iPhone: Does white make right?

The arrival of the white iPhone -- and Apple's response to questions about iPhone location snooping -- have Steve Jobs's reality distortion field working overtime

Stop the presses: After decades of anticipation, the white iPhone has finally arrived. Here in Cringeville you could cut the excitement with a knife.

I mean a butter knife -- a plastic one. Or maybe just a spork.

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If someone out there can explain why this makes a damned bit of difference to any sane human, I'm all ears. (Though the lads at eSarcasm say now that the iPhone is white, people may finally stop asking if it's truly an American citizen.)

The excitement over a slight change in casing materials proves just how far around the bend Apple fanboys are. Apple really isn't all that far behind them on the looney-tunes scale, either. Catch senior veep Phil Schiller gushing over this thing like it's Scarlett Friggin' Johansson:

The white iPhone 4 has finally arrived and it's beautiful.... We appreciate everyone who has waited patiently while we've worked to get every detail right.

Steve Jobs's reality distortion field may have finally ruptured the starboard nacelles and caused a plasma core breach.

Want another example? Along with the news of the Highly Caucasian Miracle Phone, Apple also finally released a statement ("Apple Q&A on Location Data") concerning the brouhaha that erupted over the iPhone's alleged location tracking. And what a statement it is -- contempt oozes from virtually every paragraph. Like this one:

Providing mobile users with fast and accurate location information while preserving their security and privacy has raised some very complex technical issues which are hard to communicate in a soundbite. Users are confused, partly because the creators of this new technology (including Apple) have not provided enough education about these issues to date.

See? Apple isn't evil; you're just stupid. Here, let us educate you about how wonderful we are and how we truly care about your privacy, so long as it doesn't upset our business model.

It's a curious mix, though, of arrogance and obfuscation. Apple both insists that it relies on cell tower and Wi-Fi data to benefit users by giving them faster and more accurate location results, but also notes (twice) that some cell towers may be up to 100 miles away. In other words, it's accurate enough to give you reliable map results but so fuzzy it misses you by miles. How does that work, exactly?

Along the way, Apple also notes three bugs in its software that helped spur this controversy: It keeps far too large a cache of locations for far too long, it backs up this cache to a local machine, and it continues to log user locations even after the user tells it not to. All of these are to be fixed in a future iOS update.

In other words, Apple screwed up in at least three ways. But if you're looking for a mea culpa or an apology in that statement, you'll be searching a long time.

Since Apple conveniently provided both the questions as well as the answers, it got to skip issues it didn't want to address. For example: Nearby cell towers and (especially) open Wi-Fi networks may not pinpoint your location with GPS-like accuracy, but they are pretty close -- certainly good enough for someone who only needs to establish your general whereabouts on a particular day and time. For example, you're at home instead of at work, or at your lover's house when you told your spouse you'd be traveling overseas.

Though Apple may not be able to connect that location data directly to you, anyone who's looking at the unencrypted cached copy backed up to your iTunes library certainly can. That's a serious privacy violation. But you won't find Apple copping to it.

Remember, that iPhone isn't dropping calls, you're just holding it wrong. Try grasping it between your butt cheeks and see how that works.

Because to Apple, we're either idiots who just don't get it, or sycophants who go gaga over every stupid thing -- say, a new case color.

Can you tell the difference between a smartphone and Scarlett Johansson? What is the deal with the white iPhone obsession? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "iPhone: Does white make right?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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