The One De­vice

The Week Middle East - - Arts -

by Brian Mer­chant Ban­tam 416pp £20

The iPhone, Brian Mer­chant writes in The One De­vice, might be the “pin­na­cle prod­uct of all cap­i­tal­ism to this point”. This is “one of those sen­tences that seems ab­surd un­til you prop­erly think about it, and then abruptly does not”, said Hugo Rifkind in The Times. Ap­ple has sold about a bil­lion iPhones since the prod­uct’s launch a decade ago – more than 20 times the sales of the Toy­ota Corolla, the world’s best­selling car. The iPhone is “not just the best­selling phone in the world, but also the best­selling cam­era, mu­sic player, com­puter and video screen”. Mer­chant’s book – part dis­cus­sion of the tech­nolo­gies that pro­duced the iPhone, part jour­nal­is­tic quest to un­der­stand its place in the modern world – is a “for­mi­da­ble”, if inevitably geeky, his­tory of Ap­ple’s iconic prod­uct.

As Mer­chant shows, the iPhone wasn’t re­ally a “break­through in­ven­tion in its own right”, more a “col­lec­tion of pre­vi­ous de­vel­op­ments”, said Ja­cob Mikanowski in The Guardian. Its lithium bat­ter­ies “were de­vel­oped by sci­en­tists work­ing for Exxon during the 1970s oil cri­sis”. Touch­screen tech­nol­ogy was in­vented by a bril­liant young elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer “as a way to al­le­vi­ate his carpal tun­nel syn­drome”. Even Steve Jobs, Ap­ple’s mer­cu­rial boss, was less cru­cial to the iPhone than is widely be­lieved: most of the early work on the de­vice “was hid­den from him, to keep him from killing the project in the crib”. Mer­chant’s re­search has “great depth”, and his book is full of “com­pelling anec­dotes”, said Aleks Kro­to­ski in the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard. All the same, it could have done with fewer “fac­toids” and more “anal­y­sis”. We now know how the iPhone was made, but it would have im­proved the book if Mer­chant had zoomed out, to give a sense of “the big­ger pic­ture”.

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