However one sees it (the hype or the stock price), the first big hit of the new year seems to be the iPhone from Apple. Though it may be a heated debate if the iPhone is truly a revolutionary product, I can already see how it helps academics, including myself, to travel light to conferences without a laptop computer.
As almost everyone else in academia, I tend to do three things on conference trips: checking emails, browsing the web, and doing presentations. Checking emails and browsing the web seem to be as intuitive as it can get with the new multi-touch UI on the iPhone, not to mention the nice-to-have features of making regular phone calls and taking random snapshot travel pictures. Most conferences these days have WiFi available on-site, and the iPhone can take advantage of that as well as any laptops.
Though not mentioned in its set of core features, I can see that, possibly with a few accessories, the iPhone is readily capable of doing conference presentations. Though the current iPods can be used to power presentations, they involve tweaks such as saving the slides as JPEG or Quicktime movies. In contrast, the OS X core running in the iPhone should have no problems running a lightweight Keynote or PowerPoint, and the MacWorld keynote address was already using its 30-pin iPod connector to send digital video out of the device, making it a natural choice of connecting to a digital projector with some kind of a video-out accessory. The iPhone supports Bluetooth, making it easy to find a Bluetooth clicker to control the presentation.
But how about the tons of emails that need replies in a hurry? I can imagine a foldable keyboard (like the stowaway ones available from iGo for Palm) produced as an accessory and connected to the iPhone via Bluetooth, making it a time saver to type longer emails on the device. Needs more storage space? iPod already has a iPod dock connector to firewire cable available, and it would not be a pipe dream to connect the iPhone to a portable firewire hard drive, again via the 30-pin iPod connector. At this point, if the iPhone would takeoff and evolve into an ecosystem as the Apple stock price suggested, in a year or two, the iPhone may be the only electronic device that I carry when traveling.
But that may not be the most exciting time saver — when I think of the possibility of using this device to handle all pending emails of the day while offline on the subway, on my commute to and from downtown, and then use WiFi to send them out when I am out of the subway. Though existing devices can be used for all these, the experience may not be as trouble-free and seamless as I liked. All considered, the iPhone may make it more productive to work, rather than just yet another gadget one plays with.
Update on October 2, 2007: With the recently released firmware 1.1.1, iPhone supports TV out to send video signals to external displays, using an Apple composite AV cable or an Apple component AV cable. I guess the day of traveling light and delivering presentations with an iPhone is not too far away.