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.)

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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. 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.

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”:






Flotsam & Jetsam No. 27: My iOS7 Home Screen

IT WAS time to move to Apple’s iOS7 this week. I think the new, simplified icons actually work best against a black or plain background. I’ve retained my old wallpaper (a shot of one of my pocket watches) for the lock screen, but for my home screen, I use plain black (you just take a pic in the dark, or shoot a dark colored object and save the pic).

Come to think of it, it’s not much different from how my very first iPhone screen looked like (yes, I saved this image from Oct. 8, 2007, nearly six years ago!):

Flotsam and Jetsam No. 26: Handmade Heaven

You can find many wonderful things handmade by artisans on etsy.com, and that’s where I went to get this matched pair of saddle-leather cases for my iPhone and iPad mini. It took some time and it wasn’t cheap (but then I’ve spent sillier money on pens), but these cases will outlast the gadgets in them, and maybe even the user:

You can find more from the maker here.

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.