Friday 15 August 2008

Pocket monster

This guy's physical and vocal resemblance to an android is, truly, remarkable. But his product seems to rock.

So I saw this yesterday.

I've had a three year old old-for-2005-got-it-cheap mobile phone that I have felt no need to upgrade because it's basic and simple, and doesn't try to pretend to look like a computer, like the current crop of mobile phones do, without doing much, if anything, else. They're trying to chase iPhone's arse, but they've just gotten wider and bigger and have more flashing colours and mimic the physical appearance of the iPhone, but basically all they do is transmit voice and short text information.

So far, my reluctance to hook up to an iPhone subscription is twofold: I am living rootlessly at the moment, and currently you have to subscribe for some lengthy period of time to a particular server, and this just doesn't rhyme with the way I live. And secondly, it's not cheap. I hardly ever use my mobile phone. But I use the internet constantly, and I spend hours every day on my laptop. And that's what the iPhone is talking about.

Ultimately, the iPhone is a small device, which is what is great about it, and also its limitation. I can't edit movies on an iPhone, I can't record songs, it's not really feasible to pore over a tiny screen to write anything for much time, without getting a headache. So it is what it is, and its scope as a work tool is limited. But in terms of a constant internet companion, now THAT is something I can understand. Maybe it'll mean I'll get out more!

Whether I get an iPhone, however, despite my affection for the Mac OS, is moot. Check this out: a Linux/Google version of iPhone is on the way by the end of this year, the Android platform, which, if you look at the video at the top of this post, seems to be really drawing together the various google applications into an open platform pocket internet device. I'm excited to find out how they release it.

The interesting thing about all this generation of device, of which the iPhone is clearly the first to emerge, is that they really make redundant the telecommunications industry standard of paying in terms of 'minutes' spent engaging with the network. There has been a revolution in my own life this past year since I got this laptop (a year old tomorrow!) and iPod and basically the software therein: the iLife suite, the iWork suite, and New York city's freely available wifi. Not every city has wifi running on tap in the same way, partly to do with the sheer density of New York and the way it runs, partly to do with the fact that networks in Ireland, at least, and Spain and Denmark I think also, embed a password as a requisite part of signing onto their broadband package. I have only found an open individual subscription in Ireland once: people seem to guard their wifi access as if throngs of laptop owners would be likely to flock to their doorstep and hang around in the rain, nudging ever closer to the wall, eagerly googling.

It is only when a city's culture understands the need for the internet to be like running water, freely available, run on individual subscriptions, but with an open sensibility so that if you find yourself out of range of your own house-based connection, then you'll always find a friendly port to give you access. It's an alternative community idea, it's about building internet infrastructure, understanding that people live mobile lives, and some live more mobile lives than others.

Less than a year ago, I found Dublin to be a very inhospitable place to wifi access. Everything was on a charge-basis, none of the hotels had open access, and cafes offered 'free' wifi in the form of a password that gave 20 minutes of access, presumably because of a fear that people would linger ever slightly over their coffee if the wifi was on tap. Well, it's a long way from Brooklyn's fields of white laptops, one to a table, that have colonised some of the city's hipper cafes, mini office spaces for cash strapped writers, developers, designers, students. Yeah, I don't know how these coffee shops pay their rent either, but it's a part of what makes New York so interesting: subcultures develop and teem over. Endlessly dancing circles.

Anyway, last weekend I found a few more Dublin hostelries advertisting 'free wifi' in their windows. I also got the impression that it had been a bad summer for the hospitality industry, so maybe they've got to work a little harder for that five euro skinny vanilla latte, but it seems like a step in the right direction, a necessary direction.

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