Why I'll Buy An iPhone 5 (& Mark Zuckerberg Will, Too)

I always wanted a Swiss Army knife when I was a kid. A Swiss Army knife packed everything a boy needed into a sleek, pocket-sized frame. In high school, the desire for a Swiss Army knife gave way to longing for a mythical gizmo my friends called The Device: a mobile computer that did everything. A few years later, I had it in my pocket. The iPhone is my Swiss Army knife, and a brand-new one was announced today. Here's why I'm itching to get my hands on it.

At one of its classic, exclusive press events Wednesday, Apple introduced the iPhone 5. It has a taller screen with five rows of icons, a thinner case and a metal back. The CPU and graphics are twice as fast, the display has more accurate colors, the cameras are better, the wireless radios are faster. It looks perfect for me — a more rugged Swiss Army knife with room for additional tools.

This will be my second iPhone. In fact, not counting the Samsung Galaxy Nexus test unit I’ve been checking out, it will be my second smartphone, period. I’ve used the iPhone 4 since the week it became available in June 2010. My home button went bad a few months ago, and Apple replaced my phone with an identical copy, but that doesn’t count. It’s the same phone, and I’ve kept its tools extra sharp.

I love Google. Even as an iOS person, I use Google to handle my email, calendars and maps (until iOS 6 comes out), and I like it that way. But I’m never going to rely on the cloud. I don’t even rely on iCloud. I need a device that runs the best native software in existence to do everything I do digitally, and it has to do so quickly and smoothly all day long, whether I’m online or not. The iPhone is the only one for me.

Mobile Computing In The Real World

Every week, I run into a scenario in which every computer at my disposal fails me - except the iPhone. On Tuesday, I was at TechCrunch Disrupt to cover Mark Zuckerberg’s first interview since Facebook went public. I should have learned my lesson at Google I/O, but I didn’t; the only computer worth bringing to a tech convention is an iPhone. I should have left the rest at the office.

There weren’t any seats left when I arrived an hour and a half early, so I sat on the floor behind all the camera tripods, next to a trash can. As I prepared my Mac apps, I used the iPhone to take photos and laugh with my Twitter people.

I was content to type on my laptop, even after standing people blocked my view of the screen - but then the Wi-Fi went dead, and there were no Ethernet ports around. So I stood up and pulled out the iPhone.

Byword is a smart enough app that I could thumb-type like crazy and be sure everything would be legible. I entitled my note “Zuckerborg” (on purpose), pre-typed a few headers, and then I watched the show and tapped along with my thumbs.

Zuck’s posture was as ridiculous as ever, moreso because of how Mike Arrington dwarfed him on stage. But he nailed the interview. And to my delight, much of it was about the iPhone.

“Mobile is what matters in the long term,” Zuckerberg said. He admitted that Facebook’s decision two years ago to base its mobile strategy on HTML5 was a mistake. Facebook needed native mobile apps, so it turned the ship around and built them. Now that Facebook has a real iPhone app, the number of Newsfeed stories read by its users on the iPhone has doubled.

“Now we are a mobile company,” Zuckerberg told the audience. Facebook bought Instagram, one of the most beloved iPhone-first apps ever, because he wanted to keep that app and its team as a close partner, he said. Instagram is an iPhone-built, quintessential smartphone experience, and Facebook wants that in its DNA.

Arrington poked Zuckerberg repeatedly about a rumored Facebook phone, and Zuck repeatedly denied it existed. “It’s so clearly the wrong strategy for us,” he said. Everybody is building a phone, Zuckerberg pointed out, and Facebook is “going the opposite direction,” building a network that lives everywhere. Arrington kept asking anyway, and Zuckerberg kept saying no, Facebook is not building a phone.

Of course, Steve Jobs said the same thing before 2007. But a Facebook phone wouldn't be a Swiss Army knife like the iPhone, and Zuckerberg has clearly decided that Facebook needs to be a blade on that device.

“I basically live on my mobile device,” Zuckerberg said at the end. He wrote the founder’s letter for Facebook’s S–1 filing on his phone. That’s a pretty cool Swiss Army knife story.

So now that Apple's updated Swiss Army knife is out, I’ll be getting one. The iPhone is my personal computer. It’s with me when I need it. It works when all the bigger ones fail. If a given tool doesn’t work for me, I can swap it out for a different one, thanks to the intrepid army of iOS developers. A new row of icons on the iPhone 5 will bring me the same joy my eight-year-old self felt when he beheld a gleaming, red pocket knife.