This post is about how I became a self-loathing iPhone owner, and decided to switch to a device that noone has ever described as "revolutionary", "amazing" or "magical".

Separated at birth? iPhone 3GS & Nokia 2323

I've replaced my iPhone 3GS with a Nokia 2323 Classic. A $70AU ($63US) phone based on eight year old technology.


First, the obvious reasons. I've been increasingly uncomfortable with Apple's monoculture. I've never liked their closed approach to device ownership. Even though my two iPhones have been jailbroken, I've bought apps - contributing money to the App Store economy. I've also contributed to Apple's iPhone bottom line. All rewarding a business model that I don't agree with at all.

Pushing matters to a head, three months ago I replaced my Macbook Pro with a PC running Ubuntu. I discovered that iPhone ownership is a lot less seamless when you don't have OS X to coordinate everything.1

Given all this, and my general love of gadgets and technology, you would expect that I would choose an Android phone. One of the more open models. I thought very hard about picking up a Samsung Galaxy S (especially now Cyanogenmod supports it) or even a Nokia N900, the ultimate geek pocket gadget.

That isn't really it, though...

It's psychology & culture

I don't like the person that the iPhone encourages me to be. I don't like reaching for it over and over, checking Twitter or scanning my email boxes with every idle moment. I don't like how quiet moments of reflection get replaced with boredom that there's nothing new on the Real Time Web. I don't like that most days I spend more than ten hours in front of a computer, but I still feel the need to carry one around in my pocket. I don't like taking my iPhone out during meetings or conversations. I don't like "the iphone effect".

These kind of phenomenons have been written about over, and over, and over. In pieces ironically intended for online consumption, a variation on the standard "moral panic" and "technology shock" opinion genres. Nevertheless, parts of the articles ring very true for me. My personal favourite writing is from the blog Tweetage Wasteland. Go read it (really, do!)

In fact, reading comments about a Tweetage Wasteland post on HN was when this really struck home to me:

HN screenshot... click for the full comment thread

(angusgr is me, BTW.)

The underlying assumption is that idleness is necessarily wasteful, and why would anyone want it? Consequently, consuming information is a more fulfilling form of activity than just being inside your own head. I don't think I agree.

Since getting an iPhone I don't read books nearly as often as I used to. I don't sit and stare into space quietly, thinking about whatever happens to be on my mind. I don't pay as much attention to the world around me. I miss all those things.

It's Not You, It's Me

Of course none of this is the iPhone's fault. Smartphones are just tools, plenty of people don't have this problem at all. If I had better self control then I'd just curb my use. In my case, I think the problem is smartphone ownership combined with N.A.D.D. (Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder.) An iPhone is like a "New Tab" browser menu, for your life.

Observations on going Classic

Some observations about being back with a Classic Nokia after 2 years in iPhone land:

  • The Nokia is tiny, and light. It doesn't need its own reserved pocket in my jeans any more.
  • Sound quality and volume are both better, when you're actually using it as a phone.
  • Standby time up to 17 days. Days. No more having to charge every night.
  • My muscle memory for typing quickly on T9 keypads is gone, but I think it will come back.
  • Syncing calendars and contacts was not overly painful, even from Linux. Being able to automatically sync via Bluetooth is neat.
  • No more need for phone insurance.
  • No more need for a data plan.2

Things I Will Miss

There are some things that I expect to miss about having an iPhone:

  • Never having to look up an address or a map before leaving the house.
  • Always having a camera to substitute for remembering or writing down details.3
  • Instapaper. Although I don't use it much now that I don't have a regular commute.
  • The "Notes" application. Will need to make a habit of carrying a notebook more often.

Do I need a mobile ("cell") phone at all?

I think so. Even though I no longer have a job that requires me to be available on-phone at weird hours (another plus for ditching the iPhone), mobile phones are embedded in my generation. My partner, friends, and colleagues would all be put out if I ditched it entirely. Besides, they're pretty useful devices to have.


I'm terming this an experiment because in a month I might decide that I'm an idiot, and I'll go buy a Galaxy S. Expect a follow up blog post if that's the case. My partner certainly looked at me in total disbelief when I told her this plan. "Just get the Android one, you'll be happier that way." She may well be right.

  1. Please don't misread this post as either pro- or anti-Apple. I like Apple's products, I think the iPhone & OS X both offer a great user experience. I really don't like the things mentioned above. []
  2. Nokia are marketing the 2323 as "fully connected" and it has the Ovi app store and email and a miniature web browser and blah blah blah, but I don't want a part of that. []
  3. Although I now have enough room in my pockets to carry my Canon S90 camera more often! []

I'm a bit late to the party on this one. I've read all of the big ranty iPhone and iPad arguments. I've worried a little about the monoculture that the iPhone represents. I decided these were mostly ivory tower arguments. Meaningful for geeks and technorati, but not for anyone much else.

I changed my mind this weekend.

The Dukhs (3 of 13)

This weekend I attended the National Folk Festival here in Canberra. Folk Festivals are a celebration of traditional folk music and folk arts. With a smattering of other musical traditions and innovations, the focus is on traditional musical instruments played in traditional folk styles.

As far as I can see, it's about as far from Silicon Valley as you can get without winding up in Deliverance.

iPhone app programme over dead tree programme

This year, National Folk Festival has an iPhone app.

History of the NFF Programme

1967- printed on paper
2000 also available as HTML
2003- also available as PDF
2010 also available as iPhone app

This is a pretty momentous innovation.

Don't get me wrong, it really is an innovation. At a festival where a dozen performers are playing at any given time, finding out what's on is hard. Being able to see it quickly and easily on your mobile phone is extremely useful.

I'm worried because, as in all things, it's an iPhone App. If you were a Mac or Linux user around 1999, you were probably familiar with web sites that required "Windows 95 & Internet Explorer 5 or Better". They didn't work on your computer, or they only half worked.

We now have the same situation, ironically rearranged. If you have any other mobile phone, you are a second class online citizen. Everywhere, up to and including folk festivals.

Yes, you can probably read the PDFs on the web site. No, that's not going to be very good. The iPhone app, on the other hand, is great.

The Dancehall Racketeers (4 of 6)

Is there an alternative approach? Maybe. The NFF site is powered by WordPress. "Mobile site" plugins exist that could format the programme for various mobile browsing devices. With some CSS wizards at the helm, I'm sure it could be quite nice.

Would that experience be as good as the iPhone app? I doubt it. The iPhone app that Bonobo Labs have made is really slick. On the iPhone, I think it could be recreated as a web site for Mobile Safari. However, I don't think it could reach that standard for every single mobile device. The standards and the frameworks aren't really there, and the browsers aren't all up to it.

Making something that at least works on other phones is, however, very possible.

Counterfeit Gypsies Palladium (3 of 6)

So what's the point to this rant, then? Nothing really, except that I think it's worth worrying about. In 2000 I was proud that I wasn't stuck with Internet Explorer 5 "or better". The alternatives were innovative and they helped dig the web out of a monoculture of ActiveX controls and bad proprietary HTML.

In 2010 I have an iPhone. I'm guilty about liking this monoculture so much. How are competitors going to innovate, short of providing a phone with a full Apple App Store compatibility layer? Is this really today's IE 5?

(Photos taken by me at the 2008 festival.)