iPhone Confessions (Jeff Hankins Publisher’s Note)

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Anyone who reads this column regularly knows about my love for technology, so it should come as no surprise that I took the bait on the summer phenomenon known as the iPhone.

Please note that I have been a devoted Apple fan for 20 years, when I used a Mac SE with a 40-megabyte hard drive and maybe 4 megabytes of RAM to produce the Pocahontas Star Herald digitally in one of the first publishing transformations in Arkansas. I have battled the PC world ever since, living with the fact that it wasn’t worth developers’ time to program much software to be Mac compatible.

As cell phones came along and took off, it became even more frustrating as efforts to make cell phones and Macs communicate were futile. Finally the Treo smart phone, using Palm software, came along and created a reasonable solution even though it still required third-party software to function properly, albeit inconsistently.

Then came news of the iPhone. Back in January, I downloaded Steve Jobs’ video presentation of the device to the really cool video iPod that he had suckered me into buying a year earlier. I watched it during a long cab ride through the streets of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and was captivated by the possibilities of how it could finally fulfill my communication needs.

(Isn’t this dramatic?)

Apple’s marketing genius with the iPhone has amazed me. Teaming with a single carrier, AT&T, for exclusive rights was smart. The media, including me with this column, played into their hands with billions of dollars of free marketing exposure. Its launch became an event and water cooler talk during an otherwise slow news time of year. The buzz factor is enormous.

I arrived at the Pleasant Ridge Shopping Center AT&T store in west Little Rock at 4 p.m., which was two hours before the store would reopen to start selling the phones. I had decided before arriving that if there were 50 people or more in line, then I wouldn’t wait. I was No. 21.

Now who would stand in line for a hot new tech toy? Out of 35 people in this line, 33 were men. I really hate to call out names. But let me just say I did have the opportunity to visit a little with local businessmen like Michael Powell, Mitch Chandler, Ross Cranford and John Ryan. And for the record, Powell takes the cake as the true technology guru since he was scooting around on one of the other recent “next great things” — the Segway personal transporter.

An iPhone was in my hands by 6:15 p.m., and I was able to go home and activate it during a five-minute process

. My quick take: the reviewers were on target. Keyboard use will require practice — thumbs won’t work for me — but it doesn’t appear to be any more difficult than the Treo has been. AT&T is getting a bad rap regarding iPhone’s use of its slower Edge data network because I figure Apple actually controlled that aspect like everything else. The network actually isn’t as slow as I expected unless you’re looking at video content, but most of the time I find myself using a WiFi connection anyway so it’s a moot point.

Virtually everyone who sees or uses my iPhone has the same comments about how cool and amazing it is just from the look and feel. It’s all that, plus the cell phone, iPod and other functionalities are excellent. I synchronized all my music, photos and contacts with a few clicks and no additional software. As I suspected, the 4-gigabyte memory model would not have sufficed and the 8-gigabyte version was worth the extra $100.

My biggest regret is not trusting my investment instincts about Steve Jobs and Apple Inc. I was close to giving up on the future of Apple as its computer market share plummeted amid the growth of Dell and Gateway. The lesson is that those companies grew because of new sales, packaging, pricing and customer service strategies, but they offer very little technology that’s unique and remain dependent on the Microsoft way. Apple continues to innovate, integrate and change the way we do things in ways that also make digital life easier.

A 20-something-year-old told me he thought my iPhone was cool and thanked me for buying one. “You helped my Apple stock that I bought Friday morning,” he said.

He’s probably the wiser one — taking his $600 to buy stock while I took the cash, stood in line for two hours and bought the iPhone gold. But, dude, I’m having a lot more fun!

(Jeff Hankins can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].)