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iPhoneME?

Posted by terrencebarr on January 12, 2007 at 7:02 AM PST

So, of course the big news of the week was the introduction of the Apple iPhone.

And I have to say: It's impressive. Slick. Cool. It will, in more ways than one, reshape the mobile industry. It is a personal mobile "accessory" with desktop-class power that is tuned to meet the needs of the mobile consumer life-style. It shatters conventions because it radically simplifies and integrates functionality in ways that make you go "Duh, that's obvious!" - and I mean that in a good way. Take the scrolling functionality on iPhone: Very cool, very obvious (once you've seen it, that is). Or take the finger pinching gesture used to zoom in and out. Not that Apple invented it but they use it very effectively to address a critical shortcoming of mobile devices (limited screen size). Or visual voice mail: Why wasn't that done before?

More importantly, from my perspective, iPhone highlights the failure of the mobile industry to date to provide consumers with truly user-friendly and useful mobile devices and services. Smart phones today are, by and large, complex beasts that do many things but are hard to use, buggy, and poorly integrated with the world around them. It takes a company like Apple to leapfrog the industry and show them how things should be. I applaud Apple for that and iPhone immediately makes everything else look dated.

But, nevertheless,  I am still disappointed by iPhone.

The exclusive contract with Cingular is one aspect. I fundamentally dislike exclusive arrangements for many reasons. I understand some of Apples motivations but that doesn't make me like the lock-in any more. What if I don't like Cingular? What if I can't use Cingular? What if I have a contract with another carrier? Thanks, but no thanks.

Second, iPhone doesn't support 3G wireless. UMTS is widespread in many places in Europe and very nicely complements the big white spots on the Wi-Fi map. At up to 384 kbit/s is surprisingly useful and, for me, has already become indispensible.

Third, iPhone doesn't appear to have a VoIP client. I assume this is a concession towards Cingular to not jeopardize their voice business (still think exclusive arrangements are ok?) but to me it is a deal-breaker. I started using VoIP almost a year ago and rely on it heavily to cut cellular voice costs while on the road. Roaming charges are ridiculous. VoIP saves me hundreds of Euros a year.

Next, it appears that iPhone runs a non-standard version of OS X which means normal OS X applications can not be run on iPhone. On top of that, iPhone applications appear to implement a new application model and use new APIs that are not available on traditional OS X platforms. This means, for most purposes, you couldn't care less whether iPhone runs OS X or some proprietary OS because you can't run your existing apps on it.

If, and this brings me to the next point, there even were an iPhone SDK. Several sources seem to confirm that iPhone is a closed system meaning it is not possible for 3rd party application developers to write and deploy applications on iPhone. The functionality of iPhone is locked to whatever Apple provides. If you don't like what Apple installs on the phone or you need more functionality (disconnected navigation client, anyone?) your screwed. I am flabbergasted as to how Apple can think it can succeed selling powerful high-end devices that cannot be customized and enhanced.

I understand that providing the ability to install applications requires a robust and secure architecture and maybe iPhone is not quite there yet in that respect. Maybe Apple intends to provide an SDK down the road and open up iPhone to ISVs. But until that day the iPhone is basically a next-generation iPod that can make phone calls and surf the web, a fixed-function device. I'm sure there is a good market for it but a general-purpose mobile device it's not.

Which brings me to the final point: The lack of any sort of Java on iPhone. Even if Apple had been concerned with opening up iPhone for native applications, Java ME is a perfect alternative for a proven, robust, and secure application and content platform. Apple has done a great job integrating Java SE into Mac OS X before, so why they decided to pass on the Java ME platform, developer community, and content is puzzling. This would have been a unique opportunity for Apple to support the whole range of Java ME applications and content right out of the gate in the typical slick and well-integrated manner that Apple is known for and leapfrog the industry in this aspect as well. Opportunity missed.

Well, but then again, that is precisely what the Mobile & Embedded Community is here for. As soon as Apple makes available an SDK for the iPhone I am sure there will quickly be a port of phoneME Feature or Advanced to iPhone. And then we can look forward to having the best of both worlds: Apples slick iPhone and Java ME's ubiquity.

Cheers,

-- Terrence

Here are some interesting posts regarding iPhone over the last few days:

Gizmodo
Adrian Cockrofts Blog

JavaLobby Thread
Dave Johnsons Blog
Hinkmond Wongs Blog

PS: And, of course, there's still OpenMoko. For a comparison between iPhone and OpenMoko see here.

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