iPhone Aftermarket and BrowsingMonday, July 02, 2007
The madness of Friday's iPhone launch is now behind us and there are news reports that more than 500,000 of the new devices were sold the first night they were available for sale (no statements were released by either Apple or AT&T confirming this number). The blogs are filled with complaints about problems with activating the phones, but AT&T says they are doing the best they can to correct any problems on a case-by-case basis, and user comments of the iPhone's slow Internet access are making their way into the press reports and onto the blogs. (Is anyone really surprised?)
Saturday morning I started receiving emails from makers of gadgets, cases and other accessories designed to enhance the iPhone experience. Just as the iPod gave birth to its own set of companies with all manner of products to enhance the iPod experience, the iPhone aftermarket is going to be huge, and it is already ramping up.
Some of these aftermarket devices are "approved" by Apple and carry notices such as "Works with iPhone" as well as "Made for IPod" notices. One of the first emails I received was for an automobile charger that works with both the iPhone and iPod, is certified to meet Apple's performance standards, and this particular one has also been designed to use a USB cable to attach to the cigarette lighter in the vehicle, which means it can also be plugged directly into a computer for charging as well.
Not missing a beat, another company already announced a sneak peek of the "missing manual" for the iPhone and promises to show us some of the iPhone's unadvertised taps, double-taps and other shortcuts. Next up are the cases that are instantly available for the iPhone, clear acrylic skins and cases that have room for the headset cord.
Concerned about a scratch on the screen? You may purchase a liquid to apply to the screen to make it immune (or so they claim), and other companies are offering different forms of screen protectors. Screen protectors and screen cleaners seem to be a big deal, cases, every type you could want, cradles and mounts for your iPhone for your car, chargers, batteries (external batteries for recharging your iPhone on the fly), lots of plug adapters for powering the phone and, of course, the usual roundup of earbuds and earphones. A visit to engadget.com features a number of other options available and the article discusses even more slick new add-on products.
Meanwhile, as the reviews start to make the rounds, the issues are the same as they were prior to the launch. Is the battery life really as good as claimed? There are different views here from "yes it is" to "you may want to charge your iPhone every day." There are also concerns about the battery, which is not removable, but I have not seen anyone yet discuss the SIM card―if it can be replaced or if an existing SIM card can be inserted into the phone. My guess is that there is no way to get to the SIM card and that it is locked down tight to prevent anyone from trying to use the iPhone on a different network (not that it would do them any good since the few over-the-air features are limited to AT&T, at least in the United States).
The entire Internet-on-a-phone issue is something I have been discussing for a number of years. It is one of those things where I get agreement, almost universally, when I discuss this in person or in a speech, but those who are coming at wireless from the computer/Internet markets don't agree, nor do they understand the issues. Many companies' stated goal for Internet access is to recreate the desktop experience on a mobile device. That is certainly what Steve Jobs is talking about and demonstrating with the iPhone.
I believe that even if the iPhone was built to provide Internet access via EDGE and UMTS/HSPDA the user experience would still be cumbersome and clunky. The device is really groundbreaking, but the fact that the browser is a browser is disappointing to me. What is needed is a better way to obtain information that is available via the Internet. The Internet is not a destination, it is a roadway to information that in most cases is presented in a graphical way starting with a home page that is designed to be displayed on a large screen. Most the information we want is not located on the home page of a Website but somewhere behind the home page.
Yahoo!'s Go 2.0 is probably the best example of a smart search engine out there, and Yahoo! touts being a partner for the iPhone. But so far, I have not seen anything other than standard Internet browsing. I hope there will be some smart applications arriving soon.
One demo I have seen, under NDA, is of an application for the iPhone that would really be cool and very useful to have. In this demo, you check your buddy list, exchange messages about meeting for coffee and decide on a Starbucks. The service locates all of your friends who will be meeting you, locates all of the Starbucks around the area, and then checks traffic patterns for each of you and determines which Starbucks is closest to all of you based on actual travel time.
Of course, with Apple's closed system (or almost-closed system), applications such as these probably won't be available. Another one I would love to see, again based on turn-by-turn directions and traffic patterns, would enable me to enter an offsite meeting into my calendar and the system would calculate the route and monitor the traffic along the route. If there is a problem, it would notify me, give me a different time estimate for leaving my office and continue to monitor the situation.
My standard example, which we have been using for years, is to take advantage of the fact that both the device and the network are smart. If I enter a flight into my calendar for tomorrow, the system would calculate my driving time, check on the flight status automatically, populate my calendar with gate information, provide a weather icon for the weather at my destination and, since I am asking, the system would recognize that I am renting a car and staying at a specific hotel. It would then provide turn-by-turn directions as well as real-time traffic updates to my calendar automatically.
Maybe version 2.0 or 3.0 of the iPhone will provide us with a smarter way to make use of the Internet―browsing it on a phone is not something I want to do even using one of the 3G networks. Certainly, I want access to the information that is out there on the Internet, but I want it in a much easier way, without having to scroll around a home page until I find the next level of the site that has the information I want.
The graphical user interface on the iPhone appears to be a breakthrough in ease of use. I say "appears to be" because I did not stand in a line to buy one. But Apple missed the boat when it comes to information access. After all, the only reason I browse the Internet in the first place is to find information I want and need, and I want to get it quickly and easily.