Ever since the Apple IIe, I've thought of Apple computers as the pinnacle of design excellence. Whether I was wending my way down the Oregon Trail or listening to the robot-y text-to-speech voice read "yo mama" jokes, I loved those early machines more than I've ever loved all but a small handful of people. Once I could afford them, I started buying as many Apple products as I could: iPods, an iBook, an iMac, a Macbook, and the Macbook Pro on which I'm writing this. When Apple announced the iPhone, it was obvious that I had to buy one. A year ago, I wrote a piece for Slate in which I rhapsodized about the phone. I didn't care about waiting in line for five hours or spending $599 on the device or dealing with unbelievably terrible reception.
When Steve Jobs announced last month that Apple was releasing the iPhone 3G, I knew—once more—that I had to have one. On July 11, the first day the phone went on sale, I woke up early and went to an AT&T store in Washington, D.C., with some snacks, some homemade lemonade, a couple of spy thrillers, my MacBook Pro, and a DVD of Miss Austen Regrets, a touching tale about Jane Austen's life as an aging spinster.
Soon after I settled in, an AT&T employee announced that the store had no 16-gigabyte phones, only the smaller-capacity eight-gig models. The crowd started grumbling. One of the grumblers—a guy I remembered from the first iPhone launch—was griping that buying this new phone and signing up for a service plan would indenture him to AT&T for another two years. When I heard the same loudmouth last year, I was inclined to ignore him; if you're so ticked off, get off the line, buddy! This year I thought: This bearded boob has a point. It just wasn't worth it for me to buy an eight-gig iPhone 3G that would cost me hundreds of dollars more for only a marginal benefit over the iPhone I already had. A 16-gig iPhone 3G—now that I would buy. I decided I would go to the Apple Store in the Big Apple, the most gleaming, gorgeous Apple Store in the entire Eastern seaboard!
Before I headed to New York, I needed to field-test the new iPhone. My friend Peter Suderman had camped out overnight to get one; he let me borrow the new bauble while he napped. The first thing I noticed was that even though the iPhone 3G is slightly bigger than the original, it felt a tad lighter. Otherwise, my old iPhone and his new one were all but identical. The first iPhone was a revolution in smartphone design and a dramatic leap forward into an age of ubiquitous connectivity. To match the original in revolutionariness, the 3G version would have to fire lasers, electronically impregnate you with your own clone, or at least be way smaller. But this was … the same thing. I mean, I knew the two phones were to be basically the same, but seeing this with my own eyes made a difference.
How about those lightning-fast data speeds? One of the iPhone's great pleasures is that it gives you the ability to read about Degrassi Junior High in a full-size browser when you'd otherwise be forced to make human contact. The problem, of course, was that AT&T's Edge network was so abominably slow. You know how people love to whip out their iPhones to settle a bar argument, then fail to settle anything because their Web speed is so damn slow? With 3G, you can truly be an annoying know-it-all: Um, actually, no. The GDP per capita of Burkina Faso is $1,300. Better still, I was able to load YouTube videos in a snap, and, within seconds of searching for Dirty Projectors MP3s, I was listening to "Rise Above." Very impressive!
Even better is the new GPS feature. I get lost a lot, and it's kind of thrilling to see myself as a blue dot traversing an unfamiliar urban landscape. On the old iPhone, I either relied on a "current location" feature that was decidedly imprecise or had to type in my location monotonously—pretty tough to do when you can't find comprehensible street signs. Of course, plenty of other smartphones have had GPS capability for ages and are a damn sight cheaper. But I must say that blue dot does look cool—now if only I could use the iPhone to target Hellfire missiles ...