Twenty-Four Hours Without My iPhone

Some people may be amused by the very idea of this Backstage article; others will instantly know exactly why I’m bothering to write it at all.

Yesterday was the first completely iPhone-free day I’ve had in the past 1.75 years.

In the past, Apple pointed to customer satisfaction surveys that established how much love its early adopters had for the original iPhone. Not surprisingly, the percentages were crazy high, arguably quite like the people who stood in lines to pay $500 or $600 for their 4GB and 8GB devices. Given everything that has happened with the iPhone and iPhone 3G since then, however, the numbers would likely be very similar if the survey was conducted today.

But put aside general “satisfaction” for a moment. What hasn’t been publicized as much is the iPhone addiction factor—the “you couldn’t pry this thing out of my hands without a gun” survey question—which will be the key to understanding whether, as a key Palm investor claimed last week, the first wave of iPhone users are itching to be free of their two-year contracts come July and ready to won over to Sprint, or rather, that they’re just waiting for the next big iPhone release in order to make another Apple purchase.

My gut feeling is that, absent some really big screw-up by Apple come late June, there will be no tidal wave of departures from the iPhone’s existing userbase—at least, to smartphones at similar price points. As part of my job, and because so many friends and family members have unexpectedly purchased them over the past nearly two years, I spend a lot of time talking with people with iPhones, on iPhones, and around iPhones. There are two in my personal office and three in my home, as well as a land line and computer in my office, and a land line and computer in my home. Strictly speaking, I have no specific need for my iPhone except when I’m in the car, traveling, or at work, the latter only when I’m reviewing accessories and software. Instead, under most circumstances, I could be listening to music on an iPod or a computer, making calls on a conventional phone, or accessing the Internet through a full-fledged notebook or desktop machine. Often times, I do.

Yet from (a) my wedding day to (b) the birth of my daughter to (c) the day when I went from the original iPhone to the iPhone 3G, an iPhone hasn’t left my side—or been out of use—for any significant length of time since the original day of release. It has become something close to indispensable for keeping in touch with people, pretty good for music and movies, and even more of a draw since the launch of the App Store. Now, between Facebook, Urbanspoon and Yelp, whatever games I’m playing, and occasional instant messaging, it’s hard to imagine going a whole day without using it at least a little.

Yesterday wouldn’t have been any different, except for one thing: the night before, I forgot to put the iPhone 3G on its charger, which—ugh—meant that by morning, the battery was dead. This broke my typical cycle of use just enough to inspire me to try an experiment: I dropped it in a dock to charge, and planned to leave it there all day. And all night. Would I, or could I, go without using it at all?

The answer turned out to be yes, but for only one reason—unlike every other Sunday I can recall for the past two years, I spent the entire day at home relaxing, and didn’t need to carry a phone around with me. I made phone calls only from our land line. Used my computer for all my Internet and music needs, relying on web pages and iTunes to do what the iPhone’s apps have been handling. And amazingly, the iPhone didn’t ring once, alert me that a text message had come in, or in any other way demand my attention. It was a nice day.

But even so, there were times when I asked myself whether I needed to be without the iPhone, such as when I wanted to call a friend whose phone number was stored in my Contacts, but not my brain. Rather than just picking up the iPhone and pressing three buttons, I decided to go through the trouble of finding his contact information on my computer and then dialing on my land line. A few simple pictures of my daughter that I could have taken with the iPhone and sent immediately to family through e-mail instead were taken with a different camera, imported onto the computer, and e-mailed out there. They looked better than the iPhone’s, but took a lot longer to process. Thus, I went out of my way a couple of times not to use the iPhone, and though I succeeded, my life wasn’t necessarily better or more convenient for having done so. Had I left the house, I would never have gone without the iPhone thanks to its Phone, Maps and Mail apps; the experiment would have ended right then and there.

What the Palms, Samsungs, Microsofts and others either don’t understand or don’t want to believe about the iPhone is that it is effectively doing what Windows 95 started and XP continued, cementing its users in an “I’m satisfied, quite possibly dependent, so why change?” mentality that will likely take years—and similarly Microsoftian stumbles by Apple—to erode. The only difference in potential between the iPhone today and the PC back in 1995 is the comparatively small size of Apple’s iPhone userbase. Every sign I see is that this number, aided by the iPod touch and possibly other devices, is going to continue to grow. I don’t want to spend another 24 hours without my iPhone, and frankly, I don’t know anyone else who would, either. After this weekend, it’s going to take a lot more than a Palm Pre or similar wannabe to make me voluntarily go iPhone-free for anything more than a day.

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