June 29, 2007, the day the original iPhone went on sale, was a big day for Web developer Honey Berk. She got the Apple smartphone and a fiancé.
Today, she still has both, though the latter gets more use than the former. She's still an iPhone user, with an iPhone 4S, along with a new iPad to replace her original iPad (which she just sold on Craigslist for an astonishing $350). And five years later, the phone has become a constant and indispensable part of her personal life and professional work.
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She's now a senior project coordinator for the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute at CUNY's Baruch College, and still does freelance Web projects. Berk, now 49, is a native of New York City and has never lived anywhere else.
Five years ago, her long-time boyfriend, Roy Harp, set out at 2 a.m. on Thursday June 28 to join the lengthening line outside Apple's SoHo neighborhood retail store at 103 Prince St. in lower Manhattan. People there and across the U.S. were lining up in hopes of buying the first iPhone, which had been unveiled by Apple CEO Steve Jobs barely six months earlier. He told her he wanted to buy the iPhone as a present for her upcoming birthday in July. She spent a few hours with him in line that night, and rejoined him the next day to enter the store when it opened.
It was a hot day in downtown New York, and the street and store were jammed, and the excitement of enthusiastic tech lovers was infectious, she recalls. Jubilant first buyers danced out waving the boxed iPhone to applause and cheers from those still in line and from Apple employees.
"I had followed the iPhone and was looking forward to it," Berk says. "But I didn't think I'd be able to get one for a long time. I didn't think there would be enough."
After the sale rang up, Harp slipped the Apple shopping bag with the new phone over her ring finger, dropped to his knees and asked her to marry him. Berk said yes. The moment was captured on a poor-quality video of the moment.) The video went somewhat viral, a metaphor for...well, for something: the romance of technology or the technology of romance. They're still together but haven't yet tied the knot.
As a freelance Web developer, Berk was one of those early buyers with some extensive technical background. She had been online even before there was a Web. She still has an AIM account with her original AOL username, and was active on Compuserv and Prodigy before that. She had owned several iPods by then, and gone through several cell phones, including models from Nokia and a clamshell Motorola StarTAC.
But the announcement of the iPhone, at Macworld in January 2007, riveted her attention. "It seemed like such a revolutionary way to communicate," she recalls. "It was visual and touch. It was completely different."
Yet her most vivid recollection of the next few days was the all-night wait for the phone to be activated, and how little she could actually do with it once it was. During the wait, she managed to load her email contacts through Microsoft Outlook. "You could put some music on it but there was nothing you could really do with it," she says.
Once the phone was active, she downloaded some documents, and a Web-based flashcard app. And began to discover how important mobile email was to become in her professional work.
Apple's plan for the original iPhone was to allow third-parties to build only Web apps, which would run via the on-device Safari Web browser. It wasn't until October 2007 that Apple CEO Steve Jobs relented and announced Apple would release an software-development kit for building native apps in early 2008.
Apps now define Berk's interaction with the phone and, in a sense, her life. "The ability to do things in apps is amazing," she says. "You couldn't get them on the browser alone." She's just added an Adobe iPhone app that "makes working with PDF files a dream," without having to import them into a separate program.
Email remains critical to her: she has four or five email accounts and uses them constantly. Facebook became very important, though less so over the past year. "The way Facebook is set up now, it's not really for interfacing with your friends," she says. The social web has become "like high school," she complains, filled with drama, unexpected pressures like "Facebook envy," and the drumbeat of petty, inconsequential, and inane information.
By contrast, Twitter via iPhone has become almost an addiction. "I love Twitter," Berk says. "It's the most amazing way to curate the information I get." For Berk, "curating" means "selecting out the information I want to hear about." She follows specific reporters in specific beats, such as technology and sustainable energy, or specific organizations. "I read [through tweets] more news than I ever have, and I'm better informed than ever before," she says.
She has the Wordpress iOS app, since most of her development work is with that platform, and Dropbox, to connect to the online storage and sharing service.
"I work a lot from home for different clients and I use Dropbox to keep all my documents," Berk says. "I can be anywhere and access anything in Dropbox, and open it in Pages [Apple's word processor and layout app] or Documents to Go [from DataViz]."
Jobs' famous, or notorious, decision to block Adobe Flash from the iPhone caused problems for Berk at the start with her original iPhone. "There were a lot of sites you couldn't see," she says. Today, there are a range of workarounds, like Skyfire's VideoQ iOS app that converts Flash into HTML5 video, and the rapid growth of HTML5-based video content that the Safari browser can render.
Berk has a ways to go before she becomes a true "Post-PC" end user: she uses her home-built Windows PC for her Web developer work, and shifts between that and a laptop and netbook for tasks like writing and project management.
"But I really rely on the iPhone/iPad combo to help me stay connected and efficient with email and essential apps -- like Dropbox, Twitter, etc. -- with all of my work -- whether I'm sitting in the office, stuck in long meetings or out and about," she says.
The PC has become a more or less static destination for specific tasks. But the iPhone, and iPad, are more personal and more immediate because they go with her.
"I think the original iPhone fundamentally changed the way I work, parent and play," she says. "It allowed me to be around my kids much more of the time, rather than be tethered to a desk, or even a laptop. Conversely, it also allowed me to be immediately responsive to clients, even if I was at school doing something as a class parent -- or, if I was working at another client's location. And so far as play goes -- what isn't more fun with the right iPhone apps?"
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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