- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2009

OK, so Election Day was Tuesday, and we haven’t even hit Veterans Day yet, let alone Thanksgiving, so talk about Christmas and Hanukkah may be a bit premature?

Been to Home Depot lately? They’ve got the Christmas stuff out. Ditto for Costco and probably Target. Christmas, the day, may “come but once a year,” but the holiday season began in, what, July?

I feel led to do something never done before by your columnist during 18 holiday seasons, short, long or otherwise. While I’ve always selected some “product(s) of the year,” I’ve never anointed one as a “product of the decade.” Though this particular product first appeared in 2007, its impact has been large enough to overshadow just about everything else that has come on the market since Jan. 1, 2000.

Of course, it’s Apple Inc.’s iPhone, now in its third iteration, the iPhone 3GS, released on June 19. More and more, I’m convinced that this tiny, still-less-than-5-ounce, color-screened marvel is just that, a marvelous creation. In many ways, it could (and does) replace even a lightweight notebook computer for many daily tasks, putting computing in a whole different sphere.

You could say the iPhone is, more than any of its current competitors, a Swiss Army knife of mobile devices. It is, first and foremost, a phone. AT&T’s 3G coverage may be spotty in places, but overall, I’ve had some form of cellular service just about everywhere I’ve been in the past three years, save for the top of Skyline Drive in Virginia. In the District; Miami; Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; Kingston, Jamaica; Manila; Johannesburg; Livingstone, Zambia; London; and even Botswana, I’ve had cell service - sometimes very good service. Voice quality generally is excellent, and data quality ranges from good to excellent in most places, with Botswana, oddly enough, being among the excellent locations.

Along with being a phone, the iPhone 3GS is an intelligent communicator. You can read and respond to e-mail quickly and easily using an on-screen keyboard. Just about everyone I’ve spoken to who has used the iPhone likes the interface.

What’s more, because the iPhone synchronizes with your desktop computer, both via a wired connection and (if you’re a Mac user with a MobileMe account) wirelessly, you can carry significant bits of your data with you, including your address book, calendar and so on. You even can synchronize Safari Web browser bookmarks, at least on the Mac platform, so Web browsing can remain consistent.

Then there are the applications: tens of thousands of them, ready at your beck and call. Many are free, most are low cost, and just about every one I have tried has been worth the expense. My applications are as idiosyncratic as a time-management tool called Eat That Frog and as broadly appealing as Quickoffice, which replicates the functions of Microsoft’s Word and Excel. Let’s not forget the iPhone version of Amazon’s Kindle software: I’ve polished off at least two books on the iPhone with it.

But, wait, there’s still more: the iPhone as GPS device, with built-in features from Apple, as well as distinct applications from software developers such as Navigon and Motion-X, the latter offering a lower-cost product. On a recent trip to the Vancouver, Washington, area, my iPhone replaced the $12- or $15-per-day the rental-car folks wanted to charge for a GPS, and did so with an interface I already knew. The best part? I merely had to tote the dashboard-mounting cradle for the iPhone, and I was ready to go.

Finally, but not least, are the multimedia features of the iPhone, including superb music reproduction and great video playback. On long travels, whether in the car or on an airplane, the iPhone can supply hours of entertainment. Couple it with, say, Bose’s QuietComfort 15 headphones or any product from the Ultimate Ears unit of Logitech, and you can while away your trip pleasantly entertained.

Nothing else I’ve seen so far marries so many functions in so small a package. Nothing else I’ve seen is easier to use or has as wide a range of accessories and peripherals, let alone so many applications that can be added easily. In short, the iPhone has changed the way many of us look at computing, and that may happen only once or twice in a lifetime and certainly not more than once in a decade.

Send e-mail to mkellner @washingtontimes.com.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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