Apple's new iPhone, which is launched today in Ireland, is a joy to use and a pleasure to be seen with, discovers John Meagher
It's not every day that I'm the subject of admiring glances from four attractive women. I'm sitting on my own in a bar, waiting for my friend to arrive, and the girls to the left are getting increasingly excitable.
Finally one of them comes over to me. "I'm sorry to disturb you," she says. "But I just have to touch it."
And with that, she takes the gleaming new iPhone out of my hand and caresses it in the manner of one cooing over a new-born child.
I've had the phone for just under 12 hours -- on a pre-release trial days before its Irish launch by 02 today -- and this is the sort of reaction it has being getting.
When my friend finally shows up in the bar and manages to get it back from the neighbouring female coven, he makes an uncharacteristically rash announcement that he is going to ditch his Blackberry -- with its tiny, fidgety keyboard -- in favour of Apple's slim, touch-screen gadget.
As an iPod owner for the past four years, I'm aware of the spell that Apple's designers seem to be able to cast, but I was taken aback by the sheer desirability of the iPhone and its ability to make even the difficult-to-impress set in the office reach for the hyperbolic adjectives.
After all, it's not like the product hasn't come in for its fair share of criticism due to its relatively low-pixel camera, its inability to forward texts and receive picture messages, its sometimes slow internet download time and the fact that, unlike many of its rivals, its not yet 3G.
And as anybody even semi-technically minded will know its internet, mail and music capabilities can be found on numerous rival phones.
So why the fuss about the iPhone? An IT colleague muttered something about its "remarkably user-friendly interface". What I think he means is that it's very simple to use, so much so that even a techie-dullard like me can get to grips with it very quickly.
It's also very beautiful. Side by side with my existing phone, a two-year-old Nokia, it looks like something beamed in from another planet.
Its best feature is an ability to browse the internet in much the same way that one does on a full-size computer. You can view full web pages and with a few finger strokes can zoom in or out. Tilt the phone horizontally and the page automatically reverts to a new shape.
For those used to instantaneous download speed, it can be a little frustrating waiting for the phone's Safari browser to call up required pages on the Edge network.
And the YouTube capability only works in wi-fi zones.
But on the whole it's a pleasure to use -- and to be seen with.
Some years ago, mobile phone manufacturers realised that the devices could be seen as fashion accessories if well-enough designed -- and a choice of handset could speak volumes for the owner in much the same way that watches and shoes have always done.
The iPhone's touch-screen technology is becoming more commonplace among other phone manufacturers. Prada, in conjunction with LG, and Armani, in partnership with Samsung, have created handsets devoid of the usual keyboard in favour of sleeker models aimed at fashionistas.
And a new phone created by Samsung and Adidas -- miCoach -- is aiming to corner the market on smart phones capable of monitoring heart rate and helping keep-fit enthusiasts get the most out of their workout.
The iPhone is likely to have a far wider reach than such niche models, however. Apple anticipate sales of 10 million in 2008 -- a significant figure, but considerably less than 1pc of the mobile phones expected to be bought this year.
Few products are likely to receive the sort of advertising and PR push afforded to the iPhone this year. Apple have long realised the importance of creating a buzz about their products -- witness U2's high-profile endorsement of the iPod in 2004.
The Californian firm has also turned the product launch into a fine art -- from the iconic Macintosh in 1984 to the iPod in 2001.
The company's charismatic chief executive Steve Jobs has conducted these high-profile product introductions -- and many more -- and to Apple converts, he is revered.
The launch of the iPhone in California early last year was just as momentous -- and another master class in the Jobs seduction technique.
The Product of 2007 -- as Time magazine called it -- quickly became a highly covetable commodity in the US when it went on sale last June.
On the day of the launch, queues formed outside Apple stores and the phone shifted quickly, although few retail outlets reported it selling out.
There was much speculation about when the iPhone would launch in Ireland and who the carrier would be.
Today's launch comes a full eight months after its US introduction although hacked versions of the iPhone have been used in this country since the autumn.
For the Spanish-owned 02, it's a definite coup and one the company imagines will help take customers from arch rival Vodafone. 02 retail outlets -- as well as Carphone Warehouse stores -- have been taking deposits on the device for the past fortnight. O2 would not divulge how many people had pre-ordered the iPhone in this country, although a sales representative in the company's flagship store on Grafton Street, Dublin, suggested that interest had matched expectations.
Trade, unsurprisingly, is expected to be brisk today.
The iPhone is available in eight and 16GB models and retails in Ireland for €399 and €499 respectively.
The cheapest monthly tariff costs €45 and for this the Irish consumer gets 175 minutes of calls and 100 texts.
In Britain, the cheapest monthly tariff works out at €45.68 which includes 600 minutes of calls and 500 texts.
At the top end of the tariff scale, Irish customers will be charged €100 for 700 minutes and 250 texts included in the monthly cost.
By contrast, north of the border one can get 3,000 minutes and 500 texts for free by signing up a package costing the equivalent of €97.90 a month.
An O2 Ireland spokesperson says the fees charged in this country are on par with those in Germany.
The higher charges for Irish customers comes only eight weeks after Apple was reprimanded by the European Commission for not harmonising the fees iTunes charges for music across Europe.