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The Geek In Me Is Dead, Is It That Bad?

The handheld/mobile industry has come a very long way in the last 15 years or so, so much so, that reading the word “handheld” could put you in a place you thought was centuries ago. I’ve been attracted to handheld devices from the very first day I saw one, this was back in the palm pilot days. Back then, I was only in high school and really didn’t care to know the politics behind them, I just had a pure love for the devices.

As I got older, I started to notice a change in the industry; Microsoft entered the market and was out for blood. With the Pocket PC OS, Microsoft managed to single handedly bring Palm’s reign on top to an abrupt end. It was a hostile take over to say the least; this was the very moment the politics behind the tech starting to appeal to me.

At the same time, the geek mode begin to emerge, Pocket PC was a very powerful OS, and like anything powerful in that day and age, it brought with it some fairly complex challenges. Sure, it could do anything, getting it to actually do it was the difficult part. Not only difficult, but FUN! Aside from that, this was a time period where walking around with iPaqs, CF Card accessories and a card full of music was cool! Interestingly enough, the state of mobile OS had nothing to do with your phone at that point.

It wasn’t until Microsoft faded the “Pocket PC” branding to the background and introduced “Windows Mobile.” Windows Mobile was indeed Pocket PC in every way, but was angled at a new platform, phones! You got all of the power from a Pocket PC device with a cellular radio, it was a match made in heaven! These things came equipped with a mail client, internet explorer, and internet connection to make them all work (gprs) and most even had keyboards, which made texting a breeze.

With the uprising of Windows Mobile, we saw the birth of a few very important brands. Probably one of the more recognizable was HTC. HTC grabbed onto the WM coat tail and never let go, they were among the few OEMs who really took WM to another level in terms of innovation. Not only did they push the envelope on the hardware side of things, but software as well. HTC never really settled for the overly complex look and feel of WM, they always did their own thing to skin the UI and make it much more appealing to consumers. Needless to say, other OEMs would toss their hats into the skinning ring, and off we went! Somewhere in the middle was my beloved

You didn’t just wake up one morning and understood how WM and everything around it worked. You had to spend hours poking around, reading, breaking, bricking, crying, bitching, moaning, cussing and most importantly NOT sleeping! This was all done on XDA-Developers. Here we stayed up to ridiculous hours of the morning doing ridiculous hours of the morning things. Your friends and family could never understand it, but somehow it always made sense to you. Windows Mobile and XDA became a lifestyle.

Although HTC and others delivered great products, working with Windows Mobile at the time was a nightmare. This was a double edge sword to say the least. Right out of the box, software was buggy, sloppy and often times left us wanting more. As frustrating as it was, this is where the fun began. It was fun to “fix” what the OEMs couldn’t! This became a game of “mouse and cat.” See, mouse and cat works a bit differently to cat and mouse. In mouse and cat, the mouse pretty much reverse engineers everything to piss off the cat, this is what we refer to as ROMs.

HTC was had begun to pump out WM devices at a feverous pace on a world wide scale, this lead to a huge fragmentation in the WM platform. Their OS optimization and software innovation was the apple of everyone’s eye, the only problem is, with each device it either changed or got better. As it was, back in those days, software updates to mobile devices was none existent; this meant you had to purchase a new device to get the latest and greatest. XDA offered a work around to that.

Somehow some way, every new phone that was announced had already had its ROM dumped, gutted and torn apart. Not only so, but the new code and software included were often recompiled to work with older devices. This was heaven to us all. Even if you had an older device, you could still run many of the new updates and sometimes even the newer UI’s. It became an extremely addicting process.

Soon after I became a senior member in the community, I was offered the title of Moderator. Moderators were looked upon as very knowledgeable members of the community as well as leaders; they were also in charge of keeping the peace and making some very just decisions when needed. Not only had I become obsessed with the ROM flashing, I was obsessed with the community. Spending hours on the forum helping others, beta testing roms, and writing paragraphs long Reponses on technology theory had become the norm! It was surely some of the best days of my life.

Things would not stay the same for long, Apple had a nicely sized monkey wrench they were preparing to toss our way, and it was called the iPhone. The iPhone was not received well by any of us, it was silly to most. There was no way to hack it, break it or even flash it. It was what it was right out of the box, which was boring and pointless to us. Little did we know, we had been introduced to a revolution in the mobile technology world! Things like an app store (which came later) or even an app for that matter, required software to operate on the computer and even an update process to the OS took a while for us to understand and appreciate. Although the iPhone hate continues till this very day, the ideals and processes it brought with it were sorely needed.

Looking back, most of my geek self was established from a need to fix something that was broken, an urge to increase something’s performance. The iPhone was none of this, even if it was broken, you were taught by Apple that it was not broken, this is the way it was supposed to be. There was no real need for an XDA community; there was no real need to lose sleep at night trying to resolve a silly issue, the iPhone just worked. Because of this, I and many others like me hated it. We called it simple and boring. Turns out, the world wanted simple and boring!

The iPhone quickly became the measuring stick in the mobile industry, HTC and other OEMs who could afford to, took off in chase. It was another game of mouse and cat, but this time it wasn’t us playing. This lead to some great achievements for the Windows Mobile crowd, things like HTC’s famous Sense UI and their ever famous HD2 were heroes to us all! But to no avail, the platform had seen its last days, it was too old and could not keep up with the much more modern iOS. Somewhere in the mix, Google showed up with Android and began the foot race.

The shift in tide didn’t hit me until I dabbled with an iPhone 4 for a few months. I witnessed its appeal first hand. The thing that hit me the hardest was the “boredom” surrounding the platform. I didn’t have to spend countless hours addressing anything on a forum, this thing just worked. I made calls (dropped them as well) sent texts, replied to emails and listen to music as advertised. Even when I tried to nit-pick things didn’t seem that bad. Sure, the itch to flash a rom was stronger than ever, I was surely going through withdrawals, but I honestly started to envision myself in a world without the constant tweaking. Sure, iPhone fanatics would be quick to point out all the wonderful things a jailbroken iPhone could do, but in reality, jailbreaking and iPhone was only useful if you wanted to steal apps, nothing more. Not only could it never match the level of customizability of a Windows Mobile device, but it really didn’t need to.

It became very apparent to me. My drive to flash, tweak or even customize existed because the product I was using left more to be desired. The iPhone was the anti-Christ of this world. Although it was no way perfect, it was well thought out, well packaged and very well delivered. I had become amazed at how quick the geek in me could die, if I was satisfied with my device. It was a humbling experience.

Fast forward to the present, a world where most of the iPhone’s ideals have become standard in the industry and even Microsoft found a way to best them. Windows Phone 7 suited my needs from day one. I am very rarely an app centric person as most of my duties are handled vie e-mail, office and the web. Also right up my alley was the social integration as I have always been a social networking whore. Somehow, even in its infancy, Microsoft delivered an almost perfect experience to me. The XDA in me tried many times to rip WP7 apart, but it was difficult to do so because I had been introduced to a new way of thinking. WP7 was fairly similar to the iPhone in more ways than one. For starters, the OS was clean and a pleasure to look at, it was fast and fluid and everything about it had a simple and minimalistic presence that just worked.

Sure, things like push notifications, SIP based apps and just apps in general to name a few were a nightmare, but you’ve got to understand, it still worked! WP7 had firmly replaced the iPhone for me, but I was still left with the urge to geek out, so, I ran out and got an android device. This in itself was another introduction to a world I thought I knew well. Android had now become the new Windows Mobile. XDA was alive and well solely because of Android. The community has become stronger, faster and more intelligent. Android was in every way a more powerful OS than WM could ever have dreamed of being, but the underlying truth still existed just as it did with WM. Android is broken in many different ways, this then leads to the urge to fix it, which leads to the addition to flash, which leads to a well experienced geek! I wanted no part of that!

As I approach 30, I am actively working to refine my career; I am currently a Senior Systems Administrator/Engineer and will be looking to transition into management. I also run a brand establishment company, a lifestyle blog which I am looking to transition into a platform and tons of other side projects. I can no longer afford to stay up until 4 in the morning working with other forum members to squash a bug; I have far more important reasons to lose sleep. That is not my job, let Microsoft or Apple or Google handle that. I can also no longer afford to walk around without a fully functional device, as this is most often the case when geeking around, I need to have my devices fully functional at all times because my businesses depend on my responsiveness and productivity. It was an insight I never thought I would have, it’s a strange feeling to even see myself write it.

Had I become a consumer? Well, I have become much less of a geek for sure. I still consider myself still a very sharp nerd, but far less of a geek. The things that excite me these days are more to do with the power moves these technology companies make and less of the granular issues they have with individual products. So much so, that the comparisons between the platforms become silly to me at some point. No longer do I damn the iPhone for its simplicity and push up my nose at Android for its complexity; instead, I love my Windows Phone device for the innovative step it took forward, appreciate iOS for the ground work it has laid and recognize android for the roots from which I came.

It is not an entirely tragic thing to admit the geek in me has died, simply because I understand why. By no means does this mean I have returned to a consumer program where I blindly adopt and be happy, it just means my taste and needs are a bit different, I can live with that!