I Am A Member Of The Cult Of iPhone

I’ve been to enough Steve Jobs keynotes now to know that the man is able to take a crowd and bend it to his will. Every time, I’ve been a willing subject – sometimes (but not every time) to find myself in a hangover-like state a day later when I try to remember exactly why I thought that whatever he was pitching would change my life forever.

Steve Jobs is masterful and charismatic when he’s on stage and all eyes are on him. And when, like yesterday, the crowd is carefully packed with a throng of Apple developers cheering him on, the press in attendance can easily get caught up in the hype. He’s not nearly so charismatic in person, and I believe that’s why Apple will probably not, as Dave Winer suggests, ever move to a televised delivery of their big news while Jobs is in charge. The videos just don’t communicate the man’s magnetic charm in quite the same way.

So while I agree with Charles Cooper that Apple may sometimes get more press, and more compliant press, than they “should,” I think he and others miss the (much) larger point: Apple, and Steve Jobs, stoke our imagination in a way that no other technology company has ever done. Apple is about elegance, design, and potential, and we love them for it.

Nearly 24 hours after hearing the iPhone 3G news at WWDC, I can say with certainty that I have no hangover from this particular Applefest. The iPhone was a near-perfect mobile device a year ago when it first launched. Sure, there were flaws, as we outlined in a side-by-side comparison with the Blackberry 8800.

But those flaws are gone. The device is now fully location aware, open to developers, enterprise-friendly and moves data 3x as fast. And it is a lot cheaper. Yes, it has no physical keyboard and some people can’t yet get over that. And the battery life isn’t great. But those are about the only negative things I can say about it.

We had a grand debate today on the Gillmor Gang about the iPhone and its place in history. The most interesting part of the discussion for me was the “closed v. open” question. That’s because ultimately I believe the iPhone isn’t competing with Windows Mobile or RIM as much as Google’s upcoming Android, a very open mobile platform.

The iPhone is a closed system, with locked down hardware and platform, and rigid rules for outside developers. Android is all about open. And open is always better, right?

As we’ve seen with Macs v. Windows, and then the iPod v. everyone, closed systems can work. Users will trade price and flexibility in exchange for simplicity and elegance. That’s hard to do when you’re building software that will work across a broad range of devices, technologies and software providers. It’s easy to do when you control both ends of the system, and everything in between.

Ultimately I concede that Android may have a much larger market share than the iPhone. But I’ll argue that the iPhone users will be much happier, even as Apple makes obscene profits off of that smaller user base.

I love the iPhone for the same reason I love technology in general, and loved Disneyland as a child – it drives my imagination and makes me wonder what kind of magic to expect next. Also, it just works.

The new iPhone, like the old one, delivers all of that in abundance. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.