In a fit of masochism, I decided that I’d carry only an iPhone 5 for some undefined period of time, to see how the other half lives. (I’ve previously done this with Windows Phone 7.5, and found the experience to be interesting and enjoyable.)
After 5 days with just iOS 6 on an iPhone 5, I have a few positive observations:
iPhone 5 is a magnificent piece of hardware. It is easily the nicest phone I have ever held. I’ve used faster phones, phones with bigger screens, and phones with better operating systems, but from a whole package perspective, iPhone 5 is very, very nice.
iOS6 is very nice. I’ve been mostly away from iOS for several years, and am pleased to say that the notification changes that iOS5 made are a huge improvement in usability.
As one who is pretty firmly ensconced in Google’s ecosystem, I have to say that life with an iPhone is pretty significantly better these days with regards to getting done all the things I need to. Chrome, GMail, Calendar, Contacts, Drive, Voice and even Latitude “just work.” Hats off to Google for doing this work, and hats off to Apple for not being a dick about letting them do it.
I can say unquestionably that iOS’s approach to multitasking here is far superior to Android’s in about 95% of cases. For nearly every app I use, having the state suspend and then wake back up on demand is sufficient, and battery life is indeed quite a bit better for normal usage as a result. (Of course there are some classes of app that just have to run in the background, in which case Android’s mechanism is better, but I’ve yet to feel like I needed to have an app like that here in iOS Land.)
Webapps on iOS are fantastic. This is easily the best platform I’ve encountered for making web applications seamlessly integrate into the “native” experience.
As expected, I do have some negative observations, but even I am surprised at how few they are:
Inter-app communication is effectively impossible. If you want to, for instance, open a link a friend sent you in Chrome, it requires copy/paste gymnastics. If after seeing the link, you want to share it on Google+ or LinkedIn or myspace or Friendster, it also requires complicated copy/paste gymnastics. Android’s approach here is to allow any app to send content to any other app, fostering a much more interaction between users. iOS’s seems to be focused more on making deals with Facebook and Twitter to foster more money changing hands.
The app update cycle, while fostering the idea that developers release more polished functional apps in the first place, makes rapid iteration pretty impossible. Google’s iOS apps are some of the best around, but the fact that their Google+ client is at least 3 functionality releases behind Android’s seems pretty squarely to blame on the hassle of getting updates approved.
All in all, I’m pretty pleasantly surprised at how easily this die-hard Android (and Google experience) user has been able to transition into using iOS, and how little pain the transition has actually caused.
My third attempt to become a Mac user in the last decade is now in full swing, and it appears I've finally done it. As promised, here's the story.
After 12 years of Linux exclusivity, I had a hardware failure and was stressing about researching new hardware. After 12 years of it, I've lost enthusiasm for dicking around trying to get simple shit working. Stuff like: my Wacom tablet, one shared desktop across two monitors, a Wacom tablet and shared desktop across two monitors concurrently, etc. It was at this point that D suggested just buying a PC from Costco, pre-assembled, pre-driver-sorted, and running an OS that might be slightly less likely to break itself every time there's an update. (Slightly.)
So I took the plunge and got a machine running Windows 7. Because so many of the applications I use are either webapps or open source, literally every application I needed to be productive was available to me on Windows 7 without any hassle. Ok, without too much hassle. OK, so it was a hassle. I had to get cygwin installed to make working in a terminal window useful, and then a whole host of things needed installed and configured to make my development environments semi-compatible so I didn't rip out all of my hair trying to adjust.
There was some minor pain, but every time I'd clicked the update button in Ubuntu at new release time I'd experienced more. So I felt pretty good about it.
Then one day, I needed to set up a Mac mini in the office to work on automating some aspects of our iPhone build system. It was like heaven. It already had all the unix tools I needed, making a hack like cygwin unnecessary. I didn't need to do anything to make it work like I expected. I made a mental note of this.
A few months later, the hard drive in my Dell laptop started having issues, which exacerbated some of my Windows 7 problems, resulting in me spending inordinate amounts of time rebooting and trying to get stuff working instead of just working. I got fed up and plugged my mouse, keyboard and monitor into the nearby Mac mini and spent the next couple days happily working with no issues whatsoever.
Then, on Black Friday, D and I ventured to the Apple Store, where I put aside years of anti-Apple sentiment and dropped way too much money on a 13" Macbook Pro.
This time, the switch was even easier. Sure, all my webapps and open source applications were available like they were on Windows 7, but now the operating system actually worked like I expected as well. Plus when I opened the lid it would instantly be usuable, which was a huge improvement over Windows 7.
Now, after several months, I've almost completely adjusted, and have never been happier with a computer. (Save maybe for the Google CR-48 ChromeOS laptop that I'm using to compose this blog post... but that's another story altogether. ) I'm sure I won't feel the same way when an OS upgrade is going to cost me $100 and cause a bunch of upgrade pains, but I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Last month's Mobile Portland meeting featured a panel discussion speculating on the upsides and downsides of the newly announced Apple iPad. I was there, and was contacted by iPadInsider.com to write them a guest-blogger recap to run on their site. I agreed.
It's now been a month and they've still not run it; the device may actually be available before they ever do. Assuming they do.
With that in mind, I've decided to just run it here. I worked too hard on it to just waste it.
The impending availability of the iPad has spawned a not-inconsiderable amount of excitement and speculation as to how we'll all be impacted by Apple's groundbreaking new device. In an attempt to address some of the speculation, February's Mobile Portland meeting gathered 5 experts from disparate fields -- fields that are pretty much universally expected to be significantly impacted by the iPad. Each expert took their turn speaking about their area of expertise for around 10 minutes, which was then followed by about half an hour of lively panel discussion fielding questions from the standing-room-only audience.
The first speaker was Small Society's Raven Zachary (http://twitter.com/ravenme, http://smallsociety.com/), who spent some time addressing what is currently known about when we'll be able to get our hands on the iPad -- which really isn't a whole lot:
"We don't know much; we don't have a ship date, we don't have a preorder date, and if you're outside the US, it's even worse."
Among the interesting facts presented in Raven's talk was the impact that iPhone (and iPod Touch) have had on the mobile market. He said there are over 75 million devices in the hands of users -- about 50% iPhone, about 50% iPod Touch. He also said that iPod Touch has been rapidly gaining on iPhone, and that there are two massive growth periods each year: back-to-school and Christmas. iPod Touches are expected to overtake iPhones this year, as more and more are getting into the hands of young people. Young people came up several times throughout the evening, and it's clear that the appeal of Apple's devices will continue to stay strong as each new generation gains buying power.
"iPad is a safe place to try out new publishing models, and the publishers are looking to experiment. Apple says 'we are safe,' and they're listening."
From what Jon had to say, publishers have already been trying to come up with new ways to deliver their products, and iPad promises to be a fairly win/win way to try out new methods.
Jon also spends time talking with people in the "mobile" industry as well as the publishing industry, and shared an amusing anecdote about the lack of discussion about iPad at Mobile World Congress this year.
"At MWC, not one person mentioned iPad. Then again, no one mentioned Palm, either, so I don't know if that really means anything."
Next up was James Keller, also from Small Society, (http://twitter.com/semaphoria, http://smallsociety.com/) who ran through some of the exciting new user interface / user experience changes the iPad has innovated. Amusingly, pretty much everything she had to show us came from the handful of photos and youtube videos taken by journalists on the day of Steve's presentation, so there's still quite a lot of speculation as to how certain things work, or even what they're for. One of the things that most stood out was how Apple is now taking advantage of the larger display, creating sort of 'split-screen' areas for showing menus, options and additional content without having to obscure the content at which you're looking. Pretty neat stuff.
She then went on to talk about how the introduction of the iPhone changed her life, creating what she referred to as her 'night-stand device.'
"I sleep next to my iPhone. The last thing I do before sleep is check my iPhone. The first thing I do when I wake up is check my iPhone."
James suggested that iPhone's impact her life could potentially be duplicated by the iPad as well. Whether iPad secures the coveted spot on James' night-stand is still up in the air, as well as just how useful it'll be as a device on which she can accomplish any work. One thing she's sure of, though: she can definitely see the appeal of iPad as a 'relaxation-time' device.
"It's the perfect weekend device, even from the perspective of a power user. I'm likely not going to be wire-framing on it, but when I'm watching a movie and doing a crossword? Heck yeah."
Then, coming back once again to the youth demographic, she pointed out what promises to be a pretty important demographic the iPad could potentially affect: students.
"I think the iPad has a huge potential school appeal; I walked around with a back-ache for years at college, and the thought of having all my books and notepads on a small device is awesome."
Chances are she's right; She can't be the only person sick of lugging books around. Someone in the audience suggested that he's heard that there are several pilot schools that are planning to issue an iPad to each student for that very reason. We've already seen schools requiring iPod Touches, so not only might not that be far from the truth, but it's also entirely possible that Apple could play a pretty huge part in the textbook industry in the near future if it's true.
"What the web used to represent was this sort of, 'window' into a different world. But all of a sudden the iPhone started booming and it has allowed for interaction with sites in ways that are far less boring. You can do a lot more now than just look through that window."
Chris talked about how having a device you can touch and pinch and rotate could make for really great interactive web experiences, as well as how iPad's always-on network connection and location-aware abilities could make for some really great gaming experiences.
"The gaming thing is where I'm starting to get most excited about the iPad. People are starting to tie in location sensitivity -- like playing Marco Polo with your friends on your iPad at the mall, for instance."
Chris also talked about the challenges of migrating from small-screen-based apps on the iPhone to the much larger resolution of iPad. He suggested that simply scaling up an app to fit the new resolution isn't enough, and that if a user is going to have a nice gorgeous screen, the developer needs to make their stuff look as good on it as possible.
"When we started seeing the iPad, people started asking us what the gaming experience is going to be like. New display challenges, having so much more space, etc. The key will be: don't just blow it up, use the best of what you have."
Up last was Dave Shanley from CrowdCompass (http://twitter.com/dshanley, http://www.crowdcompass.com/), who talked a bit about the history of the tablet PC, how it's failed in the past, and what Apple has been able to do differently to make it a possible success. Dave included a bunch of old pro-tablet quotes from Bill Gates that, out of context, seem to be extremely pro-iPad. Here's one the audience seemed pretty amused by:
"The tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available whenever you want it...It's a PC that is virtually without limits -- and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America. -- Bill Gates in 2001"
Then Dave took some time to address the common complaints regarding Apple's locked-down platform, suggesting that perhaps their approach isn't doomed to failure because of its lack of openness after all.
"Who will ultimately be successful may really come down to 'is the walled-garden approach better?' or perhaps 'is something a little bit more open the way to go?'"
"How open does it need to be to be successful? How much does openness really affect the user experience of the people buying it?"
Even people who're entirely a part of the "open is better" camp likely have to admit that Dave has a point here. Sure, geeks want to be able to use these devices in awesome ways, but, at the end of the day, most of the people purchasing them are best served with the simplicity and restrictiveness that Apple offers them. That idea brings us to the one statement that best summed up what everyone's experiences suggested, one that Dave Shanley really nailed:
"Who is the iPad built for? Who will buy it? I think fundamentally the answer is: 'not this crowd.'"
"On the other hand, what you think you want, and what you actually want at the end of the day may be two different things."
The murmur that went through the crowd after Dave said 'not this crowd,' really hit home that virtually everyone in the room was already thinking the same thing. Many people said it'd be great for their grandparents or their kids, but few present really seemed to be under the impression that iPad is really targeted to them.
During the Q&A, virtually every one of the panelists espoused an opinion that could be summed up thusly: "The iPad is really cool, and I want one -- but I'm not quite sure what I'm going to use it for." The general consensus, though, is that that's how people reacted to the iPhone and the iPod Touch as well. Surely the people who buy this thing are going to figure out what to do with it, and once they have, everyone else is going to want to do it too. Raven had this to say:
"When people go into an Apple store and touch one, it's going to be like 'oh my God, I have to have this,' and they'll have to then invent a justification to buy one."
There were a lot of great quotes from the panelists at the meeting (many of which you can read on Google Buzz from Feb 22nd, complete with horribly inaccurate panelist names) but the one with the most crowd reaction came from an audience member whose name I didn't catch.
"People are exhausted with multitasking. Even if it's just a magazine rack, you can really only look at one magazine at a time. Lack of multitasking on iPad is actually a plus."
To a large extent he's wrong -- Jason Grigsby responded to this with the classic example of needing to add up some numbers on a webpage, for instance -- but his point does fall in line quite well with what Dave Shanley had to say about the limited functionality inherent in Apple's products, and how that approach may be the best way to serve a majority of their customers.
The meeting concluded with a poll, during which somewhere around 90% of the people in attendance raised their hand to indicate that, based on everything discussed that evening, they fully intend to buy an iPad as soon as it's on sale. How we got from 'this device is not intended for anyone in this room' to 'pretty much everyone in this room is going to buy one' is a perplexing and amusing mystery, but there's no doubt that most will buy one. Just what they'll actually all do with them remains to be seen, however. We'll have to wait and see.
Whatever it is they do with them, though, we can bet it will be cool.
Got an iPhone and hate how difficult it is to place Google Voice calls now that Apple has removed all the dialer apps from the App Store? Check out this "simple" howto:
This is a more thorough explanation of a previous post. In lieu of an GV app, I figured out a quick and easy way to dial your most frequent contacts using no more than 2 clicks. All we're doing is adding a bookmark to your iPhone home page that links to a contact's unique URL in your GV address book. Ready?
Load up the mobile GV site (https://www.google.com/voice/m). It works fine in Firefox -- it doesn't redirect to the non-mobile version like other Google sites.
Find your desired favorite in your contact list. Let's use "Mom" for our example. Each contact has its own unique URL - something like https://www.google.com/voice/m/contact/793238491687864. Copy this link to your clipboard.
Use your favorite photo editing software to find the perfect headshot of mom. Crop it so it's EXACTLY a square (I use Picasa).
Resize mom's picture so it's 57 x 57, and save as a PNG to your desktop. (I used http://www.resize2mail.com/advanced.php)
Fire up http://webclipicons.info/ Upload your 57 x 57 PNG, give it the shortcut name "mom" and paste the GV unique contact URL from step 2 into the "shortcut URL" prompt. Put in your email address, and uncheck "make public." Hit "create shortcut."
Check your iPhone email. You should receive a message with link -- click on it. Safari should launch. Bookmark that page to your home screen. Your mom's smiling face should appear along with your fart and other useless apps.
When it's time to call mom, click on her face. Her contact page in your GV account will load in Safari. You can then call or SMS any number that you have stored for her.
While I've made some round-about howtos for accomplishing time-saving things, this one made me laugh out loud. That's a helluva lot of work for initiating a call.
A much BETTER solution can be accomplished in just 3 steps:
Now there's no official or unofficial Google Voice dialers. Nice one, Apple.
While it's still possible that an official Google client may turn up at some point, it's not looking promising; Apple says that the reason they pulled the apps is that they 'duplicate functionality already found in iPhone,' namely 'dialing.' When Google submits their official app, it will also be 'dialing'; consistency says that'll be rejected as well.
Lucky for us, consistency is not high on Apple's list of things to worry about. You may remember from the other day when they said they rejected Google's Latitude app because they thought another app that draws maps would be 'confusing.' Yet the market is still chock full of GPS/mapping apps. Apps that, as far as I know, nobody's ever been confused about.
It's pretty clear that Apple doesn't want any more Google present on its iPhone platform than there already is. If you want some more, you're going to have to pick one of the many other platforms that doesn't reject innovative apps.
UPDATE: Sean Kovacs, author of GV Mobile, one of the "unofficial" Google Voice apps which Apple pulled from their market, is now available via Cydia if your iPhone is jailbroken. Compelling enough reason to finally jailbreak?
For weeks now, there've been a number people on Twitter and blogs expressing disappointment with Google over leaving out iPhone when it comes to many of their key properties. One such article, by social media rockstar Wayne Sutton, does a pretty good job of summing up the feelings of many in the iPhone community, but unfortunately, manages to completely get the wrong end of the stick. He seems to be under the impression that Google just doesn't feel like putting out apps for iPhone, forgetting that it's Apple themselves who are both the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper when it comes to what iPhone users get to run on their handsets.
Meanwhile, just yesterday Google "finally got around to" -- if you listen to the chatter on the Internet, anyway -- releasing their Latitude for iPhone app -- which is actually not a native app at all, but instead a web app that runs in Safari -- along with a lengthy article on their mobile blog which makes it crystal clear that it's Apple with whom we should be disappointed, not them.
We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users. After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles.
I've been saying all along that it was Apple's 3-month+ wait approval queue, and/or the nature of Maps.app as a "core" app (that can only be updated via a firmware update) that's the holdup, but it never occurred to me that Apple wouldn't want Latitude on iPhone at all, which seems plainly clear now.
The brewing speculation suggests that Apple's $99-a-year MobileMe service, which has some location aspects to it now, is going to be expanding to more directly compete with Latitude, Loopt, and other such social/location apps, and thus doesn't want the early -- not to mention free -- competition from Google. This is purely speculation, but it's based on the past times that Apple has rejected iPhone apps with features that they themselves were planning to implement, so I'm going to place my bets squarely on that being truth. We'll have to wait and see.
This rejection now makes it pretty clear that the other native Google apps that people like Wayne are eagerly awaiting are simply never going to come. Sorry, Wayne :(
The upside to all of this, though, is that, judging by the comments on Google's Latitude for iPhone announcement post, iPhone users and developers alike are starting to become more aware of how bad an idea it is to tie themselves to a platform that's actively stifling the innovations its users want. How much time and money did Google spend writing a native Latitude app for iPhone that will never see the light of day? Now imagine it was your time and money down the crapper. Fun.
If you're dying for a native Latitude app on your iPhone, you shouldn't give up completely; Apple does have a bit of a track record of caving on stupid decisions under pressure from large vocal minority groups, so it's possible that they may one day let Google put a native maps app on iPhone. It's not very probable. There is only Zuul.
Since it's been so long since we've spoken, I've amassed a number of things I wanted to share with you. Sadly, I've forgotten most of them. Here's the first one I remember.
1) I can no longer live under the protective mantra of "Oh, I'd never BUY an iPhone, I just use this one because I won it in a contest." That's right. I bought an iPhone 3G. Go ahead, mock -- I'll wait. So the purchasal of the 3G is noteworthy for another reason: it marked my first venture into an Apple Store.
Know how when, walking into a skyscraper or something, there's often an air pressure differential? Where, you can feel the conditioned air ruffling your clothes and hair as you open the door? That's what the Apple Store is like, except that the pressure differential is not with the air, it's with SMUG. You can sort of smell the smug leaking out around the doorframe as you approach, but when you open that door... it's almost overpowering. If my hair weren't firmly glazed up in a mohawk prior to entering, the blast of smug would surely have formed a fauxhawk of some sort. Those hipster glasses? They're not so much for fashion as they are EYE PROTECTION from the smug.
The first thing you notice about the Apple Store is just how many employees there are. The second thing you notice is that none of them can actually HELP you. I asked if they had any 3Gs in stock and was told:
"Yep! We sure do!"
I let a full beat pass before adding:
"Well, can I BUY one?"
This required her flagging down some other hipster employee, who passed me off at least 3 more times. Then I was left standing for 5 minutes while the latest hipster went to go try to find a 3G for me to purchase. While Hipster #5 was in search of my iPhone, I got to witness a conversation that nearly made my head explode. It was between a Typical Mac Owner and an Apple Store Hipster, and it went like this:
TMO: "Hi, I bought this iPhone and I can't get it to work."
ASH: "Oh? What happened?"
TMO: "Well, I plugged it into my Mac and iTunes said it needed to upgrade itself to version 7.7"
TMO: "So I tried to do that, but it said it couldn't."
ASH: "Right. You must be running Kitten."
TMO: "Yeah. I am."
ASH: "WELL, iTunes 7.7 requires that you be running Sabretooth, not Kitten."
TMO: "Oh. So I need to upgrade in order to use this $200 phone I just bought?"
TMO: "So I just run Mac Update --"
ASH: "Oh, no, you have to BUY Sabretooth. That'll be $299."
TMO: "Wait... so, in order to use this $200 phone I just bought, I have to spend like another $300 to upgrade my operating system first?"
TMO: "... ... OK! Let's do that! HERE ARE MY CREDIT CARDS!"
That conversation ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Geez. Apple customers...
Anyway, all said and done, I got out of there with an iPhone 3G. Most of the smug did eventually come off -- not all of it, mind you; Apple smug can never really be completely removed. I still catch my internal monologue mocking people without iPhones sometimes.
After getting home, I proceeded to get all the contacts from my old iPhone to show up on the new one. This took 45 minutes of frustrated fighting with iTunes on D's machine. In the end, after only ending up with the contents of D's Outlook contacts on my phone, I decided to try letting iTunes sync my contacts to Google Contacts. That did the trick. Except that now every email address that has ever sent mail to my gmail account is now a contact on my iPhone. Good thing the phone app filters contacts to show only the ones that have phone numbers associated -- wait? It DOESN'T filter them? Whose stupid frakking idea was THAT? So now, in addition to thousands of contacts on my phone, all the people who have both a phone number AND were in my Google Contacts have duplicate entries in my address book. Well, not DUPLICATE, per se; one has phone number, another has email address. Thanks, Apple.
So the iPhone 3G has GPS capability that is quite awesome. Many apps support it, allowing you to, for instance, look up movie listings without having to put in a location. Find which of the five Starbuckses that you can currently see is the closest. Stuff like that. It's really great -- or WOULD be, if it didn't always think I was in Houston, Texas whenever 3G is turned on. (Which is pretty much always... why would you turn it OFF?)
Despite this annoying crap, a jailbroken iPhone is by far the most "open" internet device/phone I've ever used, so I'm unapologetic about my love for it. It does make me feel a little funny, though, being seen with one. The anti-hipster in me cringes and can only be quieted by showing it all the awesome stuff MY iPhone can do that Apple doesn't approve of.
That preposition at the end of that sentence means it's time for me to once again bid you adieu.
Would it have killed you to have made the 'new tab' button in Mobile Safari automatically put the new tab into URL entry mode? I mean, what else could I possibly want to do with a new tab other than go to a URL?
1) An interesting change here at Casa de Nyquil: a 12 year old boy is now turning our cozy little twosome (9-some, if'n you count the rodents and birds and feline) into a trio (Dectet?). So far this has only meant more Wii time, as only one day has passed. Today D and 12yo are off to the beach, meaning I've got the place to myself for the evening. Updates as to problems/benefits of a child to follow.
2) I'd just like to take this time to point out the value inherent in knowing your audience. As a Dreamhost Blog reader, I saw that Crazy Josh Jones was waiting in line to purchase an iPhone he didn't even want, and that he was giving it away in an amusing little contest: make an image showing the real reason behind the mysterious downtimes all Dreamhost customers fondly recognize. I saw an opportunity -- not to win, mind you -- to make Josh laugh, which is something he's caused me to do on any number of occasions. I entered the contest, making reference to something pretty much only he would find humor in, and did it in bad pun form -- which, after being a customer of Dreamhost for several years and constant reader of at least eight "monthly" newsletters, I know he has quite a proclivity for.
This, apparently, is the trick to winning prizes from him, cuz he's now mailing me his unwanted 8gig iPhone.
I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with this monstrosity, for after spending like an hour at a Cingular store trying to get all the deets from the peeps, I've learned that there is not a comparable plan to the one I currently enjoy thru T-Mobile (0 minutes, unlimited data for $29.99), and the best I can do is 200 minutes unlimited data for $59.99. That's a pretty steep monthly increase, but maybe the super-cool new features the iPhone provide are worth it. Steve would have me believe so. (When you pay $600 for a device, you get to be on first-name basis.)
The two demo models at the store were both borked already, so that's probably not a good sign, but before I did a hard reset on the semi-working one (requiring some Cingular employee to eventually re-enter the WiFi security key. Sorry, future iPhone demo-ers!) I did get to scroll and zoom around things. It is pretty neat.
Safari crashed after loading half of nyquil.org, so I'm not entirely sure how well that works. Most of the apps on the phone actually use Safari to operate (which Blackberry customers will be all-too familiar with) meaning that you can't switch back and forth betwixt a web page and and the cool GPS screen. Or any screen, for that matter. There doesn't appear to be any sort of multi-tasking, as the only button on the unit just takes you back to the menu, where clicking on the application again gives you a new, blank window. Perhaps I am just stupid and couldn't figure out how, though. (But aren't us retards the exact demo Apple's products are targeted to? That smarmy Mac guy on TV is constantly telling John Hodgman how much less-smart (inversely proportional to how much more cool you are) you need to be to use Apple products. Maybe I'm just not cool enough?)
Overall, after the 10 minutes I goofed around betwixt crashes, I was actually pretty danged impressed with the interface. The virtual keyboard is very nice. I've used a lot of portable device keypads, and really, the lack of tactile buttons is far less off-putting than I expected; I was pretty quickly two-thumbing out things like a pro. This will probably be more irritating as I try to compose longer, less "test test 1 2 3 4"-type things... we'll have to see when I actually get mine.
I also learned the crucial bit of info for which I trekked out to a store in the first place: I can activate the phone, try it for 30 days, and then cancel the mandatory two-year contract, enabling me to re-sell it on eBay should I not like it. Yes, even if you are not buying the phone at this time, you are still required to sign a multi-year contract just to activate it.
I'm not sure who is crazier: those loons at Apple or the nutjobs (like me) who can't wait to use their equal-parts shiny/shitty products. Updates to follow.