When is a toy not a toy?

There have been a number of devices – what one might cruelly dismiss as gadgets – that I've acquired over the years, that after the initial wow factor, left a slight feeling of disappointment. All too familiar you may think, but the story doesn't end there. These specific gadgets, after their initial peak and trough, built up a sort of subtle underpinning of usefulness, such that three months later they'd become invaluable tools that I'd find myself taking for granted as much as street lighting and free rubber bands. In order, these gadgets have been my first Powerbook, my first iPod and my first iPhone. Woah there fanboy!, I hear you cry! But please, let me finish, and then you may reign down your cynicism upon me from on high: the fact that these are all Apple products is irrelevant to my point. Well, mostly irrelevant. What each of these devices had in common was that it sought to perform a task, and sought to do that task to the best of its ability. (A bit like a companion cube, if you will. Don't worry, I know they don't really have feelings.) When I got my very first iPod (which I bought from the flagship store in San Francisco, I'm not doing myself any favours am I?) I got it back to my hotel, fondled it, marvelled at it, plugged it in, filled it up, and then... I listened to a few seconds of music. Wow, I thought, I can listen to music. And then I put it into its little case and carried on with my life. Three months later, having my entire music collection wih me at all times, and it being a joy to access, was second nature. The device had done its job, and it had done it beautifully.

My first Powerbook, after marvelling at its sleek design and portability, was just a laptop. But three months later, having a laptop that was on in two seconds, lasted for over a week on a charge and never crashed or wasted my time was the norm. Its purchase wasn't a Damascus-bound moment, but I'd certainly never want to go back. I mean what kind of a name is Saul, anyway?

The same with the iPhone, I mean, it's just a phone right? So you unbox it and you put your numbers in and then... you make a phone call. But three months later when you've not only won the pub quiz but successfully navigated your way home, and found a takeaway on the way, you realise it's more than just a toy.

Any of these gadgets, if you'd been shown one or played with one for a few minutes, you'd have managed to get straight over that peak and into the trough. Great, it's lovely, but it's just a music player/laptop/phone. See you around. And some gadgets are indeed just music players, laptops or phones. But sometimes one comes along that fulfils its purpose so well that it becomes embedded in your routine. And that for me, is when a toy is not a toy.

So of course there are some that are toys. Or just aren't very good. I remember having a weird Amstrad organiser pad thing, and being desperate to make it work for me, to no avail. I had a Palm Pilot, and I tried ever so hard to integrate with my life, too hard I'm sure. If you're reminding yourself to use and organiser, and setting reminders on your organiser to tell you to use it, you know there's something wrong. Same with my first mp3 player too, which spent more time being shipped to and from Singapore than actually playing music. The list of gadgets that turned out to be toys is much longer than those that didn't.

Surely you can see where this is going?

It's one thing to go and play with an iPad in a shop. Or to have a few minutes of borrowed time. Woo! Oh. It's a tablet. Thankyouverymuchandgoodbye. But let it in, and give it three months. Heck give it three days. I strongly – strongly – suspect it's not a toy.