Sunday, September 2, 2007

iPhone, no accessories needed

Bill Palmer runs iProng, a site dedicated to iPods & iPhones, but mostly it's dedicated to the accessories for those devices. We had some Facebook back and forth about my contributing some columns to iProng and I've been thinking about what to write.

I've had way more than my fair share of iPods. Big ones, small ones, and ones with video too. When it came to the iPod, some accessories were necessary. For one, they weren't that durable. Dropping them was not a good thing. And the screens scratched very easily, which could be problematic especially if you planned on watching any video on them.

So I tried out my fair share of protective coverings. I settled on the JIO action jacket for the 80GB video iPod. Although it doesn't get much use anymore because when the iPhone is in the charger, I go with the Nano. The Nano has a slip-on rubber cover from JIO, and if you drop it will bounce.

So along comes the iPhone, the greatest gadget ever designed in the world if you would like to listen to music, watch video content (I watch tv shows on it more than I watch YouTube) browse the web and your e-mail all on one device. Oh yeah, it's also a telephone.

While I know there are accessories for the iPhone and I did try the clear acrylic case w/kickstand that makes it easy to prop up your iPhone for watching video, I nixed it. It adds too much bulk to the form factor. Generally when I'm carrying my iPhone, it's in my front pocket and it's a great form factor; much better than the 80GB iPod. Though the ability to easily prop up the iPhone for video display is nice, and though it does look very, very pretty in the clear acrylic case, I didn't find that any of that made it worth the extra bulk in the front pocket.

I have been successful in MacGuyvering solutions for propping the device up for video. If I am out and about and have 30 minutes to kill and feel like watching the latest episode of Entourage and I'm at a bar or eating, there are all kinds of improvisational ways to prop the iPhone up. And if I'm not actually needing my hands for anything else, just holding the device and looking at it works amazingly well. I've had my iPhone for over two months now and I am still amazed by how well it renders video and how much I enjoy watching it on a 3.5" screen.

Protective coverings? Well I could get the case that's pretty much the equivalent of what I have for my Nano. I sometimes think I ought to because I am prone to drop a phone. But having already dropped it three times at least, I conclude it's terrifically more durable than the iPod. Also, I like the way the basic iPhone looks, black on the front, silvery metallic gray on the back. I don't really want to cover that up.

What about protecting the screen you say? Well, I know about protecting screens that need protecting and I'm a big believer in that. This devices screen doesn't need any protection though. There are all kinds of membranes and whatnot that you can buy to protect the screen, but it's like a glass coffee table. It doesn't scratch. It's had keys and coins rattling around in my pocket bounce against it – it doesn't scratch. If you examine my iPhone closely you will see that there are some small scratches on the metal that borders the screen. You have to look hard though. So while there are plenty of screen protectors for sale, it's my opinion that they are an absolute and complete waste of money.

The rest of the accessories? Well, I haven't seen (or therefore used) any 3rd party ear buds that have a built in microphone. I'm not sure any exist. One of the greatest improvements for me by going to the iPhone is that if I am increasing the likelihood that I'll be deaf by age 60 by listening to music full blast through the ear buds, at least if I get a phone call I know it! In the old days pre 6/30/07, when I was a poor schlub with an iPod and a cell phone, if I was listening to music full blast and I got a call on my cell phone, even if it was on vibrate, guess what happened? If you guessed: nothing because you had no idea you were getting a call at all, you guessed correctly.

With the iPod I tried many 3rd party headphones and always went back to the default headphones that came with the iPods. I thought their sound quality the best. They have durability issues, but for what many "high quality" third party buds cost you can get five of the Apple issued versions. I have already had to replace my ear buds for my iPhone once already due to a defective clicker – the mechanism built into the microphone that allows you to pause, forward to the next song, and if you're so inclined answer the phone should you receive an incoming call. I chalk this up to a defect rather than a durability issue, and either way I got my under warranty replacement buds no questions asked.

The accessory I want doesn't exist. It's essentially the standard issue ear buds that are wireless. I suppose it would have to have a little loop to be sort of like a necklace. It will be a hot item when it's invented. Yes, I'm aware there are stereo wireless headphones available, but they are not ear buds. I don't want bulky things on my ears. The Lt. Uhura look was cool in the 1960's, and I know that for many high powered "look at me!" types, the Bluetooth style earpieces just wreak of that "I'm so fabulous and important!" look they are going for. But it's not for me. I am fabulous, but not in that way. The other wireless headphones I've seen are of the full-on earmuff style. No thanks. I'm waiting for the wireless buds, and I'm sure someday when Apple can figure out how to make them without sucking the life out of the battery much faster, I'll get them.

The rest of the accessories to me involve fashion. I am not a fashionista. I have nothing against fashionistas, I just am not one. Apple has made huge inroads with the fashion conscious crowd though. When I went to the Apple store in downtown San Francisco late one Wednesday night to get the replacement ear buds mentioned above, the thing that struck me was the mix of the crowd. It wasn't the Apple fanboy geek set. It was a mix of normal people and fashionistas and a smattering of fanboys.

There are all kinds of ways to decorate your iPhone, but I think it's plenty pretty just as it is. I do think some of the laser art people have done on the backs of the phone is pretty cool though and I can think of one practical use for that: identification. A lot of people where I live already have iPhones. While I have yet to walk off with the wrong iPhone, I could see it happening. I don't know that laser art would work out any better than having your own custom wallpaper (which I do), but it's something to consider.

As for writing for iProng, if Bill Palmer wants stories about the best ways to get video on to the phone, or some really nifty web sites that have cool as hell iPhone implementations, I can think of much to write about. But when it comes to accessories, the iPhone just doesn't need any.

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