eXtensions Diary

eXtensions Diary Friday 12 October 2007: Graham K. Rogers on Detractors

As an apt soft start to the eXtensions diary pages, it has just been announced that Al Gore has won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, along with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Al Gore has gone through some hard times of late, and the recent decision by a judge in the UK that An Inconvenient Truth has to carry an educational "health warning" has delighted those who think that global warning is all smoke and mirrors anyway and we should just carry on guzzling oil and cutting down the rain-forests as if there is no tomorrow.

When the judge's decision is analyzed, far from dismissing the idea, An Inconvenient Truth is praised and found to be, in the main, heading in the right direction. It is just that Gore, in some rhetorical flourishes puts forward as facts some points that cannot be substantiated scientifically. Those points, include the death from drowning of polar bears (it may be that they drowned on heavy seas and this has nothing to do with disappearing ice floes). In addition, according to the Huffington Post article by Jackson Wlliams that I am borrowing some of these points from, "the drying of Lake Chad, the loss of Mount Kilimanjaro's snows and Hurricane Katrina may well have been caused by climate change, but the judge said the scientific community has yet to prove a direct link."

The truck driver who brought the case scored three out of four.

My interest in this comes from the way that a certain section of the popular press, or in Gore's case some of the groups who may have an interest in not identifying Global Warning as a clear and present danger, grasps at the little straws as a convenient way of making An Inconvenient Truth and its inconvenient message somehow diminish in the hopes, perhaps that like the legend of King Cnut they can make the rising waters go away. (Cnut demonstrated rather that he did not have omnipotence by sitting on the sea-shore and getting his feet wet as the tide came rolling in.)

I saw in this a parallel to the way that, especially since the announcement of the iPhone (and for many years before), some people find a special gratification in being detractors of Cupertino and its products. It doesn't matter what the main message is, they chip away at the edges, repeat the myths and watch as the revised version is telegraphed round the world.

I first came across this when, in conversation with an Australian academic at the university I work at, I mentioned that I used a Mac. "Oh ho. There's no software for Macs," he said. It was probably the first time I had come across such a stupid, unsupported statement, and I was a bit nonplussed as I had been working for months writing, doing project work, spreadsheets, photography, downloading utilities that all worked fine and did everything I wanted on System 7.

I still get the "Macs are expensive" line. When we look back to something like 1997 when the first Mac with an LCD appeared at something like $10,000 or more, then that clearly was the case, although these days it is fairly easy to point such commentators in the direction of a well-known and popular line of Japanese laptops which top out the Mac portables by several thousand baht. (I must add here that having lived in Thailand for some 20 years, I know nothing about the Euro; the Pound is a distant memory; and the dollar, while falling at the moment, is the only currency reference I might use as the US market is useful for comparisons: to all intents and purposes, for me the baht is real money.)

Within days of the iPhone announcement, all hell broke loose, particularly when some people began to realise what it would (and in some ways has) come to mean: design, user-friendliness, bling.

On that last point, if anyone remembers what life was like before the mobile phone, let me give you a couple of examples. The first was in England, some time in the 70s when I was a regular visitor to Silverstone, the UK race track. A member of the Silverstone Club (and I was a member too) had a red Ferrari Dino, but more significant in the Ferrari, and clearly visible to us wind-blown plebs as we wandered past in the car park, there was a telephone: more a clear demonstration of wealth than the Ferrari.

Cut to Bangkok in the late 90s just as mobile phones were beginning to appear at frighteningly high costs. Clearly, to have a mobile phone then, and to be seen carrying around the several battery packs that seemed de rigeur, was still a demonstration now not just of wealth but of power too: a politician might have two or even three; while customers at one restaurant the Thonburi side of Sathorn Bridge were told that smoking was not permitted (years before no smoking laws came in), but that was apparently relaxed for the man with the mobile phone. These days, even the street cleaners and food sellers tote phones and it is almost a sign of power (certainly independence) not to have one.

The user friendliness aspect was one that so many commentators could get their teeth into. A few weeks before the iPhone finally made its US appearance a story did the rounds (I eventually had it sent to me as a "Told you so" e-mail) that the keyboard on the device was, ummm, wrong. People were having trouble typing, it was not working properly. Apple was going to DIE.

It was a non-event of course. The first couple of times you do use the non-tactile virtual keyboard seems a bit odd, and you may mistype a couple of letters, especially if your fingers are sausage-like (like mine -- I have never been a great typist). The human brain and body are great at adapting, however, and within days, or even hours, a learning process occurs: remember what it was like trying to ride a bike for the first time; or swimming?

What was left was the user-friendliness aspect and this takes two or three forms: the price; the AT&T link and third party applications, which in one way or another are manifestations of the same problem: Apple has it and I want it.

For a number of years, telephone companies have linked their services to specific phones. Or that may be that specific phones have been linked to services, I can never make my mind up about that and do not have any experience of it. In the main, of course, as seems to happen in the UK, this was a question of sign to my service and I will give you FREE a cheapo phone. Everyone got on with that business model until the iPhone meant that, if you want the iPhone, you have to have AT&T, which (again I have no experience) may not be the best service extant.

One little point, however, Apple did not sign with AT&T. The deal was with Cingular, which of course did become part of it not long after the announcement of the iPhone: who can forget Stan Sigman's speech at the AppleWorld Conference? Maybe I am splitting hairs here, but these critics sometimes need more familiarity with the true picture.

Since then, a great swell of opinion has risen that suggests, nay demands that telephones not be linked to telephone companies. I agree in general on this; but then that problem does not exist in Thailand. It did in the way that the SIM card was locked to a provider, but perhaps the telephone companies realised it was in their interests to allow people to switch services more easily and keep the numbers, particularly when some of the Hi-So people were toting such expensive toys. Which brings us to another point. That iPhone price was considered to be so high that, Steve Ballmer of Microsoft for one (and maybe this is a clue) said that no one would buy one they were so expensive, while some buyers were already rushing out of the stores with higher priced Nokia and other phones. No one seemed to notice that.

Once the door was open and the buying public did buy the iPhone, tactics had to switch. Third Party Applications was the next tack. In its wisdom, and I have no inside track as to why this was done, or (come to that) why Apple does anything. No one was allowed at the start to write applications for the iPhone. No one is still, although a certain latitude has occurred with third party web applications: but you need the internet to be up and running for these to work.

Not good enough. On the one hand, with the AT&T network we have lots of people (and I do not notice may who can be identified as iPhone users) who demand to be let out; while on the other, scores of commentators are saying that developers demand to be let in.

I do not hear many ordinary voices, but I do read the comments of the same members of the press, some of whom did not even think about Apple a year or two back and are now Apple-wary in their Windows columns each week. One would think that they had enough to think about with what happens (and sometimes doesn't) on that platform to need to waste their precious space on something they know little about. That is Jingoism: "I don't know what it is, but by Jingo I want some."

One last point concerns the sobriquet of "Fanboy" or "Apple Fanboy." It takes me back to something similar when I was a policemen. For some reason, if someone called me a "pig" I just shrugged that off; but when I was called "Filth" that made my blood boil. The use of the word, fanboy has become a dismissive put down for anyone who appears to support Apple and its wares, particularly if the support or the comments jar with those who want to criticise Apple.

Whatever one says, in other words, to point out that Apple products or software (I like OS X) may be preferable, particularly in light of the alternatives, means that the Apple supporter is demeaned with the Fanboy title in a similar way to how Al Gore is dismissed by some whose interests may conflict.

I bet those oil guys use Windows too.

Made on Mac

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