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What next for Apple’s iPhone?

Tuesday, 4 March 2008 — by

Iconic is a word too easily associated with Apple products and the iPhone is no exception. The original Mac started out the same way, with the iPhone and the more recent iPod Touch continuing that tradition. But what’s next for the iPhone?

Just who buys an Apple iPhone, anyway?

It’s as well to begin by explaining who Apple is pitching the iPhone at — primarily, Apple is serving a crowd of creative professionals who just like stuff to work the way they’d expect it to work.

They often dislike jargon and complexity, applaud simplicity and abhor crude design. Expense is probably a secondary, or at least exchangeable for long-term benefits, such as: ease of use, product longevity and low TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) — qualities often associated with Mac ownership.

Given that it’s highly likely they already own or intend to own a Mac of some sort, being able to synchronize their data between iPhone and Mac isn’t something to be compromised on, this must work with the bare minimum of configuration.

Contrast that with most other devices and how some have a tendency to get misidentified and misconfigured when connecting to a PC. Those lost hours and minutes all add up and they’re remembered, too.

Also, let’s not underestimate the multi-touch screen, which brings the ephemeral, intangibles of an electronic display to your finger tips.

While you might not actually be able to feel what you’re touching, as if they were really there, you actions are acted upon, none the less.

And that’s something that we as humans find most intuitive of all — to touch.

Apple iPhone — an enterprise joke?

What I find odd is the criticisms that have been leveled against the iPhone, principally that it’s not “enterprise-ready”.

This I find odd. Few of Apple’s products — be they of the hardware or software kind — are enterprise-ready. And when Apple does make a tilt at a new crowd, they often do so with a range of products, not just the one.

Think of iMovie and Final Cut Pro, both covering the low-end and high-end respectively. So why the critics think Apple would throw the iPhone in there on its own is anyone’s guess.

I suspect it’s a case of looking around for anything to bash Apple with, just like the good old days!

Such was the fury of unfair comparisons and needlessly furrowed brows, I felt compelled to parody some of the mainstream press in their disparaging observations of the iPhone.

So while Apple has never once stated that the iPhone is for enterprise, they’ve not said it isn’t, either.

However, it’s not as simple as just saying something is enterprise-ready. For a product like a mobile device, a serious Microsoft Outlook client goes a long way towards helping the iPhone become an enterprise-class mobile device:

“’Please join us to learn about the iPhone software roadmap, including the iPhone SDK and some exciting new enterprise features,’ the company wrote in a digital invite distributed by email.”

Like any business, it pays to listen to your customers. So I think we can accept that enough of Apple’s customers are asking for things like an Outlook client for Apple to commit resources to such tasks:

“AppleInsider exclusively reported in December, Apple has been hard at work to discredit that notion, and has formed a team whose primary objective is to test future Exchange and Outlook functionality with the touch-screen handset.”

Which makes complete sense. Add in the fact that Apple’s relationship with Microsoft is much better than it has been and you can see how Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit and the aforementioned Apple engineers could be hard at work, writing code, eating pizza and drinking Coke well into the wee small hours.

From “walled garden” to garden party!

When the iPhone was launched, the term “walled garden” was throw around quite a lot. And at the time, most critics were right in their description, but maybe wrong in their interpretation.

Apple likes to manage their brand with probably more precision than most other companies. If you’re wanting to create an afterglow of quality and slickness, it’s probably as well to keep your product closed for a while and let people be won over by your own software offerings first.

And that’s what Apple did. There was no support for third-party applications on the iPhone — until now:

“All signs point to Apple taking the wraps off a Software Development Kit (SDK) it had promised to deliver in February.”

What’s interesting is the timing. Back when Steve Jobs announced Apple’s (OK, his) intention to soak up 1% of the mobile phone market, Apple was roundly derided for their high expectations for the iPhone.

In that time, Apple has been making some serious progress towards their sales targets for the iPhone, which is pretty impressive.

Apple iPhone SDK

Fast forward some months and the iPhone has made great strides, not least by besting Microsoft Windows CE in mobile web browser market share along the way:

“According to figures from Net Applications, the iPhone now holds a 0.09% browser market share; a small figure perhaps but remarkable when compared to the market share of Windows CE on 0.06%; this despite at least 20 million Windows Mobile devices having been sold.”

With the wind clearly in Apple’s sales, also putting the wind up Microsoft’s Windows into the bargain, Apple’s iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit) will now take down the picket fence, lay out the Gingham table cloth on the lawn and invite the neighbours around for a cook-out.

Way back in July last year, I talked up the idea of how third-party applications for the iPhone from the point of view of a respectable ISV and, taking a best-of-breed application and iPhonifying it.

In my mind, that’s what Apple is hoping to achieve — high-quality applications for an audience with higher than average expectations.

In releasing their SDK, Apple will most probably want to maintain some quality control over paid-for applications, to help keep the quality and reliability as high as possible:

“Early reports that Apple would seek to exert quality control over paid third-party apps to be distributed through iTunes appear to be true, although other reports suggest such strict scrutiny will not apply to free apps…”

All a game

Broadening the appeal of the iPhone even further is the inclusion of casual gaming. But when the iPhone was originally released, Apple had not included games, which surprised me.

However, that was then. Now that games are supported on the iPhone, even between those moments of productivity and making calls, the iPhone will probably never rest as people choose to go for their high score on Tetris.

Viral success?

However, it’s not all good for Apple. Since the “killer” feature of the iPhone is support for Web2.0 style applications — most probably their own Widgets — Apple is inviting a viral attack on the iPhone, which I predicted back in June 2007, with an arrival of the first virus for the iPhone in January 2008, albeit one that targets “cracked” iPhone’s.

And as the iPhone continues to become more and more successful, interest from developers will only be matched by the interest of the virus writers.

So clearly Apple needs to proceed with caution to ensure their near-fabled product security and stability extends all the way from the Mac to the iPhone and beyond.

Of performance and features

In lieu of developers getting their hands on the SDK, Yahoo! has released performance figures for the iPhone:

“The Exceptional Performance group at Yahoo! just released a detailed performance analysis of web applications on the iPhone.”

Meanwhile, to help overcome criticisms over the lack of 3G support for the iPhone, and aid in building a greater presence in the rest of the world, a 3G iPhone seems to be in the offing:

“The advent of a 3G iPhone from Apple Inc. later this year will enabled a slew of often-sought media features and present the greatest opportunity for international adoption,…”

In doing so, Apple also paves the way for video capture on the iPhone, which is probably one of the most popular yet poorly supported features of any modern mobile phone.

The iPhone of the future

I’d like to think that if Apple do include video capture — and in turn a better quality camera — we might also see some cross-over with iMovie and .Mac.

Indeed, since the iPhone is running a slimmed down version of Quicktime, it’s no major stretch of the imagination to consider support for built-in video editing tools.

Talk is cheap — VoIP on the iPhone

Right now, if you want an iPhone, no matter where you are in the world, you have a choice of one mobile service provider. That’s not going to last, because that’s not what people want.

Going back to Apple’s control freakery for a moment, the reasons for limiting the number of mobile service providers is all about a qualitative and consistent offering. Plus, you have to factor in Apple being pretty new to this game.

In time, Apple will open the iPhone up to other operators. By then, the ecosystem of third-party applications for the iPhone will be strong and Skype will be the most likely candidate to spill over from the desktop and into the iPhone.

But when I say iPhone, don’t I really mean the iPod Touch? Well, maybe that’s why Apple isn’t letting the developers get at the docking connector — specifically to stop people attaching a microphone.

Even if voice calls aren’t possible / allowed, at least there’s the chat and file sharing aspects of Skype. Plus access to the contact lists, voice mail et cetera.

Music to the ears

Those of you who remember the first version of iTunes will recall how it was possible to broadcast your music all over the world, to anyone.

This feature didn’t last too long, almost certainly removed at the behest of the music labels. But I see this feature making a come-back, or at least in a form that allows any computer designated as a shared device being able to connect to and share music and video from your iPhone over the internet, wirelessly:

“According to a patent filed by Apple three months before the Zune came out last year, somewhat Zune-style wireless music sharing could be coming soon to an iPod and/or iPhone near you.”

The fact is, Apple will have to. Pulling away from everyone is Last.fm and their vast library of music, intricately interwoven with a social network of formidable size, comprised of people with a passion for music.

Right now, Apple has only a tiny portion of social features in their iTunes Store, found in the Reviews and iMix collections, so if Apple is serious about growing iTunes, making it an indispensable part of people’s entertainment socializing, they either need to think like Last.fm, or buy them.

Conclusion

Andy Rubin, Google’s director of mobile platforms described the iPhone as “a great 1.0 product”. In some respects, the iPhone is arguably a mobile device of the future, right now, despite some of the more notable short-commings.

Gone are the days when Apple release a product like the Newton that is so far ahead of it’s time, not even Apple know how to deal with it.

In many ways, the iPhone will most probably mark the beginning of a broader trend towards powerful, fully-featured, truly interactive mobile devices, sporting various communications tools to help you, me and everyone else stay connected, from wherever, whenever.

About the only thing that will limit the iPhone and the iPod Touch is Apple’s willingness to let the creativity of others loose on their products…

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Heidi Cool → Wednesday, 5 March 2008 @ 3:03 BDT

Nicely done, as always. You’re especially on target with the bit about thinking like LastFM or buying them. I would love better integration between iTunes and LastFM. Sure I like Amazon, but if the buy from iTunes button was under that LastFM song as well I wonder if I just might click it more. Now I flip back and forth, discovering in Last FM then doing an iTunes search to find the music to purchase.

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 5 March 2008 @ 10:29 BDT

Hi there, Heidi!

The fact that Apple aren’t even trying to socialize iTunes tells me there’s a deeply-considered reason for this.

I suspect it is again a case of control freakery — people get to say just what the hell they like and Apple don’t like that idea!

That said, their support forums tend to be lively enough. But they’re less visible, whereas iTunes would be there for all to see.

It’s a shame, because Apple have some serious überadvocates out there who would do a really good job of biggin’ up Jobs et al…

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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