Penman No. 269: What the iPhone Hath Wrought

iPhoneX.jpg

Penman for Monday, September 18, 2017

 

FROM MY lofty perorations on literature these past two weeks, allow me to slide back down to the more pedestrian and frankly more entertaining plateau of pop culture, to talk about that object of desire that’s changed the world in more than a few ways this past decade—the iPhone.

What triggered this piece was last Tuesday’s launch in the US of the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X (read: iPhone Ten), Apple’s much-hyped rollout of its 10th anniversary models with a promised slew of new features. I won’t bother you with all the details, which you can find on apple.com/iphone. I’ll just summarize some of the hottest come-ons of these new toys: Face ID, wireless charging, OLED screens, Portrait Lighting, Animojis, better cameras, and longer battery life.

Natch, all of that comes at a price—a pretty hefty one. For the most feature-laden, top-of-the-line iPhone X, you can hock the family jewels, as it will cost you a whopping $1,149 plus tax, or well over P60,000, which normally should get you a decent laptop. It’s more than Apple has ever asked for an iPhone, so the question even the most rabid Apple fan will be asking is, “Is it worth it?”

That’s an existential question that will also involve asking what you were created for, what the future will be, the difference between need and want (nada), and how life’s privations can justify apparent extravagance. The fact that I don’t have $1,000 sloshing around right now makes it easier for me to frame an answer, but an equally glaring fact is that I have owned every model of iPhone that ever came out, except for the 3G, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up trading a few old pens for the X. (My justification has always been—aside from being a self-styled, occasional “technology journalist”—is that life is short and getting even shorter, and getting the newest things now is a way of cheating time. That’s why I was among the few Apple geeks who brought in the first iPhones back in 2007 and got them to work with local SIMs long before “jailbreaking” entered the tech vocabulary—but that’s another story.)

The real question to ask is, what has the iPhone (and, to be fair, the Treo, the BlackBerry, the Nokia, and all the Android clones) wrought upon our lives? For those of us past midlife, it doesn’t seem too long ago when a “cellphone” (how quaint the word seems now, when even “flip phone” seems ancient) was just a portable house phone you lugged around to make calls at the streetcorner and impress people, and the coolest add-ons to your cellphone were flashing diodes and “El Bimbo” or “Macarena” ringtones.

In an attempt to answer that question, and on the eve of the big iPhone X/8 rollout, the New York Times put out a video on its website talking about “Things Apple’s iPhone Helped Destroy,” to wit: alarm clocks, cabs, cameras, small talk, calendars, the compass, the address book, work/life balance, postcards, the watch, shame and humility, the carpenter’s level, maps, anonymity, and photo albums.

It’s all true, of course: your iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S8 have assumed such inordinately huge roles in your daily life that you might as well be comatose without them. The first thing my wife Beng does when she wakes up isn’t even to kiss me but to check out Facebook (on her 6s Plus, a hand-me-down from my 7 Plus, which proves how families exist to provide a natural and environmentally friendly recycling system for used gadgets, and always a good reason for upgrading at the top of the chain). And where would we be without Waze? (Still stuck in traffic, but at least Waze gives us a scientific basis and a graphical interface for our panic.)

iPhoneRollout.jpg

Over at PhilMUG—the venerable Philippine Macintosh Users Group, where we light incense sticks and mumble mantras at Steve Jobs’ altar and tithe away our next year’s salary to Apple—the response to the entry of the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X into our humdrum existences was predictably mixed. You heard the usual grumble about pricing (“$999 for a phone? That’s insane!” followed by “But, uhm, we paid P45,000 back in 2007 for the first 16GB iPhone, remember?”), the geeky handwringing over tech specs (“Does facial recognition mean that my wife can open my phone while I’m sleeping by bringing it up to my face?” Answer: No, your eyes have to be open), and the feeble pledge of loyalty to the old model (“My iPhone 7 has served me faithfully this past year… so I’ll wait… until my Christmas bonus”).

To truly complete the New York Times’ list of things the iPhone helped destroy, let’s add “sense of satisfaction”—the idea that we could happily live with something for at least five years, like the way I’ve blissfully cohabited with many of my fountain pens for three decades now, not mention my wife of 43 summers, even if she prefers Facebook to my drool-stained cheek.

(Images courtesy of Apple and SE20@Philmug)

 

 

Penman No. 145: Another Watch to Watch

Penman for Monday, April 20, 2016

KNOWING WHAT an Apple diehard I am, friends have been asking me about the forthcoming Apple Watch, and if I’m going to get one. So I’m going to make another little digression today to answer that question—although, arguably, technology is art and culture in contemporary society, particularly when it’s something close and familiar enough to wear on your person.

As half the planet now knows, Apple announced the Apple Watch last September 9 in a splashy event helmed by the company’s new and nimble CEO, Tim Cook. It’s due to be released this Sunday in the US, and preorders opened last April 10; within six hours, most models—about a million units—were sold out.

That’s the kind of first-day frenzy and manic marketing that Apple might as well take out a patent on, because no other company even comes close in making people line up on the sidewalk a week before the store doors open. It’s also what turns Apple haters—and there are more than a few—apoplectic, refusing to understand how the mere whiff of a new toy from Cupertino, California could leave a fourth of humanity in a hypnotic trance.

Well, the Apple Watch is finally here, heralding Apple’s entry into the fashion market—make that high-fashion, with its top-of-the-line, solid-gold model selling for a toe-curling $17,000 (base models start at $349, or about P15,500). It comes in two sizes and a number of finishes, with an array of attractive watchbands (attractive to most people, anyway, who sadly don’t include old leather-loving codgers like me.)

Given those numbers, it’s safe to conclude that the Apple Watch was made to do more than tell the time. While hardly in the same stratosphere of high-end watch brands such as Patek Philippe and Rolex, Apple hasn’t done too badly as a horological upstart. Designed to work best with an iPhone, the Apple Watch can receive your email and text messages, and show incoming calls. It can do Facebook and Twitter, and perhaps most hyped of all, it can track your health stats. It can play your favorite tunes, and store some of your favorite pics. You can still use it without an iPhone for neat little tricks like Apple Pay (if and when that comes to our shores).

What are its downsides? It doesn’t have built-in GPS; you’ll need your iPhone for that. And with its touted 18-hour battery life, you’ll probably need to recharge it every night.

Many of these features, I should point out—except for the Apple-specific apps—were and are available on other smart watches, for a lot less than what Apple is charging for their sum total. Before the Apple Watch, Beng and I had some fun with our his-and-hers Pebble watches, which basically told the time and displayed our email and SMS messages on a monochrome screen. Eventually, we both got tired of charging the buzzing beasties, and went back to our analog Hamiltons.

Which brings me to my answer to my friends’ question. Am I getting an Apple Watch? Heck, no—and this will probably be the first Apple rollout since the Newton that I’ll be passing on. But why not?

I’ll admit that the price is a factor—the Pebble didn’t cost me more than $100, and it’s way below that now (feature-wise, of course, the Pebble can’t hold a candle to the Apple Watch). But in truth, cost never did turn back the Apple masses, who seem convinced that the pricier and sleeker something with an Apple logo is, the more compelling it must be to possess.

It certainly isn’t for any lack of features, either, that I’m not in the buyers’ queue (where I was for the iPhone 6; I had ordered mine as soon as the online counters opened, and received it via UPS last September 19, the first day of delivery in the US). The Apple Watch is abundantly capable and versatile, and we’ve only seen the barest suggestion of all the lively apps that are going to be developed for this device.

Instead, I may have to admit, as I’ll do now, to the onset of what we might call digital fatigue—that awful sensation of drowning under an onrushing wave of 1’s and 0’s. I’ve never felt this before, and it must be my biological age showing, but it took the Apple Watch and its kaleidoscope of colors to tell me that I’ve had enough. Please, not another device to tether and feed like a pet goat, and one that will bleat mightily when some silly text message comes in selling a condo I can’t possibly afford, and one that will remind me with a smug chirp about how overweight I am.

I know that I can talk to the Apple Watch, which will be the coolest thing for my students to see since I stepped into class with a Nokia the size of a shoe strapped to my waist in the early ‘90s. But I have trouble enough talking to my phone; I hate making and taking phone calls, because they usually mean problems to deal with. My iPhone is, first of all, a camera, a jukebox, a browser, and a datebook; and then it’s a phone (come to think of it, it’s also and already a watch, and a damn good one).

As it is, I don’t even use my iPad often enough, and I have to remember to charge it after letting it idle for a couple of weeks in solitary stupor. There’s a nest of charging cables at the foot of my bed, with phones, power banks, and digital recorders huddled like suckling pigs; I can just see the Apple Watch joining that blue- and red-eyed menagerie—but again, I’d rather not.

The ultimate reason for my self-denial is, I guess, the romantic one. I love my vintage and my two-handed watches too much to trade them for some blingy upstart. I believe a watch’s first and only duty is to tell the time. I believe a watch should have a clear, round, and honest face, from which I can read the time at a glance, without breaking my train of thought. I believe a watch should have a soft and pliant strap, like good leather; it should be beautiful, but quiet and undemanding, except for the occasional turn of the crown.

Appwatch95

Kind of like the original Apple watch from 1995—I think the happiest watch ever designed—which everyone seems to have forgotten about in the mad rush to get the new one. I dusted mine off the other day, put a new battery in, and gave it to Beng. It tells the time, and puts a smile on your face. What more can you ask for?

[Apple Watch pic from wired.co.uk]

Penman No. 120: Hello, Helvetica

Human2Penman for Monday, October 27, 2014

ALMOST TWENTY years ago, in a column for another paper, I said “Goodbye to Garamond,” in reference to how the world of typography—the way by which the printed word is presented to us by publishers, advertisers, and the media—was perceptibly changing.

Printed letters—like the ones you’re looking at this very instant—are shaped into what are called fonts (a term often used interchangeably with “typeface,” although some experts will insist that there’s a subtle but important difference). They’re how the letters physically look, which in turn may convey psychological, emotional, or subliminal messages to the reader. We’ll get to that in a minute.

First, here’s a bit of what I wrote back then:

“Have you ever wondered about those fonts whose letters look as though they had been scratched onto plywood with a nail by a heroin addict going through withdrawal? Remember the flickery font they used for the credits of Brad Pitt’s Seven?… These, folks, are examples of what’s been called ‘grunge’ typography and ‘degenerative’ art. The idea seems to be to produce aesthetic pleasure through severe disorientation…. Goodbye to Garamond, and all those reassuringly clean and classically balanced fonts. Hello to something like WaxTrax, which fairly drips all over your screen. And so it goes in the BraveNewWorld of cyberspace.”

Cyberspace and the Internet, of course, were still a novelty for most people back in 1996, and were full of raw and rough edges—visually and even audibly. Remember when you could count the dots on your screen and on your printout, and remember how mating modems screeched like cats in heat? Not surprisingly, the digital aesthete had all the finesse of a frontiersman, wielding his mouse like a chainsaw rather than a sable paintbrush. In other words, things looked pretty ugly—including titles and words on the computer screen, which had become the new page.

Or ugly, at least, to someone like me, who grew up with typewriters and liked the evenness of letters on a line, and the little feet (the so-called serifs) that grounded the shapely curves and angles of the A’s and M’s. That’s what I came to love about a graceful font like Garamond, which traces its origins to the 1500s, but which has been tweaked many times over the next 400 years—among others by Apple, which not surprisingly called its version Apple Garamond, used in the word ”Apple” itself by the company in its branding.

Speaking of Apple, this brings me to my little plaint for the day. Over the past month or so, Apple came out not only with the iPhone 6/6+ and with upgraded iPads and Macs; it also put out new versions of its operating systems for its devices and computers—iOS 8.1 for the portables, and MacOS 10.10 or “Yosemite” for the bigger machines.

So I dutifully upgraded to Yosemite, only to discover to my great dismay that—despite nifty new features here and there like being able to text non-iPhone numbers from your Mac and a better way of dictating text into Microsoft Word—I kept getting bothered by one small (and I mean literally small) thing: the new system font, called Helvetica Neue, which replaced the longtime, rounder Lucida Grande. You’ll see Helvetica Neue in the title bars and the bookmarks and tabs in your Safari Web browser—thin, narrow, and barely legible to my 60-year-old eyes.

What was Apple thinking? Well, certainly not about me (although we baby boomers were the original Apple faithful); “leaner and meaner” seems to be the mantra for the millennial computer user, and Apple is serving up the look in spades. And unlike what you could do with previous OSes, you can’t change or even tweak the size of the system font now, although you could enlarge individual windows in Safari and fonts in Word, probably because the system architecture would come crashing down if you had that option—the look is embedded into the package.

Why is this a big deal, at least for the fussy folk like me? Because it’s another sign—and a very visual one at that—of how the planet’s trendsetters see the present and the future, in the same way that blackletter fonts (more popularly if mistakenly called “Gothic” or “Old English”)—the kind you see in medieval Bibles—evoked an arch, elevated, not-very-accessible mindset.

Fonts and typefaces became more readable over time, and in the modern age, sans-serif (footless) fonts like Helvetica, Univers, and Futura became all the rage. Helvetica (the word itself means “Swiss”, in a tip of the hat to its origins) has been around since the 1950s, and can now be seen everywhere, along with its brethren. Being blocky, sans-serif fonts work best for titles and headlines, but can tire the eyes over long stretches; thus, older, footed fonts like Garamond, Palatino, and New York are still better for body text, because the little feet actually define the letters more sharply (try this by looking at a word like “human” in serif and sans-serif).

Lufthansa

I’ll agree: Helvetica’s a handsome font, and by now probably the world’s most popular one for signage and ads. (Just think of the logos of Lufthansa, American Airlines, Microsoft, Panasonic, Scotch, JCPenney, and The North Face, among others.) Maybe I’m actually sad in a way that Apple’s joining the pack rather than leading it as it often has—and if there was anything Steve Jobs almost literally imprinted into his designers and engineers, it was his fascination for typography.

But please, Apple, when the next upgrade comes around, give us something our aging eyes can better read, even if it isn’t Garamond.

Penman No. 116: The Phabletized Future

FullSizeRenderPenman for Monday, Sept. 29, 2014

 

HAVING WRITTEN with dead seriousness about writing for six straight columns, I hope my readers will indulge me this digression—a periodic, practically biennial, one—having to do with utter frivolity.

Okay, I’ll fess up: I have the new iPhone 6. Naturally. I’ve been an incorrigible Apple fanboy since the mid-1980s—practically since Apple was born—and so no one should be surprised by my prompt (I’ll say “timely”) acquisition of this new bauble, among 10 million other lunatics who snapped up the 6 and its bigger sibling, the 6+, in the gadget’s first three days of being on sale in the global market.

Like an arthritic hippie or a superannuated rebel, I should have no business, as a card-carrying senior, salivating over shiny new toys better seen on 30-somethings dashing off to work or to a dinner date. Well, maybe a little. US demographic studies from 2012 suggest that nearly one-fourth of all iPhone users are 55 and older (and a bit lower for Android and BlackBerry users), so older guys (men use it more than women, 60-40 percent) still make up a good chunk of the iPhone market. That makes sense, because these things don’t come cheap.

Along with literally millions of other people in the US and around the world, I stayed up until dawn on September 12 on the US East Coast to get my order in, and after an interminably long week during which I could only distract myself by doing honest and humorless work on my book project, a brown UPS van arrived to deliver the gadget du jour, a pristine iPhone 6 in smoke gray, 64GB, contract-free under T-Mobile. (Let’s get this out of the way: if you can’t wait for the local telcos to release the IP6 /6+ and want your US-based tita to send you one for an early Christmas, ask for a contract-free T-Mobile unit from the Apple Store—don’t get one from T-Mobile itself, or it will be network-locked.) I took my Globe nanoSIM out of the 5s and popped it into the newcomer, and voila—it was alive!

Never mind the rest of that digital drama, which can only be unremitting silliness to anyone but the most besotted geek. (And it’s only fair to say that millions of other geeks—the Android and Samsung crowd—slept soundly that night.) You can get the full specs and features of the IP6/6+ on dozens of sites online. I’ll cut to the chase with my quickie personal review, because I can just see a bunch of people asking me, “Is it worth it?”

If you’re moving from an older iPhone, the first thing you’ll notice is how thin and light it is—and yet how large. The 6 is larger than the 5/5s, and the 6+ is larger than the 6. I held and tried to like the 6+ in an Apple Store, but came away convinced that it was a cool thing to have if you’re 25, but definitely not for me. I got the 6 because, like many old guys, I prefer smaller, more discreet phones; the IP4 was perfect, but now it won’t run the newest software.

If you need an excuse to upgrade, recite this mantra: better battery, faster processor, bigger screen, thinner profile, better camera, more storage. Add them all up and you might convince yourself that it’s worth a good chunk of change. At 60, I don’t need an excuse; I’m just hopelessly curious, and the older I get, the more curious I am about what the future is going to be like, so every new gadget lets me cheat time.

After a week of playing with the new iPhone, I can say that I can best appreciate the brilliant screen, the excellent camera (I’ve done almost all of my photography with the iPhone for the past few years), and the longer battery life. I still have to get used to the slimness and the lightness of the thing; I’m using a plastic skin on it, but I keep tapping my pocket to make sure it’s still there. I’ve ordered a thick leather wallet case to lend it some heft, and then I’m sure it’ll be just fine.

I know that the so-called “bendgate” issue has come up online alleging that the big IP6+ will bend if you try hard enough (which makes me ask, who would, and why would you?). These “bend” tests are mildly interesting, but if you’re going to base your buying decisions on these, then go buy a tank, not an iPhone. I mean, how many people buy their cars based on crash tests?

What intrigues me more about the future is the new word I picked up this week: “phablet,” which the IP6+ is—a cross between phone and tablet. Frankly, all this talk of a phabletized future—where people walk around with 7- or 8-inch phones stuck to their ears—scares me. If this is the way we’re going, we might as well stick a phone into an iPad mini and call it the iPhone 9. I’ll probably hang around long enough to catch the iPhone 13, which will include telepathic commands among its features. By then, Apple and the iPhone will have gone one of two ways—the way of Godzilla, or the way of Yoda. Godzilla will have a battery life of 20 days and will be strangely reminiscent of the iPad mini; Yoda will have half the battery life but will remind some really old people of the iPhone 1.

By this time, to be fair, size will not be a problem for many people, because fashion designers (starting with Project Runway season XX) have made big pockets trendy; already, one Mafia boss (yes, the Mafia outlived Pope Francis) attributes his surviving an assassination attempt to the big iPhone he carries in his suit pocket, like a shield (it still bends, but it can stop bullets); boardrooms and Mafiosi meetings are soon full of men with bulging fronts. An ad with a digitally recycled Mae West says, “Is that an iPhone, or are you just happy to see me?”

Heck, I’m just happy to see this iPhone now.

Penman No. 85: The Mac@30

MBAPenman for Monday, February 10, 2014

ONLY DIEHARD geeks and the tech and business media would have noted the event’s passing, but late last month, the Apple Macintosh computer marked its 30th anniversary. January 24, 1984 was the date when Apple introduced the Macintosh in what became an iconic commercial aired at the Super Bowl—directed by no less than Ridley Scott, who had already done the cult classics Alien and Blade Runner. In that video (which you can still see on YouTube), a female runner carrying a hammer smashes a screen on which an Orwellian dictator has been haranguing a hypnotized audience, breaking the spell. The clear implication, of course, was that a new hero had arrived, prepared to challenge and to crush the hegemony of industry leaders like Microsoft.

Today, three decades later, Apple has become the hegemon in many domains of computing, even outstripped in some respects by upstarts such as Samsung and Google’s Android platform. It’s sitting on one of the world’s largest stashes of cold cash—almost $150 billion, larger than the GDP of two-thirds of the world’s countries. The challenger has become the challenged; and with the loss and absence of its founder Steve Jobs, Apple under Tim Cook has had to deal with the “vision question”: what’s next for the company that built its fortune and reputation as the world’s most innovative? After the iPhone, what will Cupertino’s wizards come up with to create loops of frenzied buyers around city blocks, waiting for the Apple Store’s doors to open? In an age when most consumers have a choice between buying and using a tablet and a smartphone for everyday computing and communication, is there still room for a desktop or even laptop with an old-fashioned keyboard?

Apple thinks so. Interviewing Apple’s new bosses recently, Macworld editor Jason Snell reported: “What’s clear when you talk to Apple’s executives is that the company believes that people don’t have to choose between a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone. Instead, Apple believes that every one of its products has particular strengths for particular tasks, and that people should be able to switch among them with ease. This is why the Mac is still relevant, 30 years on—because sometimes a device with a keyboard and a trackpad is the best tool for the job.”

(Okay, here, before anything else, let’s get our terms right: “Apple” is the company; “Macintosh” or “Mac” is the computer that Apple makes, in desktop and laptop versions; “iPhone” is the smartphone, “iPad” is the tablet, “iPod” is the music player; and no, there’s no such creature as the “iTouch”; it’s the “iPod Touch.” “MacOS” is the operating system that runs the Mac; “iOS” is the operating system that runs the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. The MacOS has increasingly begun to look and feel like the iOS, and people have begun talking of an ultimate point of convergence when the two might become one.)

I can certainly testify to the fact that, yes, you can have all of these devices at your disposal (resistance is futile—sooner or later, you’ll have them all, even if you have to beg, steal, or borrow), and yes, you will pick out the best one for the specific job: I use an iMac for surfing, a MacBook Air for all my writing, an iPad for lectures, books, and schoolwork, and an iPhone for calls, messages, and nearly all of the above. (I’ve trained myself to write on an iPhone in a pinch, although I miss the BlackBerry’s tactile keypad.)

This, of course, is nothing short of digital indulgence and downright excess, something our fathers and mothers never experienced (although my non-emailing mother has become a gaming freak on her iPhone, and uses it regularly to speak to her brood here and abroad via FaceTime). Ours is the generation caught between the analog past and the digital future; and while that future will surely be more technologically dazzling and perplexing than we can imagine, we want and will get as much of it as we can now, because we can’t afford to wait. The computer is the baby boomer’s ultimate toy, and I’ve often explained my obsession with new digital gadgets (the flipside of my analog obsession with old fountain pens) as my way of cheating time.

Macs and I go a long way back. Thirty years is exactly half my life, and for most of that half-life—since 1986, when I met, touched, and used my first Mac as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, where they had a laser-printing Mac available 24/7 for every 10 of their 40,000 students—I’ve been an unabashed Apple fanboy. There were also some PCs on campus—and I’d eventually buy one, my first computer running on DOS 3.0 with a humongous 10-megabyte hard disk, because it was the only thing I could afford. But it was really the Mac I lusted after, for all the reasons Steve Jobs predicted people would flock to it—it was intuitive (I had brought my Olympia portable with me to the States, and had to be persuaded to give the Mac a chance), it was fun, and it was beautiful.

It wasn’t until I came home, in the early ‘90s, that I got my first Mac—a PowerBook 520c, beloved of Scully and Mulder in The X-Files—which was a gift from a benefactor, who at that moment might as well have been The Almighty. I haven’t looked back since, amassing a virtual museum of Macs, especially portables, from the PowerBook 100 to the MBA. I was glad to learn that, as few as we were like the early Christians, we were not alone. To be an Apple user then was to be a stubborn, persnickety, secretly happy but sometimes publicly sullen member of a distinct minority, derided by the Windows 95 herd (“Windows 95? Why, that’s just Apple 87,” we riposted.)

In the mid-1990s, I joined and later chaired the Philippine Macintosh Users Group or PhilMUG, a handful of Mac addicts—themselves descended from the Macky Mouse Club, an even earlier organization of Apple enthusiasts—who met for monthly get-togethers at Angelino’s on Pasay Road and then Nanbantei near Jupiter Street in Makati. I was part of the focus group Apple assembled for the local rollout of the original iMac, and seeing it in its full glory for the first time was like meeting the Ark of the Covenant. (And to push this semi-blasphemous analogy along, what could have been more mindblowing than meeting the Mac’s messiah himself, Steve Jobs, at MacWorld in San Francisco in 2006, albeit from about 20 feet away? That trip to MacWorld and to Apple headquarters was my visit to the digital Vatican and Holy Land combined.)

Cupertino

Today, PhilMUG has become one of the world’s most active and longest-running Apple User Groups and forums (www.philmug.ph), and I’ve become something of a village elder there, helping chairman Johannes Sia and the other moderators advise newbies on everything from upgrading their machines to choosing the best travel, fitness, and entertainment apps. Everyone, it seems, has an Apple device of one kind or other, or wants to have one. Apple is in commercial heaven, but we—its angels and avatars—aren’t necessarily OK and happy with everything Apple does. Apple’s staunchest supporters can also be its stiffest critics—and we should be, knowing the machines and having invested in them more than anybody else.

But as loudly as I might complain about the iPad’s inability to natively play Flash presentations, among other gripes, I’m resigned to the fact that when the next big Apple product comes around—maybe the iWatch (the precursor of which is the Pebble watch I got for myself and Beng for our 40th anniversary, along the corny theme of “more time together”)—I’ll be there in the front of the queue, asserting my senior citizen’s priority.

As for the Mac itself, I’m also fairly certain that no mobile device, however nifty, will replace a real keyboard and a big screen. At the end of this writer’s working day, a computer is still a glorified typewriter, and it just so happens that as digital Underwoods and Smith-Coronas go, there’s nothing better than a Macintosh. 

 

Flotsam & Jetsam No. 32: An Ode to My iPen 5s

I’M CALLING it my “iPen,” but yes, it’s the new iPhone 5s (the 32gb “slate gray” version) that this incorrigible Apple fanboy couldn’t resist during a recent sortie to Bangkok’s MBK shopping mall, which had loads of these gray-market goodies coming out a few days or even weeks ahead of its scheduled launch in most parts of the world. It came at a considerable premium, of course, but if you factor in US sales taxes and shipping (plus how much you would pay for that ineffable factor called instant gratification), it all evens out, or at least I convinced myself so. What does the 5s have over the 5 (mine’s not even a year old, picked up in the US last October)? Not much—they’re the exact same size, so I just slipped the new phone into the old, custom saddle-leather case—but it does have this cool fingerprint-ID technology that saves you a lot of passcode and password keystrokes, and the camera is blazingly fast and sharp. Worth all the extra bucks? I guess. Do I really need it? Very probably not. Do I really want it? Absolutely. Here’s a visual ode to what I’ll be signing with as my “iPen”:






Penman No. 27: One for the 5

Penman for Monday, Dec. 31, 2012

WITH ALL the literary reportage I’ve been doing lately, I haven’t found the time and opportunity to indulge in my favorite pastimes (aside from poker, which I really can’t promote too much in this family-friendly corner), so let me use these holidays as an excuse to talk about my preferred stocking-stuffers.

Yes, you guessed right—they have to do with gadgets both digital and analog, namely phones and pens. If these things don’t excite you even half as much as they do me, you can turn the page now—or you can forget who you are and forget who I am and just join me these next few minutes as I transform into a 58-year-old boy taking out his tractors for a spin on the living-room floor. I’ll save the pens for another time, and focus on that object of desire that my undergrad students swore they couldn’t live without (as their professor quietly agreed), the cellular phone.

The phone on my mind and in my hand is, of course, the iPhone 5, and I’m writing this piece partly to answer the question that many friends who know me as an Apple fanboy have been asking lately: “How’s the iPhone 5 and do I need to upgrade it to it now?”

Let’s answer the easy part of that question first, which is the second part, and the quick answer is “No.” To be brutally honest—something that won’t come easy to those terminally ill with gadget lust—nobody really needs to upgrade to anything now or almost anytime. Seriously. That phone or that laptop or that camera that served you so well this past year or even longer should be able to do the same thing for you for a few more years, with reasonable care.

What we might call “upgraditis” is a terrible affliction that makes old useful objects—once sparkling with charm and oozing with sex appeal—suddenly look dumpy and inutile, leaving you with little option but to dig into your meager savings or even go into credit-card debt for something newer and shinier. Solid-state hard drives? More gigabytes. Digital cameras? More megapixels. Batteries? More mAh (milliampere-hours to the uninitiated). Upgraditis also leads to a state of mind that equates “want” with “need,” and makes a P35,000 phone or P70,000 laptop look not only a reasonable but an irresistible buy.

So, knowing all these nuggets of wisdom so well and dispensing them so liberally, why did I upgrade my iPhone 4S, barely a year old, to the IP5? To be honest (I make that sound easy), because I’m 58—59 in a couple of weeks—and I don’t need an excuse to get anything new, with my profound awareness that I don’t have too many more sentient years ahead of me to enjoy all the wonderful gadgets that they’ll design in Cupertino and manufacture in Shenzen; I’d be lucky to be around when the iPhone 12 rolls out of the factory, so I’ll take the 5 right now, thank you.

That was actually easier said than done, given the traditional lag time between a product rollout in the US and its appearance on Philippine shelves. The IP5 was released in the US, with the usual fanfare, last September 21, and it didn’t have an official Philippine launch until two weeks ago, on December 14, when Globe and Smart released their stocks (Smart slightly ahead of Globe, at a midnight bash). I couldn’t wait that long, and like a few hardcore Pinoy techies, I got mine in the US when I was there last October for a conference. Other members of our Apple users group (www.philmug.ph) got theirs in Singapore, Hong Kong, the UK, Australia, and even France. Why these countries? Because iPhones are sold factory-unlocked (often by law) in these places, so you can use them with any GSM network worldwide, unlike in the Philippines, where most network-supplied cellphones will require a touch of Greenhills magic to set free.

The US iPhones come in several varieties (Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint), and to spare you a long discussion about 4G or Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks and what will work here, let me tell you that the most compatible, factory-unlocked iPhone 5 version to get in the US for Philippine use is the Verizon one (yes, it’s a CDMA phone, but has a GSM capability as well) that you can now get contract-free from places like Best Buy. That’s what I got off eBay last October, and at the December 14 Philippine launch I got Beng a white IP5 for not too much under a retention plan, so now her iPhone 4 goes to my mom, who’d been using an iPod Touch. Why are we all on iPhones—us here, and my mom, daughter, sister, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law in the US? Because of what I think is the iPhone’s true killer feature, for binational Pinoy families: FaceTime, the free, limitless videoconferencing app that’s even easier to use than Skype and virtually pays for the cost of the phone over time.

So what’s so great about the IP5? Frankly, for me, nothing too earth-shaking; it’s just nice to have if you can cough up the cash. If I wanted to rationalize the hit on my Amex card (minimized by the quick sale of my 4S to my happy sister), I’d say that the IP5 is narrower, thinner, and lighter in the hand; the screen is bigger because of the phone’s extended length, the already-good camera is even sharper, the processor is faster, and the phone is LTE/4G capable, meaning that it’s good to go for the faster networks our telcos have promised to build. (I tested LTE on Verizon in New York, and it was blazingly fast.)

On the downside, the iPhone’s uninspiring battery life hasn’t really improved, at least in my own field tests, so that I’ve taken to carrying a power bank—a rechargeable battery—in my bag or glove compartment just to get through the day and my all-night poker binges. (I use my phone as a business machine rather than a toy—I check my email, surf, and even do school work and write articles like this on it—so I can’t afford to employ battery-saving tricks like turning 3G or Wi-Fi off.) Also, unlike the hard glass and tough plastic of the 4/4S, the anodized aluminum back and sides of the IP5 have been reportedly prone to scuffing in both the black and white models. (Another problem may be network-related; what’s the use of a 4G capability if your network is so slow, even on 3G?)

So what’s my bottomline on the IP5? Five million people apparently felt that they just had to have it within three days of its first release, but if you’re happy with your iPhone 4/4S or even your Samsung (and if you’re not 58 and bothered by your mortality), stick with what you have; it should serve you well for another year or so.

Otherwise, bite the bullet, sell the farm, and queue up for the iPhone 5 at your nearest Globe or Smart branch. Remember all the tedious routines and forms you’re going to have to fill out (there was much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth at the December 14 launch over the four-hour queues, messed-up reservations, and unactivated nano-SIMs). Why? Because I’ll bet you my black 32-gig iPhone 5 that—for all the moaning and groaning and the buyer’s remorse that you’ll be going through now—you’ll be doing it all over again for the iPhone 5S, 6, 7, and 8.

Flotsam & Jetsam No. 14: iPhone 5 Adapter + iPad 1 Dock = :)

A BRAINWAVE hit me a few minutes ago as I was going all the Mac junk in my man-cave and I saw an iPad dock for the original iPad—remember these expensive and practically useless thingies that couldn’t hold up an iPad in its case? I’ve had this dock since i bought my iPad 1 and never even opened the box—I swear, it was that useless!

Well… I came home last night from the US with an iPhone 5 and a Lightning-to-30-pin adapter…. So what would happen if I plugged the adapter on to the iPad dock? Voila—a standing charger for the iPhone 5! There’s just enough stability and clearance to lift up the IP5 (it’ll work even with a thin case or skin—I tried it). So, suddenly, my useless iPad dock becomes a neat bedside accessory! (I should’ve kept more of these to sell right now, ha ha.)

It charges—and, yes, it syncs.