Aaron Swartz’s mewling paean to the Sidekick smartphone is littered with smug, myopic insights and a salty dash of old-fashioned white guilt. I am compelled to shriek and gawp.
His founding asininity? That compared to the iPhone, the Sidekick is a “superior device” that he’s been using “for the past five years.” (Mouthbreathingly turtlenecked as that assertion is, that’s not the part that really gets my goat, but…)
First, context: At what it was designed to do — be an awesome instant messaging device — the Sidekick excels. It was and is the best IM device out there that isn’t a full-sized computer. But as an all-around smartphone it was a failure: weighted down by a rudimentary web browser, a restrictive “App Store”-like selection of carrier-controlled applications (which could have choked Apple, but did not, in part because the iPhone is a much more powerful and versatile device), and really rough media support, even through the later models. Still, I was a fan. The flip-out screen was great, most models had wonderful keyboards, and the way you could hold multiple IM conversations using all the gamepad-like controls was a joy to use. You could tell the Sidekick was designed by a company who really cared about the experience. (At least until everyone fled Danger and the stragglers were absorbed by Microsoft.)
But times change. The Sidekick had a brief moment in the sun among tech nerds, but the lack of a decent internet experience (not to mention how clumsy it was to use as a phone) sent most adults packing to other platforms, swapping crappy email and great IM for great email support with rough IM thrown in as an afterthought (on the BlackBerry) or powerful hardware easily accessed (Windows Mobile).
Then Apple released the best all-around smartphone ever made.
I don’t care if you agree with me or not — I mean, you’re wrong if you don’t, but that’s fine; you’ve been wrong before — and if you’re happy with your current smartphone, then more power to you. There are certainly areas in which other smartphones excel over the iPhone…the Sidekick excels over the iPhone for instant messaging, you might have heard.
Swartz’s assertion that the Sidekick is a “superior device” only holds water when he cherry-picks certain comparisons: the Sidekick keyboard is superior (so much so that he composed whole articles, he claims); he liked being able to save articles in the browser caches (you can save the equivalent data several ways on the iPhone using third-party applications or email); he found the swipe-to-scroll method “tiresome”. It’s iPhone Critique 101, though, and not ireworthy on its own.
But this is:
But, of course, neither minorities nor schoolchildren rule the world, so the Sidekick has been written out of history. 2007 was the first time anyone had thought to give a smartphone a decent UI, or a web browser, or an over-the-air application store. Well, at least it was the first time anyone thought to tell white people.
I’ve commented in the past how interesting it was that black and latino kids really got into the Sidekick more than any other group of users. My presumption was always this: that their friends mostly communicated on IM; that the Sidekicks were available at a price they could easily afford compared to BlackBerry and other smartphones (with a more modest monthly charge); and that they really didn’t care about email or browsing the web all that much. Sociologically and culturally it was a trend of note. While I’m positive that consumer electronic choice often breaks down differently over cultural and economic lines, phones are one of the few items that we commonly can observe on the street.
But to presume that there is some sort aspect of ignorance by “white people” in passing the Sidekick by — especially when “white people” almost certainly means “working adults” — is exactly the sort of goofy injection of race into an argument that drives me crazy.
Don’t prefer the iPhone over your Sidekick? That’s dandy. Trying to co-opt some latent street wisdom because you prefer a QWERTY keyboard over a touchscreen? Immature and icky.
The Forgotten Sidekick [AaronSW.com]