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September 3rd, 2008
08:08 am
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Can't sleep.
So, I got an iPhone. Observations follow.

1) There seems to be some kind of vague internet/techy backlash against the iphone. Among my friends (high proportion of programmers or those generally tech-oriented in both career and personal interest), the general response seems to be 'Yeah, it's not as amazing as everyone says it is.' I don't know enough iPhone owners to judge that - my brother used to constantly talk about how his changed his life, but he said the same thing about the time he ate bone marrow at a french restaurant, so I tend to automatically filter that out.
2) No flash support, or java. At first I was very disappointed, since I'm a maniac for flash in general - I wanted to watch flash animations while on the go, etc. But I'm starting to realize this isn't as big a deal as I originally thought.
3) I got it for 100 bucks. That makes me happy. Just wanted to say that. Moving on...
4) The entire interface of the phone is downright smooth. Smooth to the point of being charming. That's normally a nice feature, but on a cell phone it's practically a godsend to be able to interact with contacts, schedules, web apps, etc and have it not feel like a pain in the ass. I previously had a Sony Ericcson w810i, and really... it was a piece of shit. Candybar phone that was too small to feel comfortable while talking on it. Sure, it had java apps, but who gives a shit when finding apps for your phone is such a time-consuming, disorganized chore? Small buttons made it a pain to type anything into. No native web browser, etc, etc. The list goes on. With the iPhone, there's instant connectivity with various popular web-based email apps (All my main accounts are Gmail now), the apple store is the nexus for all apps, the screen is large enough to support an on-screen touch keyboard, etc. It's just smooth all around.
5) The app store, along with the general feel and features of the phone, has the potential to make the iphone into a serious contender for hand-held gaming.

It's number 5 that I really want to focus on, naturally.

Cell phones, even PDAs, never really had a point where they took off in a big way as far as apps go. Features, yes - the cell market in particular is bristling with all manner of phones that each compete with each other on those terms, and I think this has been the case for years now. But applications, software? No. And I can think of a number of reasons for this.

* A broad variety of phones each with different features and capabilities means a potential nightmare for compatibility concerns. It's hard to even target 'Nokia phones' or 'Sony phones' because they still have models distributed all over the place, ranging from cheap minimally-featured phones to multiple feature-packed phones that still have considerable differences between each other. You couldn't really make a cell phone app. At best, you could make an app for Sony Ericcson w8***-series phones (excluding d models) and note that your software may work with other models but they're unsupported. Yes, java is supposed to solve this by being multi-platform. It didn't.
* Not only did the variety of phones lead to problems developing apps to begin with, but it led to problems for finding the apps that did get made. There's no good, single site or group of sites a cell phone user can go to for information on the latest software for their phone. Instead there's a fair swarm of amateurish sites for particular phones or ranges of models. Yet more discouragement for any programmers to really see a reasonable opportunity for money or notoriety. Yet more discouragement for casual cell phone users (And they've got to be the vast, vast majority of the market) to even considering delving into the app market.
* What did proliferate were scam apps. Misleading websites and advertisements that let you download the stupid joke of the day or some moderately interesting service all for the low low price of 14.99 a month, offered in such a way that you probably wouldn't notice the charge until it showed up on your cell phone bill. The phone companies, doing their best Gordon Gekko imitations, came up with and turn a blind eye to this bullshit for whatever reason - and the result has been further spooking off people from even thinking about meddling with apps on their phones, much less trying them out.
* Finally, even in the rare case you found a legit app that was compatible with your phone, you still have one more barrier to climb: The phone itself. A device which typically is constructed with third-party app use as an afterthought - after all, there's not all that many of the things fors ome reason. So you have to decide if the usefulness of the app is worth dealing with the typically tiny screen and the just as typically tiny dial-pad interface to get anything done.

Compare this to the iPhone.

* They more or less force you to familiarize yourself with iTunes, which functions as not only an app hub but as the sole legit app hub for the iphone. They also, to my knowledge, require you to have an internet subscription service with AT&T to even activate and use an iPhone. The entire market therefore is linked to a single website.
* The interface is smooth. You have a large screen - large enough to support a QWERTY keyboard for the touch sensitive interface. Syncing is easy to learn, popular web-mail carriers are smoothly integrated outright.
* As a result of great PR, the iPhone has considerable market share - and the feature differences between the iPhones are minimal. In essence, a decent chunk of the cell phone market is truly single platform.
* You have both the interface and the concentrated market. But you also have Apple setting up a cheap entry path for would-be programmers along with a straightforward 30/70 profit split on their site where new apps are policed to keep at least the unquestionably trashy programs out.

The result is what you'd expect: The iPhone has a swarm of apps already out, with more coming. Yes, some of them are dinky little pieces of crap, or experiments at most. But there are also many apps that are not only damn good, but free. All they really need now is a killer app and...

Oh wait. They have one. It's called Aurora Feint, and it's more or less the same concept as Puzzle Quest but with the stated goal to go in an MMO direction. I know I don't have to explain PQ to any of you addicts. Watch the video, and tell me you don't feel like playing that game right now.

If you would have told me a week ago - and I've had this phone for longer - that the iPhone was in a position to line up beside the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP as a handheld gaming system, I wouldn't have believed it. I'd have expected ports, maybe even some fairly inventive indie games. Competing with the DS and PSP? Sorry, that's too optimistic. But after seeing the quality of some of the free - free! - games that have come out for the iPhone, I can't rule it out. Not in an age where 360 Live Arcade, Wii Ware, and the PS Store form important, integral aspects of even dedicated console gaming and demonstrate the desirability of games with a casual, indie flavor. Not when Apple has positioned the iPhone as one of the most potentially desirable platforms for programmers to get in at the ground floor with.

I want to go back to the first comment I made about the phone on this entry: The annoyed reaction of more tech-savvy people to the giddiness of iPhone owners. Yes, I know they're babbling about the features their phone has, and that those features are nothing new or truly exciting. Yes, I know you've been able to do all this and possibly more with phones you've had in your possession for 1, maybe more years. Understand that for some of these people, the excitement isn't due to stupidity. You're probably dealing with people who, due to the reasons I listed above, were discouraged from using their phones in these ways, or really, even finding or knowing of phones that were capable of such things. It's not the raw capability of their cell phones that's causing this - it's the newfound ease to understand, find, and use these things.

Current Mood: tiredtired

(2 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:September 3rd, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)
I've always considered Apple products like a popular cover band. They may not have pioneered the concepts, but they made them popular. Also, they're slightly more acclaimed than they deserve to be. Like an American Idol winner.

For example, there is a fine line between "I used the web browser on my old phone, but it's slow and clunky. The one on the iPhone is better" to "WOW! The iPhone has web browsing! This is totally awesome!" The latter is, unfortunately, a lot more common in the press and commercials.

I think it's interesting to see how things will shape up. I still think I'm in favor of the PC vs. console concept: while it's attractive at first to have a console that will do everything you want, I still lean to environments that are more permissive, even if they're more risky.
[User Picture]
Date:September 4th, 2008 02:32 am (UTC)
I suspect that for many people, phones that had various features (say, web browsing) in effect didn't. If it was too troublesome to set up, too awkward to casually use once set up, etc then it didn't really exist as a live option for most people. So I have to wonder if the reason the PR around the iPhone turns into "Hey, imagine this - a phone that lets you check your email AND browse the web!" is because Apple's functionality is such that they can actually get away with that kind of bragging. There's a reason you don't really see Nokia or Sony Ericcson firing back with 'Hey, we do web browsing too!' And I think it's the same reason that Sony or Microsoft can say 'Hey, check out our awesome 3D capabilities!' but Nintendo can't. "3D graphics are nothing new" doesn't do full justice to the situation.

Yes, Apple's pretty obnoxious, and they do get far on shallow achievements. I wasn't impressed with the past, what.. decade? or so of advertisement. I never dove into the iPod craze, because that really struck me as a situation where you were paying premium for the brand name. With the iPhone, I see something else. It's a combination of ease-of-use and a streamlined app system (streamlined both for programming/distribution and acquiring.)

On the flipside, sure. I prefer the freedom that comes with a PC. Specifically in the PC/console area, right now the most innovative platform is the PC, like it or not. Not even the Wii comes close. And keep in mind I'm not knocking Nokia, etc universally, or saying there's no good reason to have a phone other than an iPhone. If you want certain features, and especially if you have the right expertise/interest, I'm certain there are better phones, or at least 'a better phone for you'. I just am starting to understand the potential for the iPhone, and what Apple actually pulled off with it. When someone goes on about how, wow, they can check ebay with their iPhone, it's not just a sign of ignorance on their part. It's indicating something Apple's accomplished that goes beyond (in my view, naturally) pure hype and good PR.
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