Archive for January, 2007

On the iPhone

January 20, 2007

The more I think about this product, the more I’m amazed by the audacity of what Apple is trying to accomplish.  I’m also astounded at the shortsightedness of the many critics.  Use your head for a few moments and your bound to realize that Apple takes a very strategic view toward future product secrecy and the release of as much as they’ve revealed is purely a tactical consideration in light of the fact that the FCC certification process is public.  In other words, the phone they showed on stage is only part of the phone you’ll be buying in June (or whenever the software is really ready).

Criticism #1: It’s not really revolutionary for the phone interface.  Two words – voice dialing.  Apple have announced a wired stereo headset with built in mic for the product.  I’m willing to bet the farm that they’ll also have a Bluetooth solution and that the whole thing will use voice dialing as the primary mode of interaction with the address book.  My most recent phone prior to buying a Palm Treo 650 was a Motorola V600 which had built in voice dialing that worked quite well.  It was fully integrated with the Bluetooth headsets and was so easy to use that I would probably not have gone to the Palm if Cingular had better phone service in my neighborhood.

I’m also willing to bet (perhaps something more modest than the whole farm on this one) that they’ve got a voice interface for adding appointments to the calendar.  The tie in is so obvious it’s barely worth talking about, but imagine your on a call while driving and you need to check your schedule to coordinate with your caller.  You could use a keyword to confirm to the phone that you’re talking to it instead of the caller and the phone could read back, for example, all your business appointments for the rest of the week.  Apple has done a lot of work with all those technologies for years.  When I was doing tech support for them ten years ago the OS supported full control by voice alone, and Apple has had technology for text to speech for years that was used to support disabled users.  I’m not saying that this one is a slam dunk, but I’m betting it’s not too far into the future.

Criticism #2: Predictive text is cute, but how about a full size keyboard.  Two words – okay, one word – Bluetooth.  Thumb typing on my Treo is okay for entering very short messages but it’s not a long term solution.  There have been portable Palm keyboards available for years with a docking interface.  Bluetooth is slowly taking over the peripheral market, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to find that Apple offers a very compact bluetooth keyboard perfect for travel available at roughly the same time as the iPhone.  Microsoft makes a very nice full size keyboard suitable for office use.

Criticism #3: iPhone doesn’t have video out so I can play my content on my car/desktop/video projector/concert hall.  Simply put, this isn’t a core feature that everyone needs.  The external doc for the iPod with video accomplishes the task well and should work for this device as well.  I suspect that there will be no shortage of cable based solutions for the road warriors.

Criticism #4: Battery life is too short for coast to coast/overseas flights/two months camping in the outback.  Charging cables are already available for airline use and so are portable batteries that can interface through a USB charging cable.  Radio Shack has them for road warriors.  Five hours should be plenty for the average user who has access to home charging, car charging, etc.  Who knows how many cycles the battery is good for, but the odds are that it will last longer than the phone your using now.

Criticism #5:  Why can’t I load any software on it that I want?  This one I have some sympathy for, both as a software developer and an avid user of third party applications.  I don’t have a direct answer, so the best I can do is rely on the history of the company.  They’ve tended to restrict certain things to homegrown solutions only and tended to be pretty flexible beyond that.  I suspect that they will be more amenable to third party applications as the iPhone proves itself to be more of a general computing device and less of a pure smart phone.  Ultimately, this one is a monetary decision and a control issue.  As we’ve seen in the kerfluffle with Cisco, only one of those matters to Apple.  I think that they’ll be more open once they’ve proven that they can do so without losing control over the interface.

My response to #5 is more speculative than predictive I’ll admit, but I think it’s valid nonetheless.  In the interest of honesty, I’ll also note that I do own Apple stock and have for several years.  I believe that this product can be a game changer if Apple can keep from screwing it up.  If they can manage to play well with Cingular (AT&T) and if the interest in the iPhone is as great as I think it will be, this will really change the marketplace.  I’d hate to be the president of Palm right now.