The iPhone Revolution

December 2, 2008

in general

I’ve been noticing three factors that I don’t hear / read enough about which is changing the way the web or web pages will work forever. I see them at play in the iPhone and they will completely change the desktop and the way we work, play and communicate. I’m also not sure that the the latest Blackberry or Nokia really deals with them.

These are just three observations that I think matter.

  • Pocket Social Networking.
  • Applications Galore
  • Design Simplification


Pocket Social Networking.
Until you have the freedom to update and reach in your pocket at any time you don’t have the ability to utilize that free time in the passenger seat to update on twitter, or that time on Bart or waiting for an appointment to check in or pass along a reference. The iPhone and Twitter in particular are proving that location and networking tools in your pocket can be accessed more frequently without impacting on other activities. Not everyone will agree with me I’m sure. However each and everyone of us is going to be broadcasting all sorts of signals like never before. I remain very interested in the mobile location space. Think about it. When we can share an “ad” (status update) that may exist for maybe only minutes rather than a day or week.  Will we find new ways to ask for things? How will it effect commerce. That negotiation will be one of the more interesting things that emerges.  Similarly, desires for more control over our handsets, privacy, interruptions and new capabilities to quickly gather a sense of our augmented surroundings. Example persistent geoads.

Applications Galore: A few days ago I realized I’d downloaded and added more applications to my iPhone than I have ever added to any PC ever! Well I’m pretty sure. Actually if I counted all the plug-ins in Firefox and all the various patches and little things I need to make my laptop work perhaps not. However they all serve a different set of purposes. Most of those make the system work. By contrast the apps I have on my iPhone make me more communicative, more informed or better able to know my surroundings. They also help me with immediacy eg maps, photos or video and thus sharing in real-time with my friends. Lastly they entertain or augment my entertainment, music, music addtions, games etc. So do we feel different about these applications? I think we might. I’m even starting to buy some and prefer the 99c type. I’ve also noted that Apple’s iTunes store has probably billed me more in the last six or eight months than it did in the preceding five years. That too is huge! However that’s not my real point about why these apps and the iPhone is revolutionary. It’s simply that I’m happy to buy and have these new services and items in the palm of my hand. Example I met with the Taxi developer the other day. A simple app today but one that tomorrow could change the ways Taxi’s are actually despatched and identified. I have a Bart button on my home screen. I would never bother to have the same thing on my laptop. The apps have a greater reward and I may well end up having a closer bond with their services.  Many also have a web version too. So I expect that apps will migrate from the iPhone to the PC and no longer from the PC to the iPhone. Successful ones will be judged increasingly first by whether or not they work in the palm of your hand.

Design Simplification. I’ve been quietly assessing all the current Twitter apps. I’m also testing many more looking to glean some insight into how the design challenges are being handled. The best apps can get you signed up and going immediately. Many still do this poorly where required. I’m a big fan of simplicity in the use of the layout and the screens. All the fancy stuff that has been junking up the web pages or ajaxed behind them doesn’t work so well on the iPhone. We don’t consume the info the same way. Gmail may work perfectly well on Firefox but they needed a whole new look/layout for the iPhone. Yes it works. In fact I like looking at my gmail account on my iPhone mail client many times more than the gmail equivalent or even on firefox for the most part. It’s simpler. I’m sure there are lessons here. Whereas pre iPhone I would say I looked at my email on the move with my t-mobile always on connection and dealt with perhaps 5% the ratio of dealing with email on my iPhone is now easily 50%. That’s a massive shift and I enjoy the new flexibility. So design for simplicity and mobility is key. It must be easy to read and use the space efficiently. What we are learning from the iPhone we will expect in other new devices. Not just touch screens and quick navigation. We will expect to be able to quickly add new features. We will expect consumer products to be designed with additions of software in mind. We will also increasingly expect that tablet in our hand to do a lot of the things the laptop used to do. I may be getting away from my point however I can’t see why I can’t have iPhone like devices in multiple screen sizes. Why can’t I just use it with a keyboard and HD TV?   In fact what do I really need the laptop for anymore? The iPhone finally has computing at a point where a step change is about to take place. It’s going to be the new web and the neat thing is many more people are going to be included.

In the intro I said I’m not sure that Nokia or Blackberry or other handset manufacturers really understand the shift yet. I think the difference that iPhone apps are being developed for you and me for a new army of people developing stuff we seem to use when we didn’t before. Example. “The Weather Channel”. The iPhone comes with a weather/temp app although it is basic. My daughter checks the Weather Channel each day on her phone before she leaves. It’s part of her dress routine. The mobile is at hand, it it one tap for the info. Pre iPhone she would have asked what do you think etc. She is disparaging about the iPhone weather app which I would say is adequate and I only use for other countries. Now she would never have booted up the PC or have an icon on her desktop to make the same check there. She’s personalized her’s in other ways too. So maybe the new Nokias and Blackberries will have a “weather”  button. But if they don’t or you can’t add it so quickly, then it is a good guess that they don’t get it yet. Even in this little story I believe there are some pointers on how to think differently.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Courtney December 2, 2008 at 11:40 am

Stuart,

I agree on the three categories (and have both a Bold and iPhone) as “game changers” in the smartphone space.

Pocket Social Networking: I use Slandr.net and/or Twitter4Skype via iSkoot to follow my Twitter feeds (in background) when away from the home office. When IM runs in background you get notifications of new messages, etc. while doing other activities such as reading email or web browsing.

Applications Galore: While the BlackBerry App store won’t launch until next March, you can get several hundred BlackBerry apps via CrackBerry’s App Store (a mobile application at crackberryappstore.com) or over 4,000 via Handango. Not currently the total ease as installing iPhone apps but that will come next spring. (And all is independent of carriers). I probably have about 25 apps installed on my Bold at this point. It really becomes a matter of what do you want to have rather than can you do it. Several of applications, for instance, Palringo and some MLB apps, provide parallel user experiences on the Bold. Many iPhone developers are also looking to develop for the Bold; 700 attended the BB Developer Forum in late October (BTW, I would assume a lot of this applies to the Storm — sounds like updates are coming out to address some currently reported shortcomings.)

Design simplification: how well each smartphone does is in the end going to depend on the UI more than any technology. Here it’s variable by developer but they have to make it simple for mass adoption. I think we really need to see what develops over the next six months across the smartphone space… I am seeing good reports on the newly announced Nokia N97 today. It will be another contender — and Nokia has the world’s largest wireless phone customer base along with as many carrier relationships as RIM for BlackBerry.

I find it beneficial to have both iPhone and BlackBerry (where I use BlackBerry MediaSync to sync with iTunes for music) in order to get a total perspective on where smartphones are going to take us.

But there is one bottom line: the Bold has changed the way I work. I have lost the need to run to my laptop to be current on all my activities. With Bold I have social networking, good and useful web browsing experiences (once they get the Javascript speed issues resolved, it will be better) and, frankly a display that is easier on the eyes than the Bold. (But displays will always be subjective; look before you buy.)

As a result I have taken to calling BlackBerry Bold “a laptop for the hip (or purse)” due to the real time experiences I have had away from my home office. Passes the time on my GO Transit rides into and out of Toronto much more quickly.

BTW, on Bold you can edit Office documents…. and do “Copy & Paste”. Two more requirements for a “laptop for the hip or purse”.

Stuart December 2, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Jim thanks for the comments. The most important one for me is the “Changed the way I work” and Lost the need to run a laptop. I feel much the same. I know you are a total Blackberry fan and I appreciate that and others will be as well. I’m not prepared to make the investment in a blackberry for mere test reasons at the moment. I’d drop in a card and test one anytime. I also don’t see the numbers sold and don’t think one app will run on all Blackberries. There appear to be similar problems will Google. Only time will tell. In the meantime there are many changes in behavior going on.

Peter December 2, 2008 at 10:05 pm

“I also don’t see the numbers sold and don’t think one app will run on all Blackberries.”

Y’know, I get a little snarky over this one.

There are applications that will only run on Mac OS X Leopard. Nobody says, “Oh, hey, not all Mac applications will run on your Mac.” Furthermore, some of GPS applications are pretty useless if you try to use them on a first-generation iPhone.

Yes, Blackberries have been around much longer and there are more models which may mean that if you try to install some brand new app on your 3 year old Blackberry, you may have a problem. Much like if you try to install a brand new app on your Mac running Tiger.

One nice thing, of course, is that if you have a problem, you’ll be able to get a refund from the folks you purchased it from. Try that with an iPhone app–either you get nothing or, if you complain enough, they may give you back 70% of your purchase price.

Martin Hill December 3, 2008 at 8:18 am

Peter, no justification for being snarky.

I think what Stuart was saying was that with Blackberry, a developer has a huge variation in the hardware and software they need to target – far wider than the variation between a Mac a few years old compared to a new model. . All Macs for example have decent size screens and use a keyboard and mouse to navigate.

Not so the Blackberry and other phones – You see a huge range of different screen sizes, some use a keypad and trackball to navigate, some now use a touchscreen only, some are 3G, some are not, some have tiny screens, some have larger, accelerometers, some have slower processors and a terribly small amount of RAM and storage etc. Android phones are going to have similar problems.

This is greatly accentuated by the huge resource constraints of such tiny devices. Software made to run on the lowest common denominator is going to be pretty hobbled and forgettable.

The iPhone at least is starting from a very high-powered, fully featured foundation: 620MHZ CPU, hardware 3D acceleration, 128MB of RAM, 4-16GB of storage, accelerometer, large 3.5” screen, WiFi, Bluetooth, multi-touch with a very powerful, desktop-class operating system with a best-in-class object oriented dev environment and killer App Store with an enormous, voracious audience.

Re your GPS comment, even the first generation iPhones can get a rough fix using cell-phone triangulation and wifi powered location services so they are not left out of the loop.

Also considering the average price of iPhone Apps is only a couple of dollars I don’t think many users are sweating not being able to get refunds!

-Mart

Stuart December 3, 2008 at 10:06 am

Peter,
Your right on two counts. Software doesn’t necessarily work on everything (why else do we keep upgrading our hardware) and a key point that if the app doesn’t work then you can’t get a refund from the itunes app store.

Re numbers I see 10 million iPhone approx in the US and is it 20m approx worldwide by Xmas. All have the same software. With the exception of GPS where first gen iphones are diminished goods I basically know almost all users have exactly the same plan or a similar plan.

I don’t think the blackberry numbers compare. I can be sold with evidence. I’d also like to know if the bold and the storm for example can run identical software or if it requires customizing in each case for different screen sizes and more. If so what is the factored development cost?

Jim Courtney December 3, 2008 at 11:05 am

Stuart,

A couple of comments:

1. When I went to Handango and selected BlackBerry Bold as my device it came up with 1976 applications. Interestingly enough, IM+ for Skype was the sixth most popular. But, more importantly these applications will normally work across all BlackBerry (8xxx series or later) and are device independent. The only limitation would be where an application requires the firmware 4.6 (for Bold) or 4.7 (for Storm) where the main difference is the I/O (keyboard and display) or a feature, such as a 480 pixel wide display, that is only available on Bold or Storm or Javelin, etc. Interestingly enough there are about the same number of applications available at the Crackbery.com app store also. Both have mobile device app stores for ordering direct off the BlackBerry.

2. There have been lots of vertical applications developed for internal enterprise use that we never publicly hear about unless you encounter someone from a company that uses it (such as the shuttle company that took me to my hotel in LA in September). They will often integrate into Oracle, Salesforce.com, SAP, etc.

What is going to be most interesting at Apple, RIM and, now with yesterday’s announcements, Nokia, is how do the developers get exposure and marketing for their apps. No way anyone is going to put 10,000 or even 2,000 apps on a device. Once again it’s a case of selecting applications that solve individual problems or provide services a user wants. And that’s the benefit of having both a iPhone and BlackBerry.

Interesting to note that the fourth most popular application for BlackBerry Bold is eOffice 4.5 which provides editing (free and embedded into firmware) and creation (Premium) of Office documents. Available to any BlackBerry that can upgrade to 4.5 firmware as well as Bold, Storm, Javelin/8900.

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