There are two kinds of hysteria. Good hysteria and bad hysteria. Apple has had its share of the good and now it's getting some of the bad. Apple has recently put itself in the enviable position of the company its customers trust to put the latest and most fabulous technology into the hands of the most technically unsophisticated people. One of their mottos: It just works. Now it turns out that unsophisticated people who appreciate all that technology can hack it too. Is that karmic or what?
For years, like a lot of pros in the IT business, I resisted the smarmy swooning over the iPhone. I had a smartphone that could do everything it could do, plus some things it could not and still has not done. So I observed the hysteria and madness with a bit of perplexity, like watching fans swarm the Rolling Stones when you don't see what's so great about their music. Or seeing a dead Michael Jackson suddenly matter more than when he was alive.
Like with any technology, even if it's advanced enough to pass for magic, there are always limits. And of course people try to hack those limits. There are jailbreaks and knockoffs, deliberate exploitations and there are bugs and glitches at the end of the performance envelope. Still, you can make a perfect product with imperfect technology. Hysteria helps make that leap from good to great.
Yesterday, I was reminded that the last time there was this much public love over a product, it was the New Beetle. I got one the first year, a black turbo, and people used to stop to talk to me about it in gas stations. Kids would wave. Chicks would stare. Drivers would honk. Chicks would stare. Ahh those were the days. One time... nevermind. Anyway. The brakes on that car were great, but they would burn through pads like crazy. But you put up with such flaws.
The opportunity to hack an iPhone or to modify your car comes from the same motivation. If this thing is so perfect, I wonder if I can change it. The video below gives the technically unsophisticated individual an opportunity to say they're smarter than Steve Jobs. It is the easiest hack in the world: just pinch it in the right position. Crippling the miraculous iPhone is like blowing up the Death Star, or solving Rubik's Cube. It gives one a sense of power and accomplishment. If Steve Jobs is so smart, why did he make this mistake, one might ask. And hey, what's up with AT&T? Everybody 'knows' that AT&T is inferior to Verizon even if only 4% of the population could even tell you what kind of cell technology lies beneath the '3G' marketing.
Now I'm an iPhone 3 guy, and I've got my hands on the new one and I like it. For me, the three most important things about the new product are the improved speed, the video camera and the high resolution screen. The improved look and feel is a nice to have, as is the battery life. Multitasking? Meh. If I'm that focused on my phone, something's wrong with me. I've made a logical decision to hold off on purchasing, primarily because the rest of my family is on Verizon and there's marginal value in the hand me down. I've been rather surprised by the number of people lined up at the local Apple Store, and the number youth I've seen around my town with this phone already. But it's a public phenomenon and that goes beyond logical decisions.
I want Apple and Jobs to succeed. I like their approach to the entire market and I wish there were three such companies instead of one, just like I'm glad there is Mercedes, Audi and BMW. But you get the audience you deserve, and when hype can make you, hype can kill you.