL abbreviation, but I DID laugh out loud.

    Low bow!

  5. Sure, you understand fanaticism. I submit, though, that the reason you don’t understand the iPhone is that you didn’t even begin to research it properly.

    First, the reason for queuing is that many vendors — certainly Optus, whose plans were generally thought to trump those of Telstra and Vodafone — sold out pretty much instantly. So no, not available the next day, or the next fortnight for that matter. I know, big deal. Just mentioning it. Oh, and it won’t be superseded especially quickly, either; this is Apple’s first update of the iPhone since it launched a year ago.

    Second, while you did a great job of skipping over the multi-touch functionality of the screen — I’m wondering if you’ve even noticed it, let alone experienced it for yourself — Lyn is right when she mentions that convergence is a core part of the iPhone’s appeal. Not so much with her claim that checking three emails will use up your monthly allowance. Most text-based emails don’t exceed a couple of kilobytes; it’s the attachments you might want to worry about, and even then on most plans you’re probably fine.

    Third, I don’t know if Apple’s claim to greater ease-of-use is really outdated, but the cross-platform compatibility issues you cite certainly are. Today those issues arise between Macs and PCs about as often as they do between Windows XP and Vista. Less convenient than PCs? You should look into buying a Mac produced since 2006; being Intel-based means you can run very smoothly both Mac OS X and Windows, simultaneously — convenient, no?

    Fourth, Mac cultists shunning the iPhone because it’s too ‘mainstream’? Come on… Mac fanatics have been dying to see an iPhone at least since the iPod was launched, and possibly longer. What’s more, they’re evangelical; Apple’s resurgence under Steve Jobs has been a dream come true. They may not all be the ones queuing, but a lot of them will be in the market for an iPhone in due time.

    For the record, I haven’t got an iPhone — yet. I’ll be getting one soon, and not because I think it’ll make me ‘cooler’. Rather, it’s because I’m a long-time Mac user who appreciates the iPhone’s promise to be my iPod, my phone and my PDA all at once, and to sync with my laptop with a fluency miles ahead of the competition.

    Everybody knows Apple has a top-notch marketing team. Maybe they could sell refrigerators to Eskimos, but what they’re currently doing is selling a fundamentally good product to a mix of people who need and/or want it to varying degrees. On that note, I’d agree that some people want it far, far too much.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Ian.

    You’re right, I didn’t put much effort into researching the iPhone. My attitude was, and is, whatever its merits, it is not more than a conglomerate of functions already available for a yawningly long time, albeit on separate devices. And it’s a source of wonder and contempt for me that hordes of marketing victims – and that’s what they are – were prepared to queue overnight for a bit of technology. The iPhone could be the greatest phone/PDA/whatever in the history of the universe…but to queue overnight for it? THAT’S my point.

    Re: First, the reason for queuing is that many vendors — certainly Optus, whose plans were generally thought to trump those of Telstra and Vodafone — sold out pretty much instantly. So no, not available the next day, or the next fortnight for that matter. I know, big deal. Just mentioning it.

    I would dispute your claim that the Apple/PC cross=platform compatibility issues are “outdated”. A good friend of mine has a Mac and regularly cannot open files I send him. If this sort of thing is still happening at all, the compatibility issue has NOT been resolved.

    Re: You should look into buying a Mac produced since 2006; being Intel-based means you can run very smoothly both Mac OS X and Windows, simultaneously — convenient, no? Erm, no. Why would anyone want to run both OSs simultaneously? Oh, unless you’re stickin’ resolutely to yer Mac – but wait: didn’t you say there are no longer ANY compatibility issues? So why have Windows on a Mac at all?

    Well, as a Mac man, you’d know better than I whether the Macphiles are into the iPhone. I’ll take your word on this. Surprises me, though. Mac folk have always been so cultist/elitist. What happens to your superiority complex now that Apple has gone mainstream? Just curious.

    I do believe that your motivation for buying an iPhone is not status-based, but rather is informed by your belief that the product is a genuine frontrunner that offers practical advantages for your purposes. And your belief might be well-founded. I am not in a position to say. But clearly, your technical knowledge of the iPhone far surpasses mine.

    My focus, though, was on the iPhone as a marketing and sociological phenomenon, and on the values that fed the iPhone hysteria, which I find perplexing and pretty bloody sad. Whatever the technical claims that can be made about the iPhone, whether you look at it as a phone, or a multifunctional wonder, it’s still just a bit of glitzy technology. Can’t help finding that sorta insubstantial in comparison with…well, you know.

  7. Why mention it? Pretty much the same reason I mentioned everything else: to correct the inaccuracies of the original article. I erred in saying that the limited availability of the iPhone was the reason for queuing overnight, because very few people would have needed it that urgently, and as for the rest of them I agree that it’s a bit weird, if not sad.

    As for my own inaccuracies, what I was trying to say about the cross-platform compatibility issues is that they’ve been reduced to the point that a Mac (certainly on the latest operating systems) and a PC have the same chance of playing nice together as two PCs running different versions of Windows. Strangely, I find myself interested to know what kinds of files you’re sending to your friend, and what operating system he’s using. My gut tells me that the problem can probably be addressed fairly readily, or at least subject to a better explanation than ‘Macs and PCs don’t work together’.

    As for why you’d want to run Windows simultaneously on a Mac, there’s a difference between not being able to open files and not being able to run software. A lot of software is developed for Windows only (and likewise there are some great applications you can only run on a Mac). For example, my mother is a general practitioner whose computer prowess is… limited. She’s learned to use the Windows-only medical software at the general practice where she works, but for everything else she prefers a Mac because she finds it easier. She has a new MacBook Pro that can run Windows simultaneously and now she can log into the database at work from home. Evening paperwork is a lot less tiresome in front of the fireplace at home than it is at the practice.

    I don’t know. You want to focus on this stuff as a marketing phenomenon, which is fine, but I think your analysis could greatly improve with a better understanding of the product beneath the hype. Like I said, it’s a fundamentally good product. The marketing ‘victims’ aren’t being completely swindled if they end up taking advantage of the iPhone’s features.

    Do you watch The Gruen Transfer at all? The panel talks a lot of finding the ‘truth’ and building the campaign around that. My take on it is that the ‘truth’ of Apple’s products is not that they’re cool, but that they’re great for most people’s needs and they do everything smoothly. Yes, they look nice, but they wouldn’t do so well if these purrty computers didn’t work. My general point, I guess, is that your marketing analysis is informed by your product knowledge, so the reality is important.

    By the way, I found your site when googling ‘Rob Broadfield’ after reading his review of Little Cloud in The West’s weekend magazine from the weekend before last. The more I think about it, the more that review is relevant to this conversation we’ve had here. If you missed it for some reason, see if you can look it up.

    Cheers, Rolan.

  8. Hi again, Ian.

    Good to get some more thoughtful responses from a new reader.

    Re: Why mention it? Pretty much the same reason I mentioned everything else: to correct the inaccuracies of the original article. I erred in saying that the limited availability of the iPhone was the reason for queuing overnight, because very few people would have needed it that urgently, and as for the rest of them I agree that it’s a bit weird, if not sad.

    And that last point is the sole reason I zoned in on the queuing! I don’t see that you have corrected any inaccuracies in this instance.

    My friend has a late(ish) model Mac, and the files he mostly has trouble with are video files. As you suggest, the problems may well be outside the Mac/PC compatibility arena. I never said I was fair!

    BTW, I sometimes have some issues with Word docs that Mac users send me for copy-editing. Again, I can’t be sure that they are using up-to-the-moment Macs. From where I sit, I don’t care – it’s just annoying. Which is why I gave up my attachment to Mac and went with the numbers all those years ago. I don’t care whether Mac is better or not, now. I just want a computer life as trouble free as possible, and I have to say, Mac user attachments excepted, XP is pretty damned good! I’m no MS apologist, incidentally. My concerns and attitude are skewed towards pragmatism. It’s as simple and boring as that.

    The examples you give (your mother etc) are fair enough. Points taken.

    Re: I don’t know. You want to focus on this stuff as a marketing phenomenon, which is fine, but I think your analysis could greatly improve with a better understanding of the product beneath the hype. Thing is, the article never set out to be an analysis of the product as such, and was not even close to a review of the iPhone. Those concerns are outside the parameters of the article. But in a perfect world, yes, a comprehensive understanding of the product itself would be preferable to my indifference in that respect.

    Re: Like I said, it’s a fundamentally good product. The marketing ‘victims’ aren’t being completely swindled if they end up taking advantage of the iPhone’s features.
    Yes they are if the hype has whipped them up into such a frenzy over a bloody communication tool that they’re moved to camp overnight to get their mitts on it when it will be available in 2 weeks on the same plan etc. That sort of irrational and frankly stupid behaviour is definitive of the marketing victim! And that’s without even starting on the booking of hotel rooms to be alone with the new toy. Steeerewth! Whaddayasay?

    I do watch The Gruen Transfer – some rivetting analysis there. You know, I don’t necessarily agree, though, that one’s marketing analysis is informed by one’s product knowledge – there’s more going on than that. Marketing analysis primarily focuses on strategy in targeting a specified demographic, and understanding that demographic. The product is part of the equation, but I would argue that knowledge of the product is more closely related to defining the tagret demographic than marketing analysis per se. To be sure, though, it’s not valid to neatly compartmentalise elements of the markting universe as I’ve just done, since all mesh together to form the whole. So I’m generalising. I guess it’s not a subject that yields to a few quick lines of comment.

    Yes, I did read Rob Broadfield’s Little Cloud review – it contained one of the funniest lines in the history of restaurant reviewing, and I was intending to write a blog on it! Also, on the vastly pretentious and monstrously grotesque Molecular Gastronomy movement.

    I could make all sorts of connections with our discussion here – but I don’t do so with any confidence that I’m understanding what you’re getting at in pointing towards the Little Cloud review.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.