Introducing iNothing

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Once, after logging onto my instant messenger program, I asked a friend “What’s up?” He responded “inothing.” It was a typo, but it gave us an idea: iNothing, new from Apple. What it consists of is basically nothing, except this particular nothing comes surrounded with Apple’s cutesy marketing. It comes in an aesthetically pleasing box that’s deceptively hard to open and definitely sports that apple with a bite out of it. Oh, and it comes with a felt sleeve, weak earbuds and a USB cable. iNothing is reasonably priced at $399.

This whole satirical joke comes to mind with the hype surrounding the forthcoming iPhone from Apple. The technology media is practically upending itself in anticipation of it, and what I want to know is why. Yeah, yeah, because it could redefine the whole wireless distribution model in the United States. But let’s look at it from a practicality standpoint. It’s already nerve-wracking enough to spend hours upon hours loading thousands of songs into your iPod when you’re all but certain that it will freeze up one day or die.

When I received a couple of box sets from my mother weeks in advance of Christmas last year, I immediately installed them on my iPod so I could have as much time as possible to enjoy them in that format. As I explained to my Mom in an e-mail: “Ah, death … of your iPod, the stark inevitability of life.”

Apple claims only 5 percent of iPods experience failure, but if that’s true, how come everyone I know who’s owned one for more than a year or two has now reverted back to making do with a Walkman? Given that the iPod’s rate of failure is at least anecdotally high, would you really want to sync it up with your cell phone service?

The good thing about having a cell phone remain just that is if you lose it, or it breaks, you can quickly replace it. Your service plan might provide a replacement, or you can grab a quick substitute. This changes when your cell phone service is centralized in a component as expensive and unreliable as an iPod can be. Moreover, Apple’s iPhone will be tied to just one carrier, Cingular, when it’s released in July. Apple won’t be selling an unlocked version that could be used on other networks anytime in the near future.

Plenty of cell phones already can handle MP3 storage. One would assume the iPhone would provide the ultimate in MP3 and video file storage within a phone. But combining your phone with your portable media playing capabilities would seem to confuse matters at the very least. And if you lose your iPhone, you’ve lost your entire contacts list and more than 400 Elvis Costello songs all at once.

The popular cartoon show “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” once ran an episode called “eDork,” in which the character Master Shake (in case you don’t know, he’s an anthropomorphic milkshake) becomes obsessed with something called an eHelmet, a massive helmet with an outdated cordless phone attached. The eHelmet comes with numerous bells and whistles, including a yellow visor that plays videos right before your eyes, a scrolling text display, two mounted cameras, and even a player piano and a set of drum-pads.

When asked what, exactly, the eHelmet is, Master Shake replies “It’s a cell phone…” — his voice alight with wonder. His companions are underwhelmed.

I might be alone in this, but I feel the same way about the iPhone. I think it might go down in history as the point at which all this continuous synchronization of technologies went too far, like guitars that record themselves or cars that drive on water. Admittedly, the market has expressed a need for a cell phone that is highly functional, ergonomic and aesthetic. But whether Apple will be the company to provide that remains to be seen. The cell phone industry is fairly mature, so it might arrive at an ideal solution of its own.

In terms of redefining the whole wireless distribution model, the company to look to might be Google. Like it or not, Google seems to “get” opening up the functionality of the Internet more than any other company. If the wave of the future in terms of telecommunications is VoIP, Google could make a strong showing in this space, and rumors abound that the company is developing a phone. Should we forget the iPhone and start freaking out over the gPhone?

At the very least, consider purchasing some iNothing.

–Daniel Margolis, dmargolis@certmag.com

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