Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Apple fans get set for iPhone upgrade

Apple fans get set for iPhone upgrade
Jonathan Hemmerdinger, Correspondent
Last Updated: July 07. 2008 11:13PM UAE / July 7. 2008 7:13PM GMT

Ever since Ray Basile bought his first Macintosh computer in 1999, he has been a self-described Applehead, a member of a cultish group of devotees of just about anything that Apple and its chief executive officer, Steve Jobs, think up.

And like the others in the “Cult of Mac”, Mr Basile can hardly wait for Friday, when Apple begins selling the second-generation version of one of the most celebrated pieces of technology to come along in years – the iPhone.

He will brave the crowds bound to show up at Apple stores nationwide to be among the first to upgrade.“I’ll be there in line,” said Mr Basile, who in his spare time runs a blog devoted to the iPhone, “It’ll be like a worship service.”

When the first iPhone hit the market amid hoopla last year, Appleheads rejoiced. It was the Macintosh computer of the mobile-phone world: different in looks and operation than competing products, complete with a touch-screen, built-in iPod and internet browser. It was, in the eyes of those who bought it, and even many who did not, cool – a kind of anti-Blackberry.

“Think back to high school,” Mr Basile, 48, said in an interview, speaking on his first-generation iPhone. “All you really were after was inclusion. As soon as you have an iPhone, anyone will include you.“Everyone who walks by asks, ‘Is that an iPhone?’”

It took just 74 days for Apple to sell one million of the first model. Four million more were sold in the first half of the 2008 fiscal year, according to the company. Those sales – paired with the enormous success of the company’s music business, in the form of the iPod and iTunes – have contributed to the remarkable rebirth of a company that has long existed in the shadow of Microsoft and the dominant PC. Apple posted a record US$9.6 billion (Dh35.2bn) in revenue in the first quarter of 2008, the highest quarterly revenue in its history.

For all the hype surrounding the phone’s release, not all of it was good. The phone launched last summer with an initial, and exorbitant, $599 price tag, and could only be used on a single mobile telephone network, AT&T. Within a few months, however, a 17-year-old tech-savvy boy from New Jersey “unlocked” it for use on other domestic networks, and networks overseas, and soon iPhones were being used in China and Russia. The Washington Post reported that Russia’s new president, Dmitry Medvedev, was using one.

The 3G iPhone will be available in 22 countries on Friday. By the end of the year, Apple plans to offer models with eight gigabytes and 16 gigabytes of memory in close to 70 countries, although according to Apple’s website, the UAE is not among them. As in the United States, iPhones will work over only certain mobile networks.To believers, the iPhone is more than a phone. It, and other Apple products, evolved into symbols of fierce individuality, perfection of design and the potential of technology to improve the world. What is more, the iPhone elevates the “personal cool factor”, according to one blogger, and signifies membership of an exclusive club. Some have labelled the following a cult.

“It may have all of the nasty features of other cults,” Michael Malone, a technology journalist
who writes the Silicon Insider column for, said last year. “But on the positive side, the Apple cult isn’t destructive. It’s a bit creepy … but look what we get in exchange.”

Which is why the launch of the new iPhone comes as something of an American event.

Mr Jobs confirmed the launch at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco last month, outlining a slew of new features. The iPhone’s new slogan is on Apple’s website: “Twice as Fast, Half the Price.” The eight-gigabyte model sells for $199 with a contract.

That is good news for Marissa Noel, who said outside the Apple Store in Arlington, Virginia, that she plans to upgrade her current model. It turns out she spends a lot of time there: in addition to her iPhone, she has purchased five Apple computers in the past year.“On every other cellphone to get e-mail you need to hit 10 buttons,” said Ms Noel, 28, of Washington, DC. “On the iPhone, it’s just one. It’s amazing.”

Since Mr Jobs’s announcement about the official launch, the online world has been abuzz with iPhone chatter. Bloggers discuss everything about the devices, including price plans, sales forecasts, the phone’s functionality, even whether to stick with the original colour, white, or the new black.

Other blogs are less serious, especially Mr Basile’s, which pokes fun at Apple fanaticism (despite being a part of it himself). “New York to Honor Steve Jobs with Historic Tribute for iPhone,” reads one of the latest postings by Mr Basile, a vice president of new media for a digital music and visual imaging company in Issaquah, Washington, a suburb 26km east of Seattle. The attached picture shows the Statue of Liberty cradling an iMac laptop computer over New York Harbor, the Apple logo atop its torch.

Apple’s success and cult following has bred a backlash too among those who find its devotees overly dogmatic and Mr Jobs something of an egomaniac. There is also some frustration among the so-called “early adopters”, those who bought iPhones in 2007 – at full price. Now, with a cheaper price tag, the phone’s reach will grow, and the club will become decidedly less exclusive.

Mr Basile suggests on his blog that the “elite status” that early iPhone users enjoyed will be threatened come Friday. Suddenly, anyone with an old iPhone will be “fatally out of fashion”. But not him.