Friday, June 29, 2007 at 10:24 PM

Apple iCal Icon“Hey, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”

I used to love those ads and, to this day, adore Reese’s Peanut Butter cups as a result.

So it’s kind of cool to find two of my favourite software applications in the same sort of cross-dipping action, thanks to a new intermediary.

My life is in Apple iCal. But I really dig the flexibility and portability of Google Calendar. Until recently I haven’t had much use for the latter environment, as I wasn’t too interested in managing my schedule twice.

Enter Spanning Sync, the magic software that dips iCal in Google Calendar. It’s a delicious treat that automagically syncs calendars between the two environments.

It’s also a good example of what my idea of a quality, shall we say, Web 3.0, app should be: a hybrid desktop/web tool. I’ve been using Spanning Sync for about a week and found it to be flawless. The price is a bit steep, but for this sort of unique solution, it’s worth every penny.

It’s iDay. Do you know where your cell phone is?

Steve Jobs with iPhoneToday’s the day, folks.

With all the drama of a Hollywood blockbuster, Apple is unleashing its highly anticipated iPhone to the masses in the US.

Armoured delivery trucks typically reserved for shipments of gold and diamonds are securing their arrival at 1,962 Apple and AT&T Stores across the country.

Store workers have been trained in crowd control.

Municipal governments have beefed up their police forces in anticipation of near-riot conditions.

This is all true.

iDay represents the largest consumer product release of all time.

Apple has almost effortlessly built up public suspense to a fever pitch in mass anticipation of the iPhone. For Apple is not only releasing a new product. The iPhone represents a unique consumer technology experience — and I stress the word experience.

This is an aspect of contemporary techonology that Apple has pioneered over the last few years and almost every other manufacturer seems to fail even to grasp.

Apple understands that we don’t care much for the technology itself, really. We just want it to work well, and we want to enjoy using it. We want a good experience.

Positive user experience is really what made the iPod so successful.

If you look at the iPod from a purely technical perspective, besides its scroll wheel, it isn’t anything special. It’s just an MP3 player.

However, Apple meticulously designed the total experience of the iPod.

It all begins with the iPod’s clever packaging, which is a joy to open. Its simple synchronization capabilities with iTunes make managing your media a snap. And its trademark white headphones gain you instant street cred.

The iPod is a zero-configuration device. You open the box, plug it into your computer, and a few minutes later you’re ready to rock. However, nothing was left to chance by Apple: everything is carefully designed to optimize your experience with the device.

The iPhone really picks up where the iPod leaves off, but with a much larger technological palette to work with.

Again the iPhone doesn’t really do anything very special.

Heck, my own Palm Treo can do everything the iPod does, and more. It can make phone calls. It can play music and videos. It can do text messaging and capture photos. I’ve even put Google Maps on it, which I’ve used to get directions in unfamiliar locales.

The problem is, the Treo does it all in a crappy, confusing way and I’ve had to invest a lot of time figuring out its functionality.

Most cell phones are like this: they offer a plethora of features that are really hard to figure out. I have countless friends who purchased a Motorola RAZR cell phone only to learn the thing required a PhD to operate beyond making a basic phone call.

Nobody wants their new cell phone to make them feel like an idiot. Yet that’s what most devices on the market today do.

Enter the iPhone. Like the iPod, this is a zero-configuration device. It doesn’t even require set-up at the store, in fact. You just buy one and enable its telephone features by plugging it in to your computer and syncing with iTunes.

As for using the device, just check Apple’s web site and watch the iPhone demo movies.

I won’t go into details here, but suffice to say it’s a brilliantly engaging interface that’s easy to use from the start. The iPhone is a powerful handheld computer that normal people can master quickly.

The iPhone has won early praise from those elite few who have actually had access to one.

The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg calls it a “breakthrough handheld computer.”

Steven Levy from Newsweek says it’s “a significant leap” and describes it as “fun,” “pleasurable,” and “easy.”

David Pogue of the New York Times explains that the iPhone is “dead simple to operate.”

(Your humble correspondent will likely not get his mitts on one for some time, as the cell networks in the nether regions of Canada will tragically not support the iPhone, so we’ll have to take these guys at their word.)

Before iDay ends, according to theStreet.com, Apple will have sold over $200 million worth of iPhones.

The iPhone is clearly a success before its even available to the public. It would seem Apple’s on the right track. People want the positive experience of the iPod in their communication device.

One can only hope that other handset designers like Palm and RIM will take Apple’s cue and produce more usable, enjoyable, and beautiful devices. They could hawk them to second-class citizens like me who will miss out on all the iPhone’s fun (armoured truck not required).