A Modest Proposal: The Retro iPhone
Suppose, however, that we compare the iPhone not to the current Mac but to the Mac of ten years ago‚ say the PowerMac G3 266, introduced in November of 1997. The iPhone has four to eight gigabytes of flash memory, apparently serving for both storage and RAM. The PowerMac had a maximum RAM of 192 Megabytes, a minimum hard drive of 4 gigabytes. The iPhone's processor has not yet been announced, but speculation suggests something in the 500+ MHz range, so probably more than twice the speed of the PowerMac's G3. Add an external keyboard connected via bluetooth and the only serious limitation to the retro iPhone would be the screen size—480x320. That's considerably smaller than the two page display I was using in 1997, but only a little smaller than the original Mac's 512x384 and, unlike the original Mac, it's in color.
A retro iPhone would have one enormous advantage over any likely competitor: Software. The 1997 software base included a wide range of business programs, games, utilities, everything one could reasonably want on a pocket sized computer. Unlike programs for a new machine, these ones are already written and thoroughly debugged; there are some advantages to being on the trailing edge of technology. Being Mac programs, most of them are designed to run on whatever screen size is convenient. Many of us—everyone who was a Mac user ten years ago—already own the programs; we can transfer them from our or our friends' backup disks while staying entirely within the relevant copyright law and licensing terms. Some of us may even prefer the older programs; I finally switched from by beloved WriteNow to MSWord only when the former had been orphaned for so long that it no longer ran reliably under the current operating system.
All of this assumes that it will be possible to run OS 9 or an early version of OS X, complete and uncrippled, on the iPhone. Apple's ability to get programs written for the G3, G4 and their predecessors to run under OSX on Intel machines provides at least some grounds to believe that they could, if they wished, adquately emulate the G3 with whatever CPU the iPhone uses, but at this point that is only speculation.
Will Apple do it? I doubt it. Can some clever hardware/software hacker do it? Maybe.
But I want it.