Desire for iPhone a sad cry for approval


Let's consider, for a moment, the kind of person who waits in line overnight (or for two or three nights) for the chance to purchase a high-tech communications device like Apple's megahyped new iPhone. I think you can pretty much fill in the blanks of the profile: overwhelmingly male, lonely, insecure, socially inept, between jobs, pants a little too short, sexually inexperienced (like maybe never), rarely hugged as a child, prefers the company of electronics to humans.

Yes, I want one -- and I want it now.

Even at $600, the iPhone is an affordable enough midlife crisis toy, especially when compared to, say, a Porsche. I even briefly considered putting the world on hold and joining one of the lines at an Apple or AT&T store last Friday until quickly coming to my senses and remembering I had a life. More or less.

This is the thing to remember about most of those whom today are very conspicuously flashing their sleek little iPhone. Unless they had some sort of an "in" with Apple grand poobah Steve Jobs, they either camped out or (worse) paid someone to do so for the fleeting thrill of being the first on their block to possess what is at the end of the day a glorified collection of chips and circuits.

In other words, the "early adopters" of this technological marvel are predominantly nerds. Duh! But it's also more than a bit interesting to see how obliging and zealous the media has grown in serving as boisterous, unpaid extensions of Apple's marketing department, hyping and buzzing with the kind of abandon that makes any advertising the company might do for a new product feel like overkill.

Credit the legacy of the iPod, a legitimately innovative hunk of gadgetry that changed the way America listened to music by rendering song libraries portable. It launched a revolutionary new category of personal electronics and sent Apple's stock soaring both literally and figuratively.

For six months now, we've been bombarded with the message that the iPhone would be Jobs' most imaginative and indispensable creation yet, the culmination of all of Apple's inspiration, ingenuity and cutting-edge savvy all bundled together to fashion the motherboard of all pocket gizmos.

Considering the unprecedented promo blitz and clamor even to touch one of the things, it's tough to imagine this could flop. But it might.

My son, now 21, bought an iPod shortly after it hit the market and he foresaw the phenomenon it would inspire. By contrast, he has zero interest in an iPhone, reasoning that it brings nothing particularly new to the table because all of its functions (cell phone, e-mail, camera, iPod, Web browser) are widely available in various configurations for significantly less money than this latest evolution. He further doesn't believe that a portable Internet device will succeed on a mass scale until fully reliable Wi-Fi exists everywhere.

What many also may fail to consider is that the iPhone's shimmering cosmetic whole could well be superior to the sum of its parts. Do I really want to plunk down 600 smackers for a phone with an iffy signal, a camera that takes blurry pictures, a sporadic online connection and access to tunes I've probably heard dozens of times before -- when for the same price I could buy a desktop computer that does it a lot better?

Yeah, actually I still do, because I'm just as sucked in by stylish packaging as the next clown. But let's not pretend the iPhone is about organization or convenience. It's just another superficial symbol of pseudo-cool that reveals you're still probably seeking mom's approval. Like me.