iPhone, Mobile ajax, Mobile widgets and insights for iPhone developers

On the eve of the iPhone launch, it’s almost obligatory to do a post about iPhone :)

With its emphasis on the Mobile web, Mobile ajax and widgets – the iPhone conforms very much to my vision of mobile applications when I said back on Jan 1 2006 that why mobile AJAX will replace both J2ME and XHTML as the preferred platform for mobile applications development (although then – I never thought that the iPhone would accelerate that vision so much)

Besides being good for the Mobile web, the iPhone will also set new standards for the whole industry.

How long can we continue to build old style WAP like applications?

How long will customers accept it?

Even those who have not bought the iPhone will have high expectations now.

The few companies like Opera and Nokia which adopted web standards and rich media

will be the real winners. Many like openwave have simply missed the wave .

In any case, with the genie out of the bottle there is no turning back

iPphone developers will be unique (at least initially) in the sense that they will mainly be from the USA and they may not have a background of working with mobile apps (often coming from the MAC development area)

So here are some of my insights for developers

a) Access to device APIs;

update: See clarification of this issue HERE

Another update:

>>>

I feel like a protector to walled gardens – however I stand by my belief that APIs must have some form of authentication.

This is not specifically a defence of Apple. But I believe that no one in the industry can afford to open up APIs without some restrictions/authentication.

For instance, as the phone becomes a wallet, free access to APIs would mean access to money. Similarly, other scams could be possible

Secondly, If Location is known, then there are protection and privacy issues especially for minors.

I believe for these reasons, we need some form of signing mechanism – i.e. a controlled access to APIs.

<<<

Many developers are disappointed because the iPhone does not allow access to device APIs. I believe that it is not absolutely essential to have access to device APIs. We can still build simple, useful applications which customers will like. Also, in many cases, device access may not be possible for more practical reasons like security, protection of minors etc. Thus, one would expect that over time some process like symbian signed applications will emerge and that would allow access to device APIs. The lack of such access is an interim measure in my view. It is not limiting in terms of the apps we can develop and we can still build useful applications even when we don’t have access to device APIs. Other comparable platforms like Nokia s60 and Opera are also in the same boat. Security and safety are important in this context and they cannot be ignored.

b) To me, the support for Mobile widgets is critical and one to watch. Have a look

at this excellent post from Niall Kennedy and also my post on the potential for the iTunes to be a delivery mechanism for mobile widgets. I am watching mobile widgets with great interest.

c) The rollout of iPhone itself needs to be watched. It’s interesting to see how the

iPhone will work with the second, third and subsequent operators. For an analysis of

this see – The iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog ..

d) Since the iPhone is never going to be a mass market phone, the real winners here

will be companies like Nokia and Opera – both familiar with the Mobile web, Mobile widgets

and Mobile ajax.

Dan Appelquist also has similar views .. when he says ..

So, irrespective of whether the iPhone itself is a success (and if Apple’s previous product launches are any guide, it will likely have its ups and downs) it will be a wake-up call to complacent industry executives and a needed shot in the arm for efforts to expand the Web developer ecosystem into the mobile platform.

update July 4 : iPhone APIs 2.0 :)

iTunes as a delivery mechanism for Mobile Widgets ..

Here is a thought ..

Currently, application discovery is the key issue ..

Extending this to Mobile Widgets, the question is ‘How will people discover Mobile Widgets?

If iTunes(and I am using this generically, i.e. trying to illustrate the concept through iTunes – anyone could do this – for instance Nokia or Opera) .. were to be used to deliver iPhone widgets .. then .. it has some unique advantages ..

That is been hinted HERE

>>>

NPD analyst Rubin sees iTunes as being one possible vehicle for delivering applications to the iPhone. Besides giving users a familiar interface, it will also give Apple the chance to certify applications for the device.

For example, Apple tightly controls all development of software for the iPod. All games developed for the iPod are distributed by Apple via the iTunes Store, rather than being made available for individual download on developers’ web sites.

<<<

This would be good .. But my qs is: even today, sites like handango do offer application downloads ..

So, qs is: What would iTunes do differently?

Does the fact that you will have content + apps together for download .. help apps(Widgets) download? (I think it will)

i.e what I am saying is: sites like handango are used by techies ..

Its when Joe(and Jane) public start to ‘discover’ mobile apps, they will take off

We already go to the iTunes store to get content. The process of application discovery(specifically widget discovery) is but a natural extension

Actually, this could be an interesting insight because anyone could sell content and apps together (like widgets) along with it(not just Apple)

Consumers would be drawn to content .. but in the same process could also start to explore widgets ..

Adds William Volk:

Normally, selling mobile content sans a P-SMS arrangement would be the kiss of death BUT 99%+ of iPhone users are going to have a iTiunes account anyway. Unified billing is unified billing so this could work. There’s even a RINGTONE tab in the new iTunes (Google the story). So yeah, widgets and ringtones from iTunes.

iPhone: A catalyst for Mobile Ajax

iphbrow.JPG

My optimistic views about Mobile Ajax are well known. However, last month Mobile Ajax has got an unexpected catalyst in the form of iPhone.

I have always favoured Mobile Ajax for reasons like:

a) I like the One Web (unified Web) theory.

b) I believe in Open standards.

c) Mobile Ajax fosters the adoption of Mobile Widgets and

d) Developers will adopt technologies which they are already familiar with

The story so far has been led by the Opera platform, with support from Nokia (who have introduced many devices with the full Web browser).

Soonr has been the best showcase application for Mobile Ajax.

However, an unexpected boost to Mobile Ajax has been provided by the iPhone.

I believe that the iPhone will always be a niche device and even Steve Jobs is very likely aiming for that (which is still a great/profitable business to be in).

However, like on the PC, Apple will end up raising the bar for many things – especially the UI.

On first impressions, the browser UI is great .. but even more so when you realise that the browser does not use either Flash Lite or Java.

So, it is good old fashioned full browser technology –aka – Mobile Ajax(and more).

This means legions of developers will try to create better UI emulating the iPhone

But the iPhone will never be a mass market phone! So, I believe that the industry will reap the benefits of the skills base from these developers.

Others like Eli Dickinson of Fierce wireless have also spotted this trend

I predict this year, Mobile Ajax will become much more common – although we not call it ‘Mobile Ajax’ – actually any full browser app could be potentially Mobile Ajax application and the iPhone UI will lead to developers adopting Mobile Ajax(and thereby benefiting the industry as a whole especially more mass market solutions like the Opera platform)

Image source: http://gizmodo.com/gadgets/macworld2007/the-iphone-web-browser-via-safari–has-tabs-227412.php

The iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog ..

iPhone.JPG

>>> An update and summary:

For our non English readers, a clarification and a summary. The expression ‘Tail wagging the dog’ implies the lesser entity(tail) influences the larger entity(i.e. wags the dog). Contrast this with ‘Dog wagging his tail’ i.e. the norm.

So .. What I am saying is

The iPhone is cool, sexy etc because it works closely with the one Operator where its launched(namely Cingular in the US). In that deployment, Apple seems to be the dominant partner rather than Cingular if you consider features like Visual voicemail (which is unlike the norm i.e. Usually, the Carrier is the more dominant partner in such relationships). The caveat is, as more Operators deploy the iPhone, either it becomes too complex or it becomes least common denominator. Thus, the jury is out still IMHO. Others like Disruptive wireless have also picked up on this Cingular centric aspect of the story

Long title of blog BUT .. The real title is even longer .. I wanted to say ..

The iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog .. But the real question is: How many dogs can it wag?

Let me explain ..

It’s almost customary for bloggers to create a post today about the iPhone. I was actually not planning to do one because the OpenGardens blog is not about the latest news, but rather about independent analysis.

However .. This is an extraordinary announcement .. And not for the obvious reasons (yes, the UI is sexy .. but there is a lot more than meets the eye) .. as I hope to explain here ..

Firstly, let’s start with a hypothetical question: ‘Is a walled garden EVER good?’

Depends on what you mean ‘Good’ of course …

But a walled garden can be good for consumers if the final user experience is VERY VERY VERY superior.

Not just marginally good .. But EXTREMELY good ..

This is where so many others (like most Mobile Network Operators) failed commercially BUT Apple succeeded commercially. In other words, the two biggest successes: The Mac and the iPod have been superior user experiences BUT very rigid walled gardens,

The two go together and all kudos to Apple for delivering a product in the end which the customers LOVE(and that’s all which matters at the end of the day). Yes, there are limitations – such as the PC was a far bigger success than the Mac etc etc .. but no one can deny that overall customers who buy these products, rave about them. (BTW, I own neither a Mac or an iPod! )

Which brings us to the iPhone

If you extrapolate that strategy of total control coupled with an extraordinary user experience on to the Mobile networks, : What do we get?

Two things can happen

a) Either Apple can’t control the whole environment (which naturally includes the Mobile Network Operator), and the product becomes a tepid, half cooked device OR

b) Apple indeed ‘walks on water’ and DOES influence the entire value chain!

I was always sceptical about the iPhone before I saw it because like most people, I expected the former to happen .. BUT this announcement points to the later ..

And that’s why it is extraordinary.

Here is what that means in practise.

As per Ed Burnette /Zdnet

The first supported carrier will be Cingular. What’s the killer app? The killer app is making calls! It’s amazing how hard it is to make calls on most phones. We want to let you use contacts like never before — sync your iPhone with your PC or Mac. Visual voicemail — wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to listen to five of them to list to the sixth? Just like email you can go directly to the voicemails that interest you.

Emphasis mine ..

Two amazing things here :

a) The first supported carrier will be Cingular. Supported carrier? Since when did devices support carriers? Carriers support devices. Not the other way round! Hence, is the tail now wagging the dog?(Not necessarily a bad thing IMHO!)

b) Secondly, I have always wondered – why don’t we have something like the visual voicemail? As a consumer, that’s EXACTLY what I want .. I hate trawling through old voicemail(and worse still – remembering keys to go next voicemail etc etc!). So, it’s fantastic to have visual voicemail ..

BUT guess what?

Supporting visual voicemail implies that the two (device and Carrier) are intimately in bed!

Else, it is not possible to provide such a service(because the voicemail is stored on the network and not the device) .

More significantly, the device(in this case is Apple) is calling the shots! This means, again, the tail(Apple) wagging the dog(Cingular) AND Apple’s influence stretches beyond the device and MUCH deeper into the value chain!

This is the stuff of dreams for device manufacturers i.e. a really close partnership where they call the shots. The closest anyone has come to this scenario is Nokia and that has been a limited in comparison

So, I say that the iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog.

But ..

There is a caveat ..

The real question is: How many dogs can it wag?

And herein, could like a problem because as Apple gets into bed with more Carriers, the product no longer becomes a compact, sleek device but becomes one of two things

a) Either a least common denominator device(which means Apple loses it’s cool factor and becomes like any other phone in the marketplace)

OR

b) Something very difficult to manufacture because it varies by market, network technology and a range of other factors. In other words, the device may be Cingular centric, and that’s fine .. but as more Operators come on board, the device will become more complex

So, to conclude

The iPhone is extraordinary not because of it’s UI but because it’s the tail wagging the dog .. But the real question is: How many dogs can it wag?

Thoughts?

jobs.JPG

PS: The photo below(courtesy the BBC) shows Steve Jobs with the boss of phone network Cingular, Stan Sigman. Stan sounds bigger than Steve – but maybe it should be other way round!

Ipod photo courtesy Zdnet

Thanks Nicola Mattina for the feedback