Published Friday, August 15, 2008 in The Register-Guard.
Last month, Apple Computer made headlines when it introduced the newest version of its iPhone. People waited in line to get their hands on America’s hottest gadget. Some camped out the night before. I was one of the people who arrived before dawn at the west Eugene store near Target. It was worth it. As most of the young people ahead of me in line that morning would agree, the iPhone rocks.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a private lunch with Doug Englebart, the man who invented the computer mouse. He also pioneered what came to be known as HTML computer language and he was on the Internet when it was a connection between two supercomputers — his at Stanford and another at UCLA. Englebart’s an Oregon original — raised on a farm outside Portland and schooled at what later became Oregon State University.
He said many surprising things during those two hours. He believed that computers have been used unwisely. He wishes we would use the power of computers not to do quickly those mundane tasks that bore us, but rather to do things we could not do if we lived a thousand years. He was hoping for computers as tools, but instead they’ve been used mostly as slaves. Rather than accelerate the rote tasks of life, he wants computers that augment human intelligence.
I wonder what he thinks of the iPhone.
Ever find yourself wondering the name of a song on the radio? Hold your iPhone up to the music, hit a button named “Shazam.” In about ten seconds, the iPhone will tell you the name of the song and the artist. It’ll show you the album cover art. It’ll tell you other songs by the same artist, and offer you a link, in case you want to buy the song and load it onto your iPhone. In other words, it will tell you what you didn’t know. Not what you’ve forgotten — what you never knew. This is a huge difference.
Last Christmas my sons gave me a Sawz-All. As a tool, it was life-changing. I teased my boys about endowing their father with secret power. Wielding a Sawz-All, I felt like a superhero, boldly cutting things I never cut before.
The iPhone is like that, only without the noise and the dust. You can even take an iPhone through airport security. I wouldn’t recommend attempting that with a Sawz-All.
Arriving at home isn’t nearly as interesting for Don Kahle, version 2.0. Most of home is now in my pocket: music and video, but also all my connections to others. E-mail, text messages, voice mail, web mail, and phone calls, all in one place. Except for postcards with stamps in the corner, the only surprises waiting at home are bills and junk mail.
If home is where your heart is, but your iPhone is in your pocket, where exactly is home now?
Do you wonder whether there’s a Starbucks near where you are? The iPhone can tell you. Want to read what others have said about the pizza closest to you? It’s all there. Movie times? Natch. The new iPhone uses an embedded GPS chip to tell you how to get from where you are to where you want to go. If that’s not enough, it’ll also point out the star constellations above you at that moment.
If you’re shopping, you can load the UPC number for a baby stroller and the iPhone will search other nearby stores for the best price, compare that with web stores, and point you to customer reviews of that stroller and its key competitors.
if you’d rather not type, you can call a company called Reqall. You dictate what you want to buy or who you’ll be meeting or what you need to do. A computer transcribes your words and sends them to you by e-mail or an instant message, and load the details into your shopping list, your calendar, or your task list. Any of these items can then be shared with others who also use the free service.
After just a couple of day, I thought I was astounded. But now I think I’m augmented.
Don Kahle (email@example.com) doesn’t normally endorse products, but there’s a first time for everything. Readers can contact him by e-mail or at his blog, right here.