Marbella: An Apple fan to the core, but an iGadget too far

Baltimore Sun

Certain shiny little things make me weak in the knees and the wallet.

I am helpless in the face of that perfectly designed something that performs beyond its weight class. Tiny diamonds that sparkle big. My previous car, a little silver Miata with a big, throaty throttle. Sliders.

Which is why Steve Jobs should have had me at, "So, let me show it to you now," when he unveiled Apple's newest sleek sliver of desire, the iPad.

But all I could think of during Wednesday's rollout was: iCan't.

I just can't find room in my tote bag or my life for another shiny new gizmo. I am crying uncle, I don't care how beautiful or how cool or how supermodelly it almost disappears when it turns sideways.

I'm not one of those Macniacs who line up on the sidewalk for every product introduction, but I've somehow come to own both the latest iPod Touch and the latest Macbook.

My old Apple laptop was dying a slow death when the new Macbooks were released last fall, and I happened to lose my iPod right before Christmas, giving the busy Mr. Claus an easy check-off next to my name.

So they're still newborns as far as I'm concerned; I'm still delighted and not yet annoyed with them, but Jobs already has a new baby for me?

I guess I feel like the day when I was 5 and my parents came home with something newer - and smaller and cuter and no doubt more lovable - than me. Or as a happily fat guy I once worked with wrote when Nabisco introduced new flavors of Fig Newtons, there already were enough things that he liked to eat, thank you.

Apple product rollouts used to be kind of exciting even for a casual observer like me - all the anticipation and rumor-buzzing until finally the Reverend Jobs appeared on the darkened stage of his secular mega-church.

But then the product introductions started coming seemingly every other week, the leaks from Cupertino got so much better, and suddenly Jobs' announcement would merely confirm what everyone already knew. Who was surprised, after all, that Wednesday's "latest creation" was a tablet, and that it would look like the result of an affair between an iPhone and a Kindle?

It's not just Apple, of course, but purveyors of all those other updated cell phones or computers that we "have" to have. I remember silently snickering a couple of years ago when someone at a meeting pulled a ringing phone out of her bag and it was the size of a shoe box, with an antenna that had to be extended. When it turned out the caller was a Very Big Name You Would Recognize, I was suitably chastened - it was not someone who would ever be calling my phone, however much cooler it was.

But as much as I like new electronic baubles, I'm serially monogamous to them and don't just toss them at the sight of some new young thing. I get attached - I miss the Motorola PEBL cell phone that I had a couple of years back and felt like a smooth river stone in my hand, or the iPod mini that was the cheery color of a Granny Smith apple.

But batteries eventually stop holding their charges, cell phone contracts expire and companies dangle new and free or cheap models if only I will commit to another two years. And Apple keeps coming up with improvements, some more irresistible than others.

I doubt the company is going to run out of ideas, but maybe it's starting to run out of names: iPad is uncharacteristically clumsy, and it's already used iBooks, the name of its new bookstore, at least in its singular form, for an old model of laptops.

There's something neither-nor about the iPad - Jobs billed it as something more than a smartphone but less than a laptop, yet it doesn't replace either. And maybe one day its size won't seem quite so clunky, but for now, it strikes me as neither having the petite elegance of my iPod Touch nor offering much more portability than my Macbook.

But being generally more of a late adapter, I could be wrong. The one thing that intrigues me about the iPad is its potential as a delivery source of newspapers - yes, bald self-interest.

But if the iPad can get people to pay for journalism that they currently feel entitled to get for free online - more power to it.

Of the papers I read regularly, currently only The New York Times has an iPod app, and it's surprisingly easy to read on a screen the size of a playing card. For now, that is: The one downside to the ever-shrinking size of my shiny electronic gadgets is that I need ever-stronger reading glasses to use them. Maybe Jobs has seen my future before I have.


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