Geek Rants

Selling my Soul to Steve Jobs

  • July 1, 2010

It all started so innocently…

The number one activity I undertake on computing devices is creating graphics. 3D modeling, animating same, web stuff, what have you. I long since realized I was sick and tired of being tied to a computer desk, though, and wanted something fresh that didn’t involve unplugging, lugging, and plugging every time I undertook a change of venue. I reasoned there had to be something better, and I was right: I discovered the concept of the “portable graphics workstation.”

Imagine a laptop. Okay, now make it a Really Big laptop. Give it a 17″ screen, a full-sized keyboard (with number pad), and make it weigh about ten pounds soaking wet. Power it with a real multi-core processor (not some mobility wannabe), a kick-ass video card (or two), lots of drive space, and a battery that might last 45 minutes on a good day. Now you’re talking!

It’s still a “laptop” in that you can, really, hold it in your lap and work–but that’s not its forte. For a rig like this you just want to be able to fold it up and schlep it to wherever you plan to work without having to do more than unplug the power cord. If you really, really need extra screen real estate you can even plug in an extra monitor (and use both), but for most purposes a 17″ screen really does work well.

The down side? What if you just want to curl up in the papasan chair and surf the web? How about sitting up in bed getting off that last forum post for the night? Yeah, still kind of big and clunky. Mobility is relative.

What did I decide?

I wanted in-one-hand mobility: I wanted a smart phone. Not to talk to people on, heaven forbid! I hate yapping on the phone. I wanted to be one of the cool people who could be sitting at a table in a restaurant and looking up something on Wikipedia to settle a question. You know: a special kind of nerd.

Being the right kind of nerd, I settled on a nice Blackberry Curve. Push email, proper buttons, geek cred, an account at…I was all set! Once the first flush of connectivity faded, though, chinks began to appear in my geekly suit of armor. The web browser was, well, lame. The screen was really, REALLY small. Memory issues kept a tight rein on what cool apps I could install.

What really sealed the deal was the realization that what had become one of my favorite winding-down activities at the end of the day, sitting up in bed reading various content on the device (and often responding to same), was causing some interference in the domestic tranquility department: the clicking of the keys was waking up my wife, who is a light sleeper. Once sufficient time had elapsed on my existing contract it was time to find a replacement!

What to get? I had some limitations: my contract with my existing carrier (AT&T) was still in force, so jumping ship would require shelling out more money than I was willing to spend–not to mention the fact that I (gasp!) like AT&T and have bad memories of a time when Verizon was my land line carrier. Touch screen “keys” rather than actual buttons seemed the only viable option (the irony of this fact was that real buttons was a selling point for me when I first selected the Curve; go figure), and as a bonus it appeared that a touch screen interface pretty much assured a lot more screen real estate to be had.

Okay, all things considered it seemed a no-brainer: become seduced by The Dark Side and embrace the iPhone.

Man, was I ever happy with my choice. Sure, you couldn’t install anything not Approved, but that list was so damned huge it really didn’t feel confining at all. Memory? Tens of gigabytes, all of them at my disposal. I could load the thing up with so many apps the screen would explode, and it wouldn’t even break a sweat. Browsing the web? Killer. Sure, no Flash, but I could forgive that one faux pas. Nice, big screen (or so it seemed after the Curve) and, once I disabled the sound effect, keys that were utterly, blissfully silent.

I had taken my first step towards joining the Sith. Somewhere, in one of the deepest realms of Hell, Steve Jobs cracked a tiny smile.

Of course you know what happened then…

Sure, I let my laptop languish for all but the tough graphics jobs, taking out my new toy and reveling in being able to stay connected without lugging El Grande around with me. I loaded it up with apps that I might, just maybe, use some day. I found fun games that made good use of the screen real estate and the slick touch interface. I made my first blog post sans “real” computer. The iPhone became (apart from special occasions) the last thing I touched at night and almost the first thing in the morning. “Just checking e-mail, be right down.”

Eventually, predictably, my new way of life settled into a groove. Also as predictably, I realized all was not joy in Mudville. See, with all those fancy graphics applications I use come lots of fancy user’s manuals. These days most of them come in PDF format on disk; saves money and shipping, as well as shelf space. On the laptop I could just fire up a window and refer to the manuals as needed–but I wanted to be able to read them whenever and wherever. Could the iPhone handle PDF? Heh, “There’s an app for that.” Or a dozen. Not a problem. No, the problem came with the fact that software manuals generally have illustrations. Lots of them. Illustrations that look fine until you try to view them in a screen that fits in your pocket. Zoom and pan all you want, it’s just not all that satisfying.

Another seed was planted.

Ever used the “mobility” versions of various web sites? Some of them are pretty good; others, not so much. “Crippled” seems harsh, but apt. One hallmark of the Safari browser on the iPhone is its ability to handle pretty much any standard web page (and a few non-standard ones) in its own right, so you don’t necessarily need the mobile page–but try telling the web server that. Often as not the iPhone rats you out that it’s a mobile, and you get stuck with the distant relation of the page you really wanted. Oh, and did I mention the screen size?

Yeah, that screen that was so much larger than the Curve’s began seeming cramped. Dissatisfaction, greed…to the Dark Side these will lead you.

I resisted, at first. When the hype began I told myself I wasn’t interested. I found reasons to consider it flawed…incomplete. “Wait for the new, improved versions,” I told myself. “First generation is always trial and error, and there will be others to compete.” I told myself I was happy with my chosen tool of Connectedness To All. I thought I was doing so well.

Then came the day when a co-worker brought one to work. Yeah, you knew already of which I speak, didn’t you? Sleek, shiny, wonderfully light and portable, and. That. Screen. That wondrous, full-page-sized screen. It begged you to touch it, to interact with it, to pull up page after page of techno geekitude in full-sized (and colorful) glory.

Did my eyes begin glowing red at that point? I’m not sure. All I know is I had to have it, my Prrrrreciousssssss.

Yeah, I did it: I bought an iPad. I willingly donned the shackles of Apple fanboi-dom and took my Soma like a good Citizen. Do I regret it? Hells, no. It’s a great device–calling it “magical” is hyperbole but it can be life-altering, just as the iPhone was. I’m doing daily tasks on it that were once done on the phone or on the laptop, and the experience of doing those tasks has been universally pleasant. It can’t fit in my pocket like the iPhone, but the screen real estate more than makes up for the slight decrease in portability. Some activities that on the iPhone needed “an app for that” can simply be performed on the full-featured web browser–just like a “real computer.”

Jobs, you demon, you finally got me.

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