Thursday, March 06, 2008

Total, Global, Domination

When the iPhone came out, I had at best a lukewarm response to it. In fact, I openly mocked the early adopters as Apple fanboys; because the device in it's initial release had a number of what I consider rather serious flaws:
  1. It was about $200 too expensive
  2. It didn't support any high bandwidth wireless mobile networking; only GPRS/EDGE
  3. It was locked to a single carrier (AT&T in the US)
  4. There was no third party software available, and the API and SDK were locked up
Well, a few months after the release, Apple cut the price by $200; which was a good first step, but not enough to make what I would consider a compelling value proposition.

This morning, Apple announced the long awaited availability of the third party software developers kit; along with the distribution plan for iPhone software through the Apple Store, using the iTunes model.

Apple has also dedicated $100 million (of the $20 billion or so) of their cash reserves, to providing VC funding for iPhone development.


This is very big. So big in fact that over at Eternity Road, Jeff Medcalf (who happens to have the same job as I do) is predicting the iPhone will dominate mobile computing within 3-5 years:

...The combination of these three elements is going to make iPhone development and use take off, and I would not be surprised if the platform is, in five years, considered as indispensable as are desktop computers today. I would tell you where to get everything to get started, but it seems that Apple’s developer support webservers have been completely overloaded since the announcement that the beta SDK was available today.

I am aware that I am going to be accused of being overblown, and perhaps time will even prove that to be the case. But I cannot help but feel the way I felt when I first saw a Macintosh, after years of using TRS-80s, Commodore 64s and the like, or the way that I felt when I first learned a structured programming language, after years of BASIC and Assembly and FORTRAN.

Just as those innovations remade computers utterly, I believe that the iPhone will. Moreover, I realize that the platform is imperfect, limited by reality rather than imagination (although an honest observer would have to conclude that it reset expectations of what was possible in a handheld platform) and lacking features that many people will vociferously claim to need (and which a few of them might even use). Yet that is true of any human endeavor, and I do think that time will prove me right....
Well, I don't think he's being overblown at all as to potential; but I can only agree conditionally, because of a couple (well... three) execution issues. Basically some of that "reality" that Jeff was waving away in the last paragraph there.

Those three conditions are:
  1. Apple gives the full release 1.0 SDK, full API access, to all the functions of the hardware and operating system. I understand from reading the various gadget and mobile sites, that the the beta is somewhat limited currently.

  2. The 3G (or even better 3.5g or 4g) iPhone comes out later this year as is projected; especially if it also comes out with a built in GPS.

  3. Apple allows open network purchase and activation of the iPhone after their current exclusive contracts expire in 2009.
If these open access and connectivity steps are taken, and not in a halfhearted way, but in a way that consumers can really use; I predict the iPhone will supplant all other mobile computing environments within 3 years.

I currently own an E-Ten GloFiish X800, that I gladly paid $599 for, unlocked and unsubsidized. I did this because I need what it offers:

1. The most widely developed mobile computing environment currently available (WMP6). This means if I need a piece of software to perform a certain function, I am likely to find it.

2. High bandwidth network communications on all major networks around the world, both for voice and data (The X800 is a quad/quad GSM 3.5g edge/gprs/hsdpa/hsupa/umts device with WiFi, bluetooth, and GPS. It supports basically every standard and every network). This means that no matter where I am in the developed world, I can get voice and data service.

The X800 is, quite simply, the best connected mobile device available today; and it has the most software available for it.

As far as Windows Mobile devices go, you can't get any better... Unfortunately, the windows mobile professional operating environment is horrible. It's resource intensive, it's inefficient, it's unreliable; and it is only considered open because MS developers kits are the dominant platform, so everyone has them (and they pay about $500 a seat for the privilege).

The operating environment and (other than the limited connectivity options) the hardware of the iPhone, are both vastly superior to any Windows Mobile device. If Apple includes open high bandwidth connectivity options, and releases a full open development environment (and if they get the developers to build on that platform of course; but you would expect the one to follow the others) there is no way that WM6 (or the upcoming WM7) could compete.

In fact, putting aside competition between Apple and Microsoft; what is currently holding mobile computing back, is that it simply isn't useful and economical enough to get users to switch away from simple handsets. They don't see the value.

If developers fully embrace the iPhone platform, with expanded connectivity capabilities; it will finally provide the incentive for mobile computing to become ubiquitous. Current handset users will finally be presented with a compelling reason, and value proposition, to carry more than just their bog standard mobile handset.

Lord knows, I'd switch in a heartbeat; and I'd pay another $599 to do it.