Saturday, May 29, 2010


I have finally taken CO's hint and got into As usual, I begin with a burst of wild and unsustainable enthusiasm which will no doubt tone down in the next few days. Anyhow, blip gives you a tweet for pithy and amusing comment. How can I describe Leonard Cohen's "Closing Time"? I was thinking along the lines of, "A marvellously crafted and sustained metaphor from the iPhone of chansonniers".

I'm not sure I'll go with that: fans of the iPhone would get it immediately, but others would need the explanation. And there is prejudice.

Before I go on, I should say that I have the enthusiasm (shudder) of a recent convert. My first Apple device was a basic iPod Touch that I got for Chrismas 2009. I had been using PDAs and smartphones running decreasingly crippled Windows since the Compaq Aero. Anyway, I have found religion. I am, it is alleged, a Jobs Fan Boi. This is not good. You Have Been Warned.

So, anyway, here's the explanation:

The iPhone is a marker for Design.

This is a slippery concept to define, though I think most of us know it when we see it. A team that has mastered Design:

  • understands the essence of the product and
  • ruthlessly eliminates anything which does not fit that essence, however useful or profitable it may appear

Cohen is a chansonnier in the classic tradition. His songs are melodic, intelligent and passionate, and delivered with more passion than musical purity. He has a weakness for the rambling dirge, but this one is particularly neat. He establishes his metaphor, links it to his underlying truth and, in a couple of tight verses, delivers his insights. Then he closes off perfectly.

Clearly, he has spent some time honing away lyrics which almost but didn't quite fit. Time well spent.

Having got that off my chest, here is a gobbet of heresy.

Design is not necessarily Good

It's a Trade-off. If you choose Design, you are sacrificing all of the things you could have been adding when you were ruthlessly eliminating. (As Blaise Pascal wrote in 1657, "I only made this longer because I don't have the time to make it shorter".) And you may need other compromises: restricting the number of simultaneous programs to ensure adequate performance, for example. Some would prefer to be able to run lots of programs, even if their device does occasionally grind to a halt.

Others want to know that their device will work consistently when they need it. Something my first "smart" phone conspicuously failed to do.

While you hone your perfect product, you can lose momentum.

It's the difference between

  • functionality vs function
  • what you do vs how you do it
  • what you can do vs what you are
  • Google vs Apple

Choices, choices.