This morning I helped an elderly couple pick their first ever smartphone. It was a wonderful experience; eye-opening at times.
I have known them for a while, and they have been telling me for a couple of months that they wanted to buy an iPhone. I had asked them to wait until Apple launched their newest phone. My first suggestion would have been the 3GS. With the introduction of the iPhone 4S, Apple has dropped the price of the 3GS to nought. And since the people in question were not very tech-savvy, I figured the 3GS would be an excellent first phone and it required no initial outlay.
However they were Verizon customers already, so the 3GS, which is AT&T-only, was immediately ruled out.
Naturally, my next suggestion was the iPhone 4. Yes, the Verizon store did have a number of Android devices on display. But their son had told them that Android would be very complicated for them. In any case, I am aesthetically and now morally opposed to Android.
I should have suggested the 4S, but didn’t want to push it for two reasons. Firstly, the iPhone 4 is “similar in many respects” to the iPhone 4S, and is comparatively less expensive. Secondly, the folks in question are Korean and they have a thick accent; I wasn’t sure of how much use Siri would be to them. Oh, also they could get the iPhone 4 right away.
Jane took the demo iPhone 4 in her hands. I explained the home button to her, and how everything was an app. I showed them how to make a call. She wanted to take a picture, and I showed her how the Camera app worked.
Her next question was, “How do I find out where the nearest, hmm, department store is?” Well, we were standing right next door to a Target, but hey!
So I showed her how to do a Google search with Safari, or search for a place using Maps.
I must admit this was a bit of a downer for her. Her reaction was “Oh, this means I must do a lot of typing!”
The iPhone 4S was right there. I told her, “Well, you might want to give this a try.” Her husband stepped in and said, “I am not sure if this will be useful for us. It might not work with our accent.” I was glad he understood my concern.
Jane wanted to give it a try nevertheless. She held the phone close to her face, and said, “Would you please tell me where the nearest department store is?” Her husband smiled, “You don’t need to be so polite to the phone.”
But Siri was already at work. “One moment. Let me get your location…”
A few seconds later. “I found seven department stores close by. I have arranged them by distance.”
I could see that they had made up their mind. I was enjoying this quite a lot. So much that I didn’t mind that Siri had slapped my wrist for underestimating her ability.
Next. “Would you please tell me what is playing at the Ambler Theater?”
Siri thought about it, but could not understand fully. Maybe she was overwhelmed by Jane’s politeness!
Another try. “Ambler Theater showtimes.”
This was more to Siri’s liking. She pulled up Google search results for the search query.
Next. “Remind me to go to the dentist. Monday morning. 10 o’clock.”
Siri: “I have added this item. I will remind you. Is this OK?”
Next. “Remind me about Josh’s birthday. November 4.”
Siri: “I have made an appointment at 9AM on November 4, 2011. Is this OK?”
Jane put the demo phone down, walked up to the counter and said emphatically, “White iPhone 4s. 16GB. When can you deliver it?”
May the 4S be with them!
P.S.: I remember listening to Harold Hambrose a few years ago at a conference on bringing digital innovation to inner cities. At the time, the city of Philadelphia was rolling out free Wi-Fi throughout the city and had expected that this would help people living in poorer neighborhoods to take part in the digital revolution. Harold predicted correctly that this was bound to fail. The free Wi-Fi didn’t work at most times, and when it did, it was poor at best. Harold’s reasoning was that when introducing a product or a service to the uninitiated, if those that it was intended to serve found it lacking, they would never take to it; in fact, it might have the exact negative effect on them, reinforcing their belief that technology is designed to be inaccessible. He aptly compared it to Elaine’s idea of giving muffin stumps to the homeless in The Muffin Tops episode from Seinfeld.
A5 processor. Spanking new 8MP camera. iOS5. All these mean nothing to someone buying a smartphone for the very first time. But being able to talk to your phone asking it to remind you on your grandson’s birthday; you cannot place a value on that. I felt like I was in a MasterCard commercial. Thank you, Siri!