iPhone + iPhone = Apple IIphone

You have to be hardcore to attend an Apple II expo 30 years after the machine's release -- but that doesn't mean you're dead. The Apple II was once cutting edge, and we fanatics still appreciate the latest toys.

Rob Walch, host of the Today in iPhone podcast, generously donated his time to attend KansasFest, the 19th annual Apple II convention being held this week in Kansas City, Missouri. There he presented his own iPhone and dissected its strengths and weaknesses, including vicariously via stress tests done by both PC World and Blendtec. As an example of the limitations Apple has forced upon iPhone users by locking out third party applications, Mr. Walch espoused, "Look at all the great features the iPhone calculator has: Plus, minus, divide... This is the worst calculator ever!" He recommends http://m.netninja.com/calc and other Web applications as a stopgap solution until Apple updates what Mr. Walch considers to be only v0.5 of the phone's firmware. Though the initial release of the iPhone features several of what he calls these "paper cuts" -- "they're annoying, but they won't kill you" -- Mr. Walch still feels the iPhone is the best cell phone he's ever owned, and that Apple made no mistake in the timing of its release.

He had comments on future releases, too. "The rumors of the iPhone Nano are greatly exaggerated," Mr. Walch dismissed. "Do I think there will be a hardware revision? Yes. Do I think they'll be quick, or the European iPhone will be G5? I think not." Look for a new model iPhone in February 2008, he suggests. And just like how he waited 18 hours to be seventh in line for his current iPhone, he'll line up for a new one, too. "Because," he said, holding up his current model, "my wife knows this one will be hers."

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The iPhone has a general appeal, but like KansasFest itself, there were plenty of more esoteric topics, too. Michael Mahon delivered a technical presentation on NadaNet. This parallel programming network uses Apple II machines exclusively and is his own design, eschewing TCP/IP, AppleTalk, or other existing network protocols. By eviscerating eight Apple IIe boards from their cases and housing them in a single frame, he's built the world's only AppleCrate, able to distribute and exchange data processing tasks using 8-bit machines. Unfortunately, the NadaNet is more a proof of concept and will not be used anytime soon to search for extraterrestrial life or fold proteins.

Of the products I've seen thus far, I'm most looking forward to v2.0 of Eric Shepherd's Sweet16, an Apple IIgs emulator. Currently at v1.7.3, Sweet16 is not as full-featured as Bernie ][ the Rescue, an older emulator that does not run on ICBMs (Intel Chip-Based Macintoshes). As a universal binary, Sweet16 is the hope of the future -- and it promises plenty of opportunities for that era, too. Sweet16 v2.0 will allow for plug-ins and expansions that will emulate add-on hardware, such as expansion cards. Theoretically, these software plug-ins could even emulate non-existent hardware, creating the possibility of programs written specifically for an emulated Apple IIgs. It calls into question whether software written to require a faux machine would still be in the spirit of the Apple II. By abandoning the classic hardware, are we forgetting our roots? Or is this no different from expanding via actual peripherals? I'm disinclined to argue the legitimacy of Sweet16's approach either way, given the alternative of no emulator whatsoever. But it's an interesting theoretical debate. What's your take?

[Full disclosure: I am on the planning committee for KansasFest and am editor-in-chief of Juiced.GS, the last remaining Apple II publication still in print.]

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