Google’s latest gadget bursts the iPhone tragic’s bubble

On an average day in the life of the new economy, the release of a landmark gadget is generally cause for joy. Before resuming a wait for the next shiny thing, a culture fuelled by innovation is unified by a new consumer toy. That is, until last week.

When Google announced the launch of its Nexus One mobile phone, many were aghast. That the planet’s information giant had unleashed a hot new phone was big news. But it was not, necessarily, happy news to millions of the world’s early adopters. Sure, the Nexus One might shed a better, brighter, faster light on online information. But it threatened to leave the iPhone in the dark.

Google has posited the new device in direct competition to the iPhone. After the launch this week, the specifications were out. The screen and camera are better. The operating system is not only faster but, as ”open source” programming, will more freely allow the availability and development of applications.

You may not care about Bluetooth capability and removable storage. You may, like me, be one to whom the creation of a text reading ”I’m running a bit late” is the apogee of your mobile skills. If this is the case, then Google’s move to market may not stir you one bit. But, the nation’s iPhone zealots are bound to take it very personally.

There are more than a million iPhone users in Australia and many of these are dribbling devotees. At any hour in any part of our city, you can spot a handful of zealots in a frozen embrace with their idol. As they download apps, update Facebook status and view reality entirely through the prism of a Mac, they seem the fulfilment of a long ago sci-fi promise. Here, at last, man and machine become one.

Although, this isn’t really the sort of carbon-silicon bonding Arthur C. Clarke foretold. This is much more a case of man melding not with machine but with brand. The fact is, the iPhone is far better at communicating prestige in the real world than it is in conveying information through the ether. If you want a premium communications tool, get a BlackBerry. If you want Louis Vuitton in pocket form, get an iPhone.

But try telling that to a zealot. This last-gasp touch pad is, apparently, a leap towards the future analogous only to the invention of the wheel and cuneiform script combined.

Almost everyone I know who owns an iPhone has become a desperate bore. The gadget has become a primary topic of inquiry to its fans. They talk about it all the time. And, when they’re not talking about it, they reference it in email and text, if only to tell you, ”I’m writing this from my iPhone”. Other than to explain poor spelling and staccato punctuation, there can be no rationale in telling me this.

I do not tell people, ”I am writing this from my ageing no-name PC built for me by my girlfriend’s father”. For, unlike iPhone users, I do not believe that the medium is the message. I believe that the medium is, in this case, an expensive, wildly overrated piece of chic. Moreover, it has given people licence to rudely suspend conversation at lunch as they type, ”I’m writing this from my iPhone”.

I am not the only killjoy to notice iPhone zealotry. Last month, a Danish consulting company released a report suggesting that psychologists of the near future would be treating ”iPhone Syndrome”. A press release described the single-minded ”euphoria” of users that so irritated me at lunch. It also described more worrying aspects of the infatuation with the device. Like hostages enamoured of their captor, users will blindly defend the machine.

The iPhone’s inability to forward text messages, to multitask or to have its battery replaced are problems swiftly, if unevenly, explained away by members of the iPhone cult. When iPhone is just plain awful, its user begins to sound a little like a Scientologist defending Battlefield Earth.

How zealots will fare when the new Google phone becomes widely available remains to be seen. Perhaps, their delusion will abide. Perhaps, there’ll be a mini-boom for behaviourists who treat the ”iPhone Syndrome”. Or, perhaps, the shift will be almost imperceptible; amended only in the salutation: ”I’m writing this from my Google Nexus One”.