For more than a year now, I've been hearing from Apple iPhone users—whom I’ve thought of as “iPhanatics”—about how much they love their iPhones. Since I've grown tired of begging Windows Mobile to do the stuff that I bought it to do, I got an iPhone 3G and, well, I now understand what they're happy about. If you've not played with an iPhone, I can explain it very easily: It's the first cell phone OS that understands that it works for you, not the other way around.
I hate cell phones: I hate the sound quality, I hate the tiny keyboards, but mostly I hate their attitude. Nearly every time I turn my cell phone on with the intention of getting some use out of it—such as dialing a number—it interrupts me to tell me that I've got voice mail. In contrast, my iPhone never irritates me about messages—heck, I don't even have to have any signal to get my messages, as it automatically stores them on the phone and never nags me to get them. Is that enough of a reason to like an iPhone? Of course not, but it surely doesn't hurt.
The iPhone has been out for about 16 months, and its significantly improved 3G/iPhone 2.1 incarnation has been out for three months. The two have their problems—you can't replace the battery or choose a larger one; you can't use the iPhone as a USB modem; you need to run the world's most popular malware on your PC (iTunes, that is); AT&T requires a two-year contract (I said to the AT&T guy, "hey, if this is so good, won't I be begging you to let me use it for another month?"); and it's a locked GSM phone. (Yes, I know about Jailbreak, but I try to adhere to legal agreements into which I've entered.) Some of those might well be dealbreakers for me, were it not for its great strength: Apple's recognition that cell phones are personal computers and should be designed to act like personal computers, and portable PCs at that.
So what's to like in an iPhone when compared to a Windows Mobile device? No stylus, for one—your fingers do the pointing. Email is also far easier. At times, it's taken me over a day to make Windows Mobile interact with my non-Exchange email server, but the iPhone took only about twenty minutes (and I'm told that making iPhones work with Exchange takes much less time than that). In order to make my Windows Mobile device sync my calendars and contacts, I actually had to reconfigure my system's Windows services. In contrast, I didn't even realize that my iPhone had synced my calendar and contacts; it did it automatically the first time I used iTunes to move a few MP3 files to the iPhone.
The best part about the iPhone, though, is that Apple seems to have built the first cell phone OS that feels like a friendly, useful PDA OS, and I think you can see that in the sheer number of available iPhone apps. We all know that cell phones are, again, nothing more than small PCs, but most of them sure don't feel like small PCs. Where's the community of people writing nifty apps for my old Razr? Similarly, Windows Mobile has been around in its Windows CE incarnation for many years, but there's a real paucity of interesting apps for it. In the iPhone, Apple's created a platform that's made building compelling palmtop applications simple, and its community has responded with literally thousands of apps, most of which are either free, 99 cents, or $9.99.
Why hasn't that happened with other platforms? I can't say for sure, but maybe it comes back to my first impression: the iPhone is a phone platform that remembers that it works for me, not the other way around. Of course, as I write this, Google's G1 Android phone's about to appear, so who knows? Maybe in a couple of years, I'm-not-a-computer-don't-expect-to-use-me-like-one cell phones will be just a bad memory.