the boys upstairs want to see

Both iPhone and Gmail were late entrants into established, crowded fields that nonetheless managed to change the way many people worked and organized information. The software was intuitive, clever, fast, and surprisingly frustration-free. I held out for a while at first, but when I finally adopted these new systems, I became evangelical in my support.

And for a while, things worked great. Tasks were accomplished so quickly and simply, there was a special satisfaction in using the software.

Then I got greedy and mucked it up.

This past spring, after owning my iPhone about a month, I decided the device wasn't achieving its full potential -- so I jailbroke it. At first I marveled at the third-party software (this was before the App Store) and the possibilities of customization. Moving backgrounds! Five icons in the dock! Tweaking elements of the title bar!

For Gmail, similar customizations were possible. Again, my justification for these hacks was improved functionality, such as the Remember the Milk sidebar integration. But after installing Better Gmail, I found the feature I customized the most were the skins. And then came Gmail Redesigned: a darker, gradient-crazy skin that transformed the airy, efficient Gmail into something seeming closer to SkyNet.

The novelty of these hacks lasted a while, but masked an inconvenient truth: they were buggy and slow. The rare freeze on my iPhone became more frequent, and switching between apps, which once took a moment, now took ten seconds or more (which may not sound like much, but is agonizing when you're trying to check the calendar from the phone, or look up a drug's pregnancy class in front of your attending).

And Gmail, with the Redesigned skin, began to lag, hang, and underperform. Not so much or so notably that I'd want to uninstall the changes, but enough that using the software was no longer a delight.

This week, though, Apple released firmware 2.2 for iPhone and Google upgraded Gmail with templates.

Firmware 2.2 is not such a milestone but it came at the right time for me -- there's enough useful apps in the iTunes store and the customizations that come with jailbreaking no longer mean so much. Upgrading from a jailbroken 2.1 was a breeze, and this week my iPhone's been so fast I no longer miss having five icons in a dock (plus, as a bonus, my title bar customization somehow survived the upgrade).

And the new Gmail templates are fun -- something for everyone, and all support a much zippier interface than Gmail Redesigned. RTM manages the transition in style, as well.

It impresses me how quickly and smoothly these companies have adapted. Or more precisely, that two giant firms have been taking notes from their most fervent users in order to keep their groundbreaking products fresh, for free. Their behavior stands in contrast to the common business practice and I can only hope other companies are watching Google and Apple as closely as they're paying attention to us.