My elementary school in Minneapolis had the most mind-blowing student assemblies. Sure, sure, most schools of the era shuffled in guest speakers for their captive student audience, but they were usually the stock just-say-no and scare-em-straight folks, with a few career-day types thrown in. Not Harrison Open School. We got a swami. We got a Secret Service agent. I’m just saying: We had great assemblies. But one of them really stuck with me, and I’ve thought about it every few months for the three decades since.
It was 1977. I don’t remember the speaker’s name, but he made music. Electronic music. With big, heavy equipment. His gear filled the stage of our homely auditorium, and he sprang from machine to machine to make this weird music of blips and bleeps and eerie organ sounds. And he knew how to warm up the crowd; Star Wars had arrived in theaters that spring, and he used his outrageously fancy equipment to boom R2-D2 sounds at us, all chirps and whistles.
He owned us: He. Was. Awesome.
At the end of his show, he stepped to the front of the stage. “One day,” he said, “some day in the future, all of you will be able to have a machine that does all this, makes music like this.” Then he pulled out his wallet and held it up. “And it will fit in your pocket.”
I’ll never forget it: “It will fit in your pocket.” I was six years old, and that was the first time I really ached for a specific vision of the future. For me, the future wasn’t rocket cars. It wasn’t living on the moon. It wasn’t even R2-D2. The future was having my own little synthesizer, a computer in my pocket to make stuff.
So I waited for the future. At first, I thought it had arrived in 2001 with the iPod. Bam, music in your pocket, just like the man said. But that was just a player. It couldn’t make anything. It wasn’t a creative device. It wasn’t until 2007 that I realized that it was the iPhone I was waiting for. Apple’s fabulous device is the only thing that has ever resembled my childhood notions of the future. For me, it’s the very first time the future finally got here.
A computer. In your pocket. That helps you makes stuff. People are painting magazine covers, composing music, writing novels, you name it. And of course the phone can also do all the magical things that we’ve already started to take for granted: plucking any information or video from thin air; taking commands by voice or touch; mapping out the world around us. Now we’re talking. This is what the man from 1977 was getting at.
But the future came on so fast that it’s a little overwhelming. After a year of living and working with my prized iPhone, I’m still discovering and marveling at the things it can do. And I know plenty of people who are frankly paralyzed by all the options in the App Store.
So I’m writing a book about it. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on my next book for O’Reilly: Best iPhone Apps: The essential guide for discriminating downloaders. The book is an authoritative guide to the best, most useful, and most entertaining iPhone apps. Full of colorful and helpful illustrations, this catalog of iPhone gems gives you the lowdown on each app, with brief tips on how to use it. It’s a wildly fun project, a professional excuse to play with my favorite toy and explore the possibilities of the most productive tool I’ve ever owned. And I’m especially excited that I’m contributing to the design of the book’s interior, a first for me.
That means I’m neck-deep in iPhone software, spelunking the App Store’s darkest nooks and crannies to find novel, clever, and generally indispensable apps. As I go, I’ll likely note some of them here on my blog, and probably many more via @bigmediumjosh on Twitter, before the book is published in late July.
But I’d also like to know what your favorite apps are. What apps convince you that the future’s here, too? What apps make you unstoppable, or more productive than ever? What apps delight you most, or make you laugh out loud? What app has changed some fundamental way you do things? What app do you use to while away spare minutes (or hours)? Post a comment with the favorites that have earned a place of honor on your iPhone’s home screen.
And hey, this is important. This is the future we’re talking about, after all. And it fits in your pocket.