The iPhone dilemma: defining the undefined

The iPhone 3GS is now available and it continues to redefine how we talk about technology. Is it a phone? Should I call it a device? Is it used for personal or business? With more groundbreaking technologies coming out every quarter, our ability to describe these new gadgets becomes increasingly difficult.

Take for example an article from Jenna Wortham of the New York Times, “Apple iPhone Owners Favor Personal Uses," which featured data from our client Compete on how consumers are using their smartphones. The article suggested that iPhone owners tend to use their phones for personal use, rather than business. This seems pretty cut and dried, but this article sparked heated debate among readers, many of whom disagreed about whether this technology could be distilled down into just one or the other.

Roughly 133 comments later, it’s still not clear if readers reached a conclusion.
One reader commented: “I can’t characterize my iPhone use as personal or business. I’m a professional working with organizations, and my iPhone has blurred the categories for me.”

As this reader rightly points out, the categories are blurred and the iPhone is more of a Swiss Army knife than a phone. Though we’re stepping into unfamiliar territory, we relish the chance to spark debates and challenge older notions about how things should or should not be defined. Should we still describe tools like the iPhone in such narrow categories or should we move away from definitions all together?

The bottom line is multi-use technologies, like the iPhone, force us into the sometimes uncomfortable position of operating outside normal boundaries and writing stories without the typical guidelines, as all of us – PR, marketing and media professionals alike – race to keep up with the frenetic pace of innovation.

-Contributed by Gretchen Doores. Follow her @canadiangal84