Friday, 29 August 2008

New additions to the family: Part 2

First things first: many thanks to all of you who congratulated me, and by extension, my son and daughter-in-law on their new offspring. We went to see them at the weekend along with Alison’s mother and it was a great moment to have all four generations present. (Although, for those of you who have forgotten, four-day-old babies do very little.) The significance of the event was enhanced by a newspaper report the day before saying that Britain now has more elderly people than children. I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly the statistics and how they defined ‘elderly’ but you get my point. We are an ageing population; babies are getting to be an endangered species.

Anyway, the other new addition I promised I would talk about is my new iPhone 3G. As readers of my books will know, my protagonists in the Lamb Among The Stars use a ‘Diary’, something so close in shape and size to the iPhone that if we do come to filming (and thanks for those suggestions, by the way) there will have to be some clever work done to stop people from saying ‘oh look he’s just copied the iPhone’. My diaries have vastly superior facilities: most notably a ten-year battery, which is clearly fantasy; you’d be pushed to get an iPhone 3G to last 10 hours. Anyway when I started writing the books, this type of thing was very much science fiction; laptop computers were weighing in at 20lbs and had coarse green-on-black screens, and mobile phones were brick-sized. Is it any wonder people write about swords and sorcery rather than technology?

The reason I got one was that my old phone had come to the end of its contract and I felt that an iPhone would save me having to fire up a computer quite as frequently. So, after two weeks use, what do I make of it?

Well, I’m pretty impressed. I have been using Windows Mobile/Pocket PC organisers and phones ever since they came out around eight years ago and have amassed a considerable expertise in handheld computing. And you know what is the best thing about the iPhone? I don’t need to use any of it. The thing just works. One of the most damning things about the Pocket PC was that you never saw a woman using one. This isn’t sexism: women, of course, are far more sensible than men and shun any sort of technology that is far more trouble than it’s worth. They took one look at the tiny screen and saw that they had to poke around with a toothpick on it and decided that it really wasn’t worth it. The iPhone however is very different. Not only do you not need to know anything about computers, you are positively discouraged from fiddling around with the insides. You can only get applications (for the most part sensibly priced at a dollar or less) from Apple. This means that your phone is never contaminated by poorly written bits of software which you can never completely uninstall but which gradually accumulate, slowing your phone down. Towards the end I used almost every day to have to reset my Windows mobile phone and each time it took three or four minutes before the thing would boot up properly. I don’t even know how to do a reset for the iPhone; it doesn’t seem to need them.

No, in almost every way it’s a super piece of work and I’m looking forward to some of the applications that we are promised. One slight negative is that so far there is no real word processing software, probably because Apple, in their wisdom, have not yet got round to creating a cut and paste facility. So you don’t get to write a book on it. Yet.

But everything else just works. Ultimately, in terms of operation, it’s made not for geeks, but for users. And the beauty of that is that the iPhone itself rather retreats into the background. In that respect it’s a little bit like a good writer; the tale – not the teller – is what engages our attention.

Have a good week