Someone for whom which I respect and follow on Twitter, Buzz Anderson, posted an interesting Tweet today (emphasis mine):
“Curioua (sic) how many of the hacks that come out of iPhoneDevCamp will be things that could only be done on the iPhone.”
I was planning on avoiding any reference to the iPhone as it’s been the consumption of the Internet for nearly 6 months, but since I’ve been questioned by practically every family member and friend about when I was getting one, I thought I should come clean publicly.
Yes – it’s true, gadget freak and Mac fanatic that I am, I Rich W of technical mind and flabby geek body do hereby declare my desire for the gadget of hype-extraordinaire… the iPhone.
Those who know me well are understandably confused by the fact that I’m declaring my desire, and not off in a corner already playing with said technological obsession.
The fact of the matter is while I do desire one, my desire has not reached a level to overcome some serious barriers to entry. Again, those who know me, know, that my barriers to technical gadgetry are generally very low. This is significant to the fact that I don’t currently own one.
So, what are those barriers? The biggest and ultimately deciding barrier is the cost vs. value proposition. In my pursuit for all things computer, cost doesn’t generally get in the way – but this isn’t purely because I have no consideration of the value of money (as my wife often believes). I’m not frugal when it comes to technology because I believe that these trappings have great value to me – both personally as well as part of my chosen career path. My most redeeming and marketable value is my skill with the electronic. This means researching, owning, and breathing gear, books on the nuances of software development and UNIX geekery, and having the latest and greatest tools.
The problem with the iPhone is not so much it’s cost, but it’s value. The comment from Buzz is at the heart of the matter. What the hackers are trying to “hack” is functionality that already exists on the crappy phone that I currently own. File system access? Check. Terminal / SSH access? Check. Unlocked? Check.
The biggest complaints of lack of functionality on the iPhone are things I actually *do* use my current phone for.
Mac fanatics (of which I consider myself one), counter back with the iPhone’s ease of use and revolutionary interface. You know what – they are right. This is exactly the reason I made the switch to Mac OS X a few years back.
The problem is this – the reason I could make that switch is because the ease of use and revolutionary interface – the experience – were coupled with an amazingly powerful and flexible platform (think BSD, UNIX, wonderful development platform for 3rd party development with Cocoa, etc). So far, the iPhone has only HALF of what is necessary for the perfect mobile platform.
So, we have an experience. We’re missing the power and flexibility. BUT!! Steve has an answer for us…
I sat about 20 rows from Steve Jobs at WWDC 2007 as he announced the “one last thing” for developers in regards to the iPhone. The crowd went wild. He said it would be “Sweet” as the same text flashed onto the big screen as he energized the masses. Every developer rose to edge of their seats in excitement with the expectation of an open invitation to develop cool and innovative applications for a likely revolutionary device. To provide solutions to the gaps that the provided applications would inevitably leave.
The next words out of Steve’s mouth fell like a lead balloon. Web 2.0. “You don’t even need to download an SDK”, he said. Our knight in shining armor’s Reality Distortion Field was wrenched from his body and what was left uncovered was a wrinkled snake oil salesman. You could hear the air suck from the room.
The bone that was thrown to solve the power and flexibility issue does neither and actually contradicts the one thing that they have done right – the experience.
The reason I use the Mac is because of the experience. The interface. The amazing applications provided by Apple with the OS and in the iLife suite. The wonderful 3rd party applications by people who care about usability and their customers. The amazing community of independent developers on the Mac who revel in designing and building the highest quality and innovative applications. You would never see this in the Windows world. Why? Windows is about bulk, commodity, lowest-common-denominator – the results? Mediocrity and unexciting software.
Telling people to use web pages – and foisting the lie that web pages can be as good as native applications – contradicts what separates the Mac from it’s competitors. I love this application called Netflix Freak on the Mac. It’s a native Mac application / wrapper around a bunch of web services and web pages at Netflix. I could use the web for Netflix to do everything it provides, but I would much prefer using a much more intuitive Mac application – so much so I paid for it. If the web provided such a profound and amazing experience, would we really need a Mac at all? Steve is contradicting the experience… but likely because he has nothing else to offer, not because he believes it (or so I hope).
Unfortunately, if web pages could actually solve the problems of power and flexibility – providing the functionality that doesn’t come built into the iPhone OS itself, we would at least be in a sustainable position. The problem is, it doesn’t. The web can only go so far. No matter how many people proclaim that you can do anything from a web page on the iPhone, you can’t. Sorry. Access to the underlying hardware is too necessary. Not to mention persistence. Want to write an app that captures some sound from the iPhone? Forget it. Want to ssh to a secure box that requires key authentication (with your key stored on the device)? Sorry. You may able to emulate some things with kludgy work-arounds, but most are impossible, and those that are possible will have a less than Mac-like experience.
So, the iPhone has a great experience with the functionality it provides. Anything else you may want – if even feasibly possible, will be provided through the unwashed masses of the web.
What can be done? Open up the iPhone. Provide SDKs similar in nature to the “real” Mac OS system that developers are already familiar with. You don’t even have to have it ready any time soon – just tell me that it’s being worked on and will be available in the future. Throw a bone to the developer community – the heartblood – the ecosystem that makes the Mac such a wonderful computer to use. I’m hoping that they have had this in the works all along but some idiot PR person said it would be best not to mention it.
Provide us the mechanism to make the iPhone whole. You’ll sell millions more than the millions you would have otherwise.
There are a laundry list of other issues with the iPhone. Most of which I can overlook. AT&T, crappy EDGE speeds / 2.5G technology, keyboard entry, fingerprints, high cost, SIM locked… These aren’t show-stoppers to me. Seriously.
Unfortunately, the desire for the latest Apple cutting-edge device and the envy of my peers hasn’t been enough to overcome what I consider to be a great failing in this device. The value vs cost proposition is still negative. Until then, I’ll do all the things that the iPhone currently does, and a bunch that it currently doesn’t, on my Windows Mobile Phone. I’ll be cursing the device while I do it, but at least I can…
Let’s hope that Apple remedies this inconsistency soon. The power to do so is solely in their hands.
UPDATE: So, I went down to the Apple store tonight and got an iPhone… ok, my mother-in-law got an iPhone. I just got an opportunity to spend a lot of time with one. I even transfered her old number for her and got it activated – took about 15 minutes total. This experience confirmed everything above – the device is nearly perfect – screen is beautiful, user experience amazing – but it’s still only halfway there. It even dispelled some of the negative things I’ve read about online – the keyboard is fine (and I have a full keyboard on my current phone), the fingerprints are not a problem, and the screen is immaculate. EDGE is not fast, but I found it to still be quite useable.
One thing I did note – for some portion of the populace (like my mother-in-law), the device is nearly complete. This in and of itself bodes well for lots of sales. That stated, the fact that it is sufficient for this consumer doesn’t deny the potential it would offer to both this class of consumer or to those who need more in a phone. A hot dog can be really good without mustard, ketchup, onions and cheese – but it isn’t quite complete! Also, the one thing I heard potential customers complain about twice was the suprise that they couldn’t use it on Verizon (a more popular carrier in this area). Also, they were sold out of 4GB iPhones but had plenty of 8GB iPhones. It’s so close… oh, so close.