In the Stadia class yesterday, I played the first 15 minutes of the iPhone introduction to open up some discussion. Today, I watched the entire keynote address at Macworld San Francisco 2007 by Steve Jobs. (There’s a quicker digest on Engadget, if you don’t want to watch Quicktime). Upon reflection, there’s technological innovation, business innovation, and a potential Achilles heel.
On technological innovation, Apple is a master in user interface design. The most important invention â€” that surely is patented â€” has to be the accelerometer. Steve Jobs inferred that using a stylus (as in Palm PDAs, and in the original Apple Newton) would be obsoleted by using a finger, but this really all has to do with pointing precision. If the icon is large enough, a finger works fine on the Palm user interface. However, when we get to large amounts of scrolling, the accelerometer is a huge advance over a windowed slider and is an arguable improvement over a mechanically simpler jog dial (as in Sony devices).
Steve Jobs used one index finger to pick letters off the soft keyboard. Last year, I migrated from a newer Palm TX (that has a soft keyboard) to an older Palm Treo 650 (that has a button keyboard). I’ve learned from Finnish phone users and teenagers playing video games that it’s much faster to use two thumbs than just one finger. Since younger people tend to use their thumbs, it will be interesting to see if they use the accelerometer not with an index finger.
On business innovation, Apple’s exclusive deal with Cingular in the U.S. has the potential to drive business toward the GSM platform. I wonder what discussions are happening in Canada in the offices of Bell Mobility (the CDMA provider) and Rogers Wireless (the GSM provider).
More significantly, I’ve found the partnership between Apple and Yahoo much more interesting. Yahoo has promised to provide Push-IMAP, which represents, in effect, an open platform version of Blackberry’s Enterprise Server. I coincidentally spent the earlier part of today converting the e-mail access on my personal domains from POP to IMAP. For webmail, I’ve decided to stay with the Gmail POP service from Google that comes with 2.5GB and continuous archiving, rather than the promise of IMAP e-mail service from Yahoo six months from now when the iPhone becomes generally available. It’s possible that Google will move from its current position of not offering IMAP as a competitive response, as Yahoo seems to demonstrate the time between testing and production can be relatively short.
The potential Achilles heel for the iPhone is battery life. One reason that I continued to use a monochrome Palm IIIxe for years after everyone else switched to color models was that it would run for 2 months on two alkaline (not rechargeable) AAA batteries. There are already suspicions about the lack of mention of standby battery life, which are counted in days for most mobile phones today. An iPod battery FAQ web site answers questions about whether the battery is replaceable (yes) and whether it’s user-replaceable (don’t know, yet). This may be key obstacle in bridging the gap from music player to mobile phone.
I love the idea of a combination phone-PDA-MP3 player â€” my disinterest in exercising the video feature on the Palm TX, and lack of buy-in to iTunes reduces the feature list â€” running a Unix-based operating system, as Mac OS/X clearly is. The other potential alternative is, however, an updated Palm user interface running on top of Linux. The Access Linux Platform was demonstrated in February 2006 on a Chinese (Haier) platform. The competition for the Apple iPhone may not come from the traditional players (Nokia, Motorola), but could be someone unexpected from China or Korea (or maybe even Japan), playing the open source game.
So, my guess is that the race will be between Apple improving their battery life (a battle in the world of chemistry) and an Asian competitor improving its user interface (a battle of software development) on top of a platform originally designed for mobility. Apple has initially won mind share, but the real battle may happen 12 to 18 months from now, as Apple releases v2 of the iPhone.
Background: I owned a Palm TX (that I lost last year), and chose to replace it with a Palm Treo 650 â€” a CDMA version offered by Bell Canada. I’ve also just acquired a refurbished Blackberry 7100T â€” a GSM quad-band phone (actually a Canadian built model that comes up with a T-mobile logo) that I’m using in Finland with a local SIM card. I’ve had experience with PDAs since the original Palm (rebranded as an IBM Workpad), and have had a series of phones from Nokia, Audiovox (a rebranded Toshiba), Samsung, and Siemens. I still haven’t made the leap to an iPod yet, because I still prefer the mature technology of Sony minidisc for recording.