For the past few months, I’ve carried around my Treo 650 smart phone with something very much like abandon. I’ve dropped it, tossed it, scratched it and let it tumble about inside of my briefcase, alongside my housekeys and assorted other sharp and unfriendly objects, without much care for its overall condition.
All of this, I can afford to do because since late last summer, there has been an almost irrefutable tide of rumor and allegation suggesting that Apple Computer will debut a brand new and potentially revolutionary mobile phone at next week’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Never mind that there’s been scant little evidence to corroborate these claims; this telephone’s impending announcement seems assured at least insofar as sheer desire and expectation are able to create technology products out of thin air.
This inevitability figures in prominently with my ongoing relationship with my Treo. I’ve long been dissatisfied with the 650’s bulky form factor and antiquated operating system, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that whatever Steve Jobs announces next week is going to replace my current phone, so why bother with preciousness? As soon as that new phone hits the market, goodbye Treo.
It’s Going to Be Awesome, Whatever It Is
Still, I have to stop and remind myself, from time to time, that I still don’t know what this Apple phone actually is yet. I keep thinking it’s going to be as innovative and market-changing a device as Apple’s own iPod was, and that, in a competitive landscape of routinely ill-conceived consumer devices, Apple’s phone will outshine every other cellular handset out there (which won’t be hard).
I also have to remind myself that this phone very likely won’t have all the features that I want. This is a key point: Apple has a long and successful history of coming to market with fewer features than might be expected in their products. Since Steve Jobs’ return to the company in the mid-1990s, they’ve turned out computers and devices that, at first glance, seem conspicuously under-featured, whether it was the first iMac’s missing floppy drive or the iPod’s missing wireless, AM/FM radio, voice recording etc. Of course, they’ve more than justified this approach by executing the few features they do release with an unparalleled excellence, often demonstrating how superfluous their omissions really were.
Maybe that will happen here, too; maybe all this new product will amount to will be an iPod with a phone attached to it, and maybe I’ll come around and realize that that’s all I need. It would fit nicely with the growing prevalence of the ‘less is more’ theory of product design — in which new products outshine their competition by focusing only on the core elements of what customers really need, ruthlessly cutting superfluous features — of which I’m a big fan.
More or Less
But then I look at this beat up, clunky, inelegant but still quite serviceable Treo 650, and I look at all the potentially superfluous things I use it for: Web surfing, Google Maps, text messaging, impromptu photography, calendar synchronization, email… That’s a lot of stuff that I use very frequently, much more frequently than I ever anticipated. And that’s a lot of stuff that someone like Steve Jobs might consider non-essential.
In fact, when I think of that passel of features in terms of what a design tyrant like Jobs might release, it seems somewhat unlikely. Very unlikely. I mean, think about it: does it seem remotely possible that Steve Jobs would release a phone that’s a browser, an application platform, a camera, a PDA, an email client and an iPod? Would you bet money that he would? That kind of modal schizophrenia seems like it would be a clear affront to his sensibilities, and none of this even addresses whether the phone will sport a keyboard. I’d be happy if I’m wrong, but can we really expect a phone with a keyboard from the Barnum-like genius who gave us an iPod without a screen?
Maybe I’d better take care of this Treo, after all.