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Friday, 30 December 2011


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With smartphones, the best apps will make the device not one thing that does many things; but rather it becomes many single-use devices. This is in the sense that the phone becomes the one app you are running at that time. It commands all the physical controls and the entire screen. Now its a NAV system and nothing else, now its a little web browser, next its a concierge. We truly are living in the future. The former CEO of Nokia caught flak a few years ago for referring to smartphones (Nokia was the early leader) as personal computers. As in so many things, timing is key.


You could do us all a huge favor by collating all that App data and giving us the top ten:)

Reminds me of a so-so article I recently read in Vanity Fair about how we are stuck in a sort of cultural groundhog day since the early 90's, all except for a few tech products like the iPhone.

And what timing re: being able to predict the future, The Onion re-posted this gem just today!


As an amateur astronomer who has used the Ipod's planetarium apps both for personal observing and while doing outreach with the public, I think that the ipod represents a sea-change in the way that technology can augment our appreciation of reality. Start the planetarium app, hold it up the sky, shake it to activate the gyroscope, align it to an easy to identify object like the moon (the iphone will do this automatically with GPS) and the iphone becomes a "window" showing you more than you can see in our light-polluted night skies, can overlay the constellation lines and art. I have hitherto thought that most technological devices take away from our appreciation of nature, but this is something different altogether. You can even point it downwards and see what stars are up on the other side of the planet! I have heard of an app that you can use in the ruins of ancient Rome that will show you, as you move it around, what the city looked like at the height of the empire. That's very exciting!

I went to see the new "Mission Impossible" movie last night and as the flick was ending with Tom Cruise walking into the smoke, the theater lit up with people turning on their phones. I mean like when some one throws a switch on a Christmas tree in Union Square. I was reminded of a Bob Dylan song, Ballad of a Thin Man.

"Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones."

I don't own an iPhone for this very reason; friends who own one tell me that the thing it does worst is act a phone. My nephew carries a separate, more simple, cellphone in addition to his 'smart phone' so he also has a reliable phone.

I have seen some cool apps, though. One of the ones I like converts the iPhone into a tape measure...just roll it across a surface. And, I like the one that recognizes songs playing in the background; I could have won some bar contests when I was younger where one had to identify the tune and the artist in order to win.

Mike: Not to worry about Luddism since what we're both concerned with is a loss of nuance. The subtlty of life wrought by magic images appearing from a bath of Dektol, of Tolstoy's Anna, of the six variations of Moonrise I've seen, and of course an intelligent president who actually knows an adverb from an adjective. Time to reread Common Sense and hope for a better future technologically, or not.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's 1974 book The Mote In God's Eye has personal digital assistants that are a pretty good match for the iPhone. Well, except they have more ubiquitous networking, and are more secure. And Stanley Kubrick's film 2001 contains a device that's a dead ringer for today's tablet computers (and is being cited as prior art in patent cases).

True, a Leica S2 is fairly simple, but perhaps once in awhile I do wish it allowed me to read and comment to TOP as my iPhone camera does this very instant.

One thing these phones can never replace is another person to interact with. Data will never be the same as a real voice. Also, I find that folks I know are drawn into these things and lose track of their surroundings.

So I would suggest a "Prism" app. that shows the viewer what's out in front of them!

You can think of it as a slow attempt to colonize your pockets. Used to be I left the house carrying a bunch of things -- depending on what I was doing: something to read, a music player, a watch, maps, maybe a camera, maybe a notepad and a pen, a telephone when that became possible, maybe a laptop when *that* became possible. Nowadays I leave the house with my smartphone, my keys, and my wallet. I suspect the latter two are going to be the next to go.

Mike, it certainly DOES make me wonder what will be out there in 2025. Many times I've told myself that Moore's Law of computing technology advances just wouldn't apply any more. But technology and human inventiveness just keeps upping the ante.

While the technology is certainly amazing, there is something lost for us when we become immersed in all this "stuff".

I heard this morning that there was a sort of "flash mob" at the biggest mall in America. In actuality, it was a mob that worked almost as a single entity, and the purpose was to loot stores and engage in violent behavior. The premise was that the "mob" cooordinated themselves via social media.

I have to wonder if these kinds of things will increase into 2025 as well.

No matter how great my phone gets, it'll never replace a timepiece on my wrist. Having to pull a phone out of my pocket, wait for it to "wake up", and find the time within the wall of information provided can't compare to the ease of simply looking at one's wrist and seeing the time presented in a relatively uncluttered device. I brought a large-faced watch with me over Christmas, and didn't realize until I had to wear a dress shirt that the watch wouldn't fit in the cuff. Six hours without a watch ended up providing ample situations where it was a major inconvenience not to have one.

Besides, watches are much cooler than cell phones. They have a level of mechanical technical quality that nothing else we interact with daily has (except, of course, our cameras), and of course there's the "fashion statement" aspect that some people care about more than others.

I'm not averse to other functions being incorporated into the watch format, though. The iPod Nano makes a really cool watch when put on one of the many wristbands available, and I'd love to have a watch that gave me local weather or displayed Bluetooth caller ID.

I actually don't mind, in principle, cameras having tons of functions I'll never use (as soon as you shoot raw, most functions become instantly useless, anyway.)

The worry is if the design and engineering effort (and horsepower and weight and size and price, etc.) are put on useless features, then one can only imagine how better it could have performed the key features.

In practice, I agree with you, because it almost never happens that a do-it-all device does all the individual things it does optimally—at least not the way a dedicated device does.

As a first step, how hard would it be for them to provide a mechanism to disable unused features and customize buttons further? Imagine having only the things you ever need visible in the menu and only useful buttons. This is something they all could do tomorrow with a firmware upgrade and it would instantly make all devices exponentially better.

well here's a challenge for you: consider the simpleness directness and flow of an app like instagram which lets you instantly share an idea and flow of ideas over the web, with the still last century any-manufacturer any-form-factor digital camera- they are just sooo indirect- you have to download the card, process the images, resize, caption etc and upload from another internet connected device.....

What it seems to me that camera manufacturers are missing is the simple flow of the camera phone; shoot, caption, share, instantly. Almost a polaroid and sharpie kind of thing.

I just don't get why someone, anyone cannot put a bluetooth connection or a cellular connection into a camera and create an app for the phone- so I can use a "real" camera and do what my fake camera can do so easily.

Anyway I think there are many kinds of flow experiences and not all have to begin with "simple" tools by your definition- the iphone is about a simple as technology gets when its good. I think you are going to like it eventually.

The remarkable thing about the iPhone is that is both more general purpose *and* simpler, in many cases, than the special purpose machines it replaces.

Mike, it's not just the things the iPhone replaces that amazes me - do you remember when people carried pocket address books and diaries? It's the new world of augmented reality where you start to see the potential.

The list of augmented reality apps is growing http://www.tripwiremagazine.com/2011/07/45-brilliant-augmented-reality-iphone-apps.html - have a look at Panoramascope, Theodolite and Sunseeker, which look useful to eccentrics like me who still carry a single-use device quaintly known as a "camera". (btw I've got no idea how an iPhone can act as a rangefinder, but apparently it can).

What also impresses me is how much of your life is now in your pocket or handbag where people can snatch it or enforcement agencies can seize it. Think of it as a Super Identity Card. All your contacts, your phone calls, where you've been and where you are in real time, what you've photographed or recorded on video, all there for the taking. It's no longer just your phone, it's your whole life in binary code.

And it can be taken by stealth, electronically, without your knowledge. What internet-connected device is guaranteed secure in this day and age? No wonder identity theft is the fastest growing crime. How many iPhone users turn on the built-in data encryption feature http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4175 ?

If governments forced people to carry such an all-encompassing digital identity card there would be an outcry. But we do it willingly, because it's incredibly useful, it's fun, and we risk becoming invisible to our friends and family if we don't.

2025 will be interesting indeed.

Mike I don't have a problem with machines and gadgets doing too much. I think the problem is doing too much *badly*, and with poor interface.

For example - the Fuji X100 does quite a few things that are probably unnecessary, but the great thing about it is you can pretty much ignore those features and fall back on the aperture and shutter speed dials without fear of getting 'lost'. Compare this to Canon and Minolta adding scene modes and other gizmos at the expense of fundamental controls to their film SLRs back in the 90s.

Your description of the iPhone as replacing many other things is more interesting from a behavioural and sociological perspective. I don't know how often you catch public transport, but those who do would have noticed how the majority of commuters are using smart phones throughout their journey. People reading newspapers or books are out of the ordinary. They are probably all doing different things (reading e-books, messaging people, Facebook, listening to music, playing games), but the sight of a hundred people all with heads bowed and staring into glowing screens silently is a little disturbing.

If anything, the "soft" camera on the iPhone is starting to influence the design of "proper" cameras. Look at the NEX-7. Fewer but more configurable buttons. I don't care so much about depth/complexity provided I can configure it how I like and hide all the stuff I don't use. Just how many controls are needed to take a picture anyway?

I don't envision myself becoming an enthusiastic iPhone photographer

Here's a prediction: your iPhone will kill the camera middle ground for you, namely compacts and (arguably) micro 4/3.

I've also noticed that smart phones often replace face-to-face conversations in restaurants and at dinner tables.

Actually the iPhone can also "make" coffee: http://www.scanomat.com/coffee-brewers/topbrewer

It's also a nice pet that doesn't need cleaning up after. Live with it a while you'll see what I mean.

Mike, thanks so much for the wonder photograph of Zander. It truly represents all the reasons I would not want to own a ‘smart phone’ and why I cherish my Nikon F (with a meter-less penteprisim) along with some D-76, Stop Bath, Fixer, Photographic paper, Dektol, etc...) I’ll stick with Edward Weston, Minor White, Margaret Rutherford and the 20th Century! You really capped off my year; first a Christmas cruise on Liberty of the Seas and then a photograph of what I see as the true decline of Western Civilization!

Best Wishes for a safe and happy New Year!

Regarding simplicity and features... The beauty of a machine like the Alpha A900 or A850 is its simplicity. Simplicity of design, interface and performance. Add a Zeiss 85/1.4 or 24/2 and one is in photographic heaven.

Happy New Year and thanks for a year of wonderful posts/content.


Absolutely agree. Yeah, I'm an old guy, 62 and counting. The only digital SLR that ever captured my attention was that 4:3 Leica one that had a real shutter dial (and aperture ring on the lens). I really believe that tech nerds design cameras these days. Surely no photographers have a hand in it. That is the main reason I hold onto my film cameras, for the experience of holding and shooting with them. You want to see one of these kid photographers with a giant wonder-plastic DSLR with the obligatory mason jar sized zoom w/tulip shade jaw drop. Just let him look through my OM-1 with a plain matte screen and 85mm f2 mounted. Yeah kid, if the battery dies I just keep shooting. It's 35 years old, has had one service call and will, if used, continue to function for at least another 35 years.

I think HG Wells had the best early prediction in story form about phones & pads. Reread (or read) The Shape of Things to Come, The Sleeper Awakes, or Men Like Gods.

Layers of Luddism! Brilliant.

I don't know if this is indicative of anything but my sister got a new camera for Christmas. I didn't buy it but I picked it out: Olympus ZX-1.

Over the years she got progressively longer lenses in her (always) compacts. Her last camera was a "superzoom" bridge camera, which she lost a year ago. Since then, she's used her iPhone 4.

All of which is to say, for certain expectations and needs, cameras still work, even for non-pros, even for my sister who never learned an f-stop from an ISO.

In fact, when she learned the ZX-1 only has a 4X zoom she freaked at the limitation. I then showed her a handful of successful snaps I'd taken with it in low light, and explained I was tired of getting noisy and / or pale flash-on-camera images from her and that the Oly was the end of the road there. She beamed. She finally understood, once she saw what such a camera could do, and agreed it actually did fit her needs better.

Re: Cameras too complex. The (pdf) manual for my Hasselblad500 C/M is less than 40 pages (several pages of which are devoted to loading the film backs). The manual for my Nikon D700 is 444 pages. I think I get better landscape images on film with the Hasselblad.

If you want a phone that makes coffee, check out the Pomegranate (pomegranatephone.com). Not only does it make coffee, it is a translator, electric shaver and a harmonica all rolled into a clever looking phone.
Happy New Year!

Mike, you say

"And that seems unlikely: I don't think anyone could have imagined an iPhone in 1990, if we're being honest. At least not in detail. Maybe not even 1999".

I'm no Apple fanboy, not owning any of their products but for an old iPod, but surely we should give credit to Steve Jobs for at least having had a glimmer of an idea back then?

Lest you doubt the ability of individuals to be extraordinarily visionary, you may wish to Google a) Vannevar Bush and the Memex and b) Doug Englebart and the Mother of All Demos.

Not to mention old George Cayley, living in the English countryside in 1801 and figuring out the fundamentals of aviation engineering cold, with pencil and paper.

Hi Mike:

I too just got an iPhone this month and am learning the ropes. However, it was supplied by my company; personally I wouldn't spend that kind of resources for a phone. As a camera it is neat for documenting things but IQ does not compete with real cameras! My Q has way better IQ. I was able to take some neat videos in situations that normally you wouldn't because it so unobstrusive. Nobody thinks you are taking their picture as so many people are always playing with their smart phones.
My biggest resistance to technology such as the iPhone is that it gets us hooked into monthly payments ad infinitum. I remember when land lines cost $15-20/month and life was a lot simpler. Now I have monthly internet/cable/phone bills that are many times higher than that.
I am also looking forward to learning about iPhone apps.

The iPhone and its Android and Blackberry competitors are for some people the successors of the Filofax that was so common in the eighties and nineties.

The 1990 movie "Taking Care of Business" is based on the risks involved with having everything about your life in one small object.

The movie's synopsis is "An uptight advertising exec has his entire life in a filofax organizer which mistakenly ends up in the hands of a friendly convict who poses as him."

They could do a remake of that movie now.

"...it shouldn't have a flash, it shouldn't do video"

Are you thinking of the X100 specifically, or cameras in general?

If we take it that the basic job of a camera is to shoot stills, then I have no problem if other features are added so long as they don't interfere with the basic job.

In fact, adding a built-in flash that's strong enough for fill + balance is a brillant feature, IMO. For me, it's an essential criterion for a camera.

I also believe that convergence / multi-purpose ability of digital devices is a huge plus as well, so long as the main function is not disrupted.

I have a "normal" mobile (cell) phone. I use it for talk, text, a watch, an alarm. It does other things that I don't bother with.

A number of my friends have bought smart phones. I have no interest at this stage. To me, the main function of a smart phone is to surf the web, followed by phone use (see above) then as a camera. I have enough access to the web at work and at home, I don't need to carry that access in my pocket.

24x7 social media doesn't interest me either. The world got along just fine not knowing what I ate for breakfast, and I have not intention of changing that!

Mike, there is a joke I used to tell which was meant to emphasize technology progress in the area of portable phones. I hadn't told it in a long time when I started to tell it recently and realized how reality had pretty much overtaken the joke.

It goes something like this. Three guys are playing golf together. At one point one them starts talking into his wristwatch, seemingly having a phone conversation. The other two guys ask what he is doing to which he responds "it's something we are testing at the lab. We have built in a microphone and receiver into a watch". A couple of holes later, just as one of the other two guys is about to tee off he starts carrying on a one-sided phone conversation, but without the aid of any props. Curious, the other guys inquire about how he is able to do this. The second explains he is also testing something new his company is working on; he has a small implant in his ear that acts as receiver and speaker (who knew that was to be called Bluetooth some day?!). Finally, toward the end of the game, as the three guys are putting, the third one drops his trousers and crouches down. The other two startled start screaming "what are you doing?" "I have a fax coming in" he answers.

Have you yet wondered why you can't download apps for your camera? Wouldn't it be great to download an app that would get rid of all the confusing menus and leave you with just a customized camera that works like you wish it would?

I have also found it intriguing to observe how expectations of technological progress tend to be insufficiently imaginative in some areas, but too optimistic in others.

In general, I have observed that insufficient imagination in predicting the future is the norm for technologies with mass-market potential, epitomized by electronics like the PC and the iPhone.

Conversely, over-optimism seems to be the norm in unprofitable technologies, such as basic science with no immediately marketable applications-- space exploration and particle physics come to mind. (I should probably stop whining about this already, but I still feel that the decommissioning of the Tevatron for budged reasons was a travesty!)

Let us hope that the development of alternative energy sources does not fall into the latter category. But anyway, Happy New Year!

I captured this on an iphone just before Christmas:
then edited it with Lightroom.
I would have been happy with this if it came out of my DSLR, in fact I wish I had taken it with a 'camera'.
I don't like taking photographs with a phone, but this has got me wondering.
I'm reminded of the question "What's the best camera?" answer "the one you have with you when you need one"

We've come full circle, from phones we use to talk to people, to phones we use to text people, to phones we talk to to send texts to people. (And 1000 texts isn't nearly enough, especially when you start texting the person in next room over.)

Mike: "I've always advocated simplicty, directness, and dedicated functionality in cameras,"

Now fire up the camera app. There are only 3 controls directly linked to photo taking: shutter, flash control, tap to focus/ expose.

It can not be simpler than this.

Please don't turn this into an iPhone worshipping blog, or I'll have to stop reading I'm afraid.

There are many other phones out there that can do exactly the same as an iPhone (or more, and better), I'm sick of hearing from Apple worshippers about how great their little device is. Please don't ruin this site.


"Curiously, I can see that for some people, it even replaces some of the functions of the home computer."

More than some ... with all the cloud-based applications on the market (from Photoshop to Turbotax) there's less and less need for many people to own a "real" computer. (Personally, I see bandwidth - either the availability of it for those of us in rural areas, or the cost of it for most anyone - being a sticking point).

Think about what the people you know use their computers for. An awful lot of that could be done on an iPod or a tablet.

Call me a luddite, too. My iPod is an 80GB hard drive model that wouldn't know what to do with an app and I don't own a cell phone.


Yes, I no longer wear a watch, and instead rely on my iPod Touch. It does almost everything an iPhone does, bar communicating with the outside world when away from the house (at home it connects to the Internet via wifi - I read this post on my iPod while sick in bed).

In Japan I can own a cheap cell phone with a very cheap package (my share of the family deal amounts to about US$20/month) that gives me unlimited free daytime calls to others on the same network, unlimited free calls to nominated family any time of the day and unlimited free texts any time of the day to the same network. Since (almost) all of my friends and all of my family are on this network, at the moment it makes no financial sense to get an iPhone.

When teaching, I use my iPod as a clock, a stop watch, a countdown timer, a dictionary, a translating dictionary, and, since my 80 odd students per semester are broken into groups of around only 4 per class, a mini multi media presentation device. On my way home on the train, the only time of my commute I might get to sit down, I do my paperwork on the iOS version of Pages (I'm typing this now on Pages on my iPod). On my morning commute, where I never have the chance to sit and I must hold on for safety's sake with one hand, I cannot read a book (picture those images of sardine-like packed Japanese trains). But I can use my iPod one handed to watch movies, type, listen to music and so on. It's no exaggeration to say that it's been a real sanity saver while commuting.

Yes, iPhones/Pods have indeed become 'do everything' devices, for which I am very grateful. Oddly, about the only thing I don't use it much for is taking photos.

Written in & submitted via my iPod

It should come as no surprise that the iPhone can replace almost any device that has similar physical features, since the iPhone is a general purpose computer. We're already used to personal computers replacing lots of devices to the point that nobody would even think of using those devices anymore: typewriters, abacuses, index cards, ledgers, darkrooms.

Your photo of Zander reminds me of this one (click on the photo to enlarge it). What's missing from those movies that show a Martian fleet landing is the millions of teenage iPhone users who are oblivious to the event.

Thom Hogan has some very interesting observations on the iPhone at http://bythom.com/design2010.htm .

I find everyone talks a lot about how things have changed and how fast they have changed these "past few" years (everyone is a little vague on what the time reference is).

Personally, I think my grandfather suffered (and benefitted) from far more changes than anyone today. In his lifetime (1910 - 1988):

- the horse was replaced with the automobile and many roads were built to previously isolated communities

- the candle and kerosene lantern were replaced with the electric light bulb

- outdoor latrines came inside

- the telegraph was replaced by the telephone

- television was invented, along with his favourite sport: "pro" wrestling!

- radio broadcasting was "invented" (if you can invent a service), and became common place (how about "immediate" news?!)

- travel by airplane became possible and commonplace

- man went to the moon

- the transistor was invented, along with the integrated circuit, which for him meant that radio receivers became "personal" and computers were "invented" and also became "personal".

- satellites went into orbit and became the backbone of our communications system, which for him, meant he could pick up the telephone on one side of the country to call me while I was in school on the other side of the country.

The upshot for me is that he saw incredible changes that allowed isolated communities to completely reverse their condition of:

- little (and outdated) news;
- no fresh fruit, fresh meat, or fresh milk;
- little to no medical attention for the sick;
- poor living and sanitary conditions; and
- little interaction with outside communities and people.

Now that, to me, is a massive amount of change.

Here's the xPhone (in German): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0RqPhr-hdA

You think the iPhone's a jack of all trades!? Watch the video.

Happy New Year.

Luddism is overrated(not to mention it is wrought with some sort of perverse smugness),get what you want,use it as you wish.The whole concept seems to me more philosophical than useful,we'd still be living in caves otherwise.P bloody S,things can be fun and functional at the same time.Grumpy? Not much......

I am a wedding photographer part-time, and my iPhone has saved other people's (not mine, usually) bacon a number of times. The favourite one amongst groomsmen is the 'How to tie a tie' app.

It really is the modern-day swiss army knife.

> Zander had to get unlimited texting on his iPhone yesterday, because,
> he assured me, 1000 texts a month was not nearly enough

Keeping in near-constant touch with friends is perceived by teens as of being of paramount importance, but one should still be aware that text messages and the interruption they cause to thought processes can have quite a negative impact on cognitive performance…


    Link #1
    Drawing on such diverse sources as Socrates and Plato, Augustine, Nietzsche, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, and modern studies on neuroscience, the author makes a compelling case that the new technologies have negatively affected our capacity for “deep reading,” and thus for deep thinking.

    Lnk #2
    The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day
    “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
    We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating
    empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.
    it’s only by stepping briefly away from my wife and bosses and friends that I’ll have anything useful to bring to them.

    Link #3
    Listening to soothing background music while studying may improve concentration. But other distractions — most songs with lyrics, instant messaging, television shows — hamper performance.
    In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages.

I do most of my shooting with an iPhone. It's amazing what the apps can do. I went through a range of cameras from all kinds of film cameras to Nikon D700, Leica M9 and Fuji X100 etc.

It's a lot more fun to do post processing while being horizontal on the couch instead of sitting in front of a computer. I post my iPhoneography (among other things) to Google+ here: http://mindcamera.com/plus

You probably have figured this out, but if Z/Xander's (great name, btw, it was a close second when we named our son) friends have iPhone/iPod/iPads, he won't need unlimited texts, as any iMessage between iOS5 devices are free. Free meaning they use a tiny amount of data - unless you're on wifi - but don't count as a text. And also with Siri, he can "speak" his texts, saving his thumbs and allowing you to eavesdrop once again. ;-)

Enjoy your new toy. I've had mine for a couple of months and am finding ridiculous amounts of uses for it. Photographically speaking, the camera and apps like Instagram are fun but in no way replace a real camera. I've also found the iOS5 tricks to be poorly documented. Did you know you can use the "+" button on the side of the phone as a shutter release? This gives you something tactile instead of stabbing at the screen. You can also use the "+" button on you earbuds as a cable release, eliminating the need to jostle the phone/camera at all. Have fun.

In a restaurant yesterday I briefly eavesdropped on a gentle conversation behind me between two elderly women who were discussing the novels of Thomas Hardy. It transported me back to analog days, and I cannot tell you how good it felt. My whole being relaxed in a way it hasn't in a long time.

I'm a single function guy. Rather, maybe a minimal function guy. My cell phone was purchased for the sole reason of having a telephone. I've never even used it to text anyone and, honestly, don't know or care how to use that function. I do use it as a timepiece although I have several wristwatches and it's great as a personal phonebook. I could care less about any other function. Besides, my stepson sent an email yesterday that his I-phone had died and email is now his only means of communication until he gets it repaired or replaced. Once you put all you eggs into one basket, you have to accept how they can all become one big ass omelet.

Being a technological minimalist, I also like my digital cameras to operate as simply as possible. Most don't. Most require you to learn how to make things NOT happen while using them. The first thing I do when I get a new camera is figure out how to turn off sounds, graphics, informational displays, flash, the obnoxious AF helpful beam and any other function that gets in the way of taking pictures. Once that's done, I try to find a method to adjust exposure, aperture, shutter speed and focus--you know, the only functions you need to make photographs.

I am getting quite frustrated at how many multi-function devices all do the same thing apart from one critical function that they don't do at all well, requiring you to buy multiple devices that all do much the same thing. Tablets, phones, e-readers and laptops for instance. I own three of the above and refuse point blank to make it four by buying a tablet.


Regarding your iPhone comment, and may I add, digital photography in general:

My best to you in 2012,
Julio Mitchel

I'm not a Luddite - quite the opposite - but I am getting fed up of seeing nothing but the top of peoples heads [see photo above] as they go through life.

I too am inclined toward many simpler devices instead of the super-multi=purpose devices. I think it's a generational thing: remember the days when only a bumpkin would get a pre-amp and amplifier integrated in one component, or that ultimate foolishness of adding a radio to the package and calling a "receiver"?

What's that "fungus" on Zander's upper lip? "Tempus fugit"

As to who had the ideas, look here. Note the dates. See also "ubiquitous computing" and "ubicomp," passim. Steve Jobs was a brilliant industrialist and marketer, and this deserves respect, but there are, so far as I can tell, few original ideas in the Mac or iOS product lines.

As to smartphones...35 years ago, cranky computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra wrote, "We can found no scientific discipline, nor a hearty profession, on the technical mistakes of the Department of Defense and, mainly, one computer manufacturer."

With smartphones it is the wireless service providers and, still, one computer manufacturer. We might also add one major internet search provider, but the wireless service providers have been crippling its offering (the search provider believed in the ideals of openness and the free market, silly them), so the lead still stands with one computer manufacturer.

One day, early in the iPhone era (Gen 1, back when they cost a million bucks), I learned that sometimes device convergence isn't the best thing in the world, and maybe you didn't want your phone to also be your music player. I worked at a coffeeshop where the music was played from an employee's iPod (using a 1/8" cable, no fancy dock or whatever) to the store speakers, and one of the company's higher ups was there helping out and put his iPhone on the speakers to play his music. Then his phone started ringing over the music system. Oops.

And as for redundancy, I have my calls and texts all routed through Google Voice, so everything important shows up on my laptop as well as my phone. Usually, I have both and it's fun to see which device gets a text first, and how long the lag is to the other. I'm rarely without one or the other, but when I am, it's usually on purpose, and I don't want to be reached. I can be very tech dependent, or I can be very Luddite. I like the option of choosing.

I've had similar text-centirc experiences with my young adult children. They don't generally answer calls in real time and rarely listen to voicemail, but will return a text within minutes.

I envy whoever thought up the whole idea of text messaging. A previously undiscovered (and hugely lucrative, as it turns out) "profit center." I hope they got a nice, fat bonus...

To Rob Smith,
I know the Apple worship gets old and there are lots of other smartphones out there, but...
Our older son is a iOS developer and he's done two iOS apps for our educational nonprofit already, with about 4 more planned. We've gotten lots of requests for Android apps and tried to do them, but Google gives away the Android operating system and proves that when something is free, you get what you pay for.
At the current time, there seem to be at least six versions of the Android OS used in phones and there is no way to guarantee an app developed for one version will run on the others, nor with two manufacturers phones running the same version! Plus they get modified and obsoleted at a moment's notice.
For this reason, app developers have for the most part given up on Android apps and the other OSes available (including MS) are not a market factor.
BTW, Apple vets all the apps they offer (getting approval can be tough) to prevent malware (and some developers are really tricky) but Android has no vetting - as a result there are reports that up to 40% of all Android apps contain malware.
Some people complain about Apple's tight controls over apps and using their OS, software and products, but it really is the only way to guarantee the customer experience.


The iPhone, or, more precisely, the iPad was more or less exactly forecast in the 1960's - specifically 1968 - by one of computing's great futurists: Alan Kay. His iPad was called the Dynabook; Wikipedia describes it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynabook

You can see Kay talking about it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r36NNGzNvjo and read an interview with him about it here: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2008/11/museum-celebrat/; his description's resemblance to the iPad seems shocking until you realize that the computer industry has been working quite consciously towards his blueprint for 40 years.

I don't have an iPhone, nor a smartphone, just a regular cell phone which allows me to do the thing I want a phone for---to send e-mail or texts. Nothing irritates me more than someone calling me on it when a simple text would do. My department head always calls. He is the exceeding rare type of fellow who does hates computers to such an extent he has none at home. He barely knows how to use his work computer. Part of the reason may be that our cheap, IT incompetent company is just upgraded from Windows 2000 to XP two years ago.

Mine is now my watch, too. It is no more inconvenient than pocket watches I have been know to own, and not as nice as my mechanical watches. Then again, the mainspring on my cell phone does not break like my idiotically expensive mechanical watches tend to do.

I am curious about the iPhone camera, though. I have heard the cute little: The best camera is the one you have with you," which my current cell phone proves false. 3mp or so, with a "lens" that renders everything smeary blob of sorts, and requires so many keystrokes to activate, shoot, save, process, and close, it ain't worth it at all. Would rather make a sketch.

I don't mind the increasing number of things that can be done on a phone, as long as people watch where they are going when reading it while walking, cycling, and driving. Which most don't.

Just don't call me on the thing.


part of the future is here, but another important part of it is not. Digital devices and microelectronics are almost eerie in the way that they follow the sci-fi blueprint (Arthur C. Clarke's "Imperial Earth" and Howard Fast's short story "The Martian Shops".)

What's missing from our "future now" is the power (no pun intended) to do massive-scale operations, like mass desalination of ocean water, and pumping power to move that water where it is most needed, sometimes thousands of feet above sea level. Power that's "too cheap to meter" (from the late 1950's Atoms For Peace Program, by way of Westinghouse and the Atomic Energy Commission.)

I'm being only slightly tongue-in-cheek with this, btw; if you could ask any child of the Fifties who read science fiction which was the more-likely scenario, either the ability to instantly access almost all of the world's knowledge with a thin, hand-held device, or that cheap, clean and non-polluting electric power would be taken for granted, I'd bet money that being able to read anything, talk to anyone, watch any movie or tv show, or listen to any piece of music would have ranked lower on the probability scale.

Well said. I keep being astounded by this progress.
Some people aren't. I think that either they have much, much more imagination than I have, and so have seen these things coming, or they have much less imagination than I, and so just take for granted whatever is in front of them instead of putting it in perspective.

I'll be frank, when trying to imagine tech in 2025, my mind goes blank, I just give up. This may be good or bad. I know that if, 20 or 30 years ago, I would have heard of Photoshop, the Internet, and my new Fuji X10, I would probably have killed myself in frustration that I couldn't get my hands on them.

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