Polishing Apples

Earlier this week I had lunch with a friend and his father. The father’s a witty and clever man who’s written several books about various topics, including chaos theory and nuclear physics.

He asked what I did for a living. On hearing the words “mobile phone” he reached into his jacket and brought out a shiny new iPhone.

“So” he said, “Can I get the Internet on this thing?”

Ha ha, you’re probably thinking, some people just can’t get to grips with modern technology. But I was left with the feeling that the obvious answer to his question shouldn’t be “Of course you can, you old fool.”

It’s certainly clear that the iPhone inspires many of its owners to go online. Our survey of young adults in the UK indicates that iPhone users can’t get enough mobile Facebook and Google. If you want to browse the Web while on the move, the iPhone’s surely on your shortlist.

But what of those people who buy (or are persuaded to buy) an iPhone because it’s a clever piece of industrial design? They see it as a phone that works well and won’t embarrass them if they pull it out at a cocktail party. Why should it have a Web browser in it?

In the long run, it’s perhaps an academic question. The generation of my friend’s father will be replaced by people who have grown up carrying phones with mobile browsing abilities. But until then, we should be careful of assuming everyone sees mobile technology in the same way.

In July, Apple trumpeted the news that almost a fifth of Fortune 100 companies had ordered 10,000 or more iPhones. Many commentators heralded the arrival of the iPhone as an “enterprise device”. But how many of those iPhones were bought just because they’re nice-looking devices? (Companies make purchasing decisions based on far stranger criteria!)

I suspect I’ll encounter many more people reaching into their pocket and being surprised at what their phone can do.