Since moving to Israel in 2004, I’ve purchased two new mobile phones. The first was a Sony Ericsson T630 that I bought from a shop on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street in early 2005. The second was a first generation iPhone that I bought in America in early 2008.
My reason for buying the first phone locally, instead of getting an unlocked GSM phone in a Costco or on Ebay, was that I needed a phone with an operating system capable of displaying Hebrew, and a keypad with Hebrew letters for typing in Hebrew. For the privilege of getting a phone that would be suitable for someone who lives in Israel, I paid roughly a 50% premium over the American retail price.
My reason for buying the second phone internationally was that technology had advanced sufficiently in the next three years that I was able to overcome the operating system language and keypad language barriers. Question: how did this happen? Answer: the keypad became part of the operating system.
The original iPhone was the first phone I ever encountered that was genuinely as much a pocket computer as it was a phone. Computers get periodic software updates, so it’s natural for the iPhone to get them also. Therefore Apple planned ahead and built a system for computer owners to update their iPhones through their computers (I wish it hadn’t been through iTunes, but hey). And, because Apple gave iPhone users an easy way to update their phones, they also gave iPhone users an easy way to modify the updates, which meant people in places like Russia and Israel, two countries that didn’t have access to iPhones with support for their languages, could add support.
In that way, Apple’s iPhone, with its touchscreen keypad and system for firmware updates, became the first truly international phone.
At the beginning of the iPhone era, jailbreaking and unlocking an iPhone was a bit of a terrifying process. The modification was run on the phone itself, so if something went wrong, the phone could be busted permanently (nowadays, the software is modified by a program on the user’s computer and then, once it’s done and correct, it’s uploaded to the phone as part of a restore). The first time I installed the Hebrew hack – that is, giving my iPhone the ability to display Hebrew characters and enter them via a Hebrew keypad – I learned that it was actually a hack on the Russian hack. There was a confusing process to follow, at the end of which I had to go somewhere on the phone and turn on the option for Russian, after which I could select an international menu and Hebrew letters would appear. Does that sound terrifying to you? It definitely was to me (nowadays, iPhones are finally sold in Israel and Hebrew support is native).
A lot of people won’t buy an iPhone, or won’t buy another one, because they hate the touchscreen keypad and demand physical keys that they can have the feeling of punching. Undeniably, having that tactile-textual experience is awesome, but after seeing the iPhone’s great ability to switch out an infinite number of keyboards, I know that I’ll be using this type of phone for a long time.
By the way, which phone do you think cost more?
If you guessed the iPhone, you were absolutely wrong. In fact, the two phones cost about the same. Buying phones in Israel is for suckers.