I could write a giant post about fad and fashion overcoming reason and logic, or try to show how Steve Jobs has been a social engineer more than a technical one — he wants to touch the same parts of your brain that Gucci or D&G can excite and stay away from formalized requests for information. I do not mean that as a criticism, just an observation, since fad and fashion clearly are valued. My point is to be wary of false selection criteria when feeling passionate about technology.
Writers focused on the iPhone make it easier for me to explain by way of example what I mean:
The venerable New York Times has a Business Day Personal Tech story called “Top 10 Must-Have Apps for the iPhone, and Some Runners-Up”
The author begins with a strict rule.
You won’t see Twitter, Slacker or Facebook, among others, on this list. Although I find them indispensable, the services aren’t unique to a mobile phone. To make my Top 10, an app must deliver an experience you couldn’t find on your computer — something, in other words, that exemplifies the smartphone at its best.
Right away I detected something awry with this requirement. I would have called the iPhone Twitter app an experience you couldn’t find on your computer.
What is so unique about the smartphone compared to a computer, let alone the iPhone, if it is not the things that make the Twitter app unique? What apps are designed to be so unique to a mobile phone when users must bounce from phone to PC to laptop to kiosk browser?
Take the sixth application in the list, Urban Spoon, for example.
Not sure what to eat, or where? Spin Urbanspoon’s slot machine and it will dial up a suggestion.
Great idea! You can do it right here, right now, on your screen.
I think Twitter gives a more unique experience because of how it is used compared with Urbanspoon. I use Twitter differently on a smartphone than a computer, but Urbanspoon I use the same way.
Maybe you are on your desktop PC, making a call and talking on your microphone right now? Or does your laptop have a touchscreen? Where does the line get drawn for this unique experience?
Perhaps it was not fair to start all the way down with #6. Was that below the belt? Google apps is at the top of the list. Even Google voice is offered on a computer but there is a better case for exception with Google. I find the experience worse on the smartphone not better. They offer browser-based applications, so they work on any device but Google mail really needs a larger screen to be useful, in my experience. Their maps are almost impossible to use on the iPhone — bad directions and no easy way to double/triple-check, unlike a full computer browser. I stopped using Google apps on my smartphone because of reasons like these and just interface other apps with their servers now.
The #4 app is Evernote. The product site says “Evernote works with nearly every computer, phone and mobile device out there.” That is pretty much the opposite of saying you will find “an experience you couldn’t find on your computer”.
The author gives a photo retouch app as #3 called Hipstamatic. Photo retouch is definitely not unique and does not exemplify smartphone apps for me. The Polaroid GENERATOR is just one of the Hipstamatic effects already possible with Photoshop, the mother of photo retouch applications on the computer (Photoshop has an iPhone app too).
The author’s rule is unclear. Smartphone apps are smaller, they give fewer options, run slower…there are things he could have pointed to as unique. Instead I find myself noticing that what he calls a “must-have app” for an iPhone can be run anywhere. My best guess is what he means to say is that this is the list of apps he enjoys spending the most time with when trying to find things to do with his smartphone.
The sensation of excitement around changes in technology should not be underestimated, or undervalued, but it also should be kept in perspective. I look forward to reading lists of top ten applications that can not be experienced anywhere other than the smartphone. This list did not make that list.