Monday, June 25, 2007

What the iPhone doesn't do, why not, and why I still want one...

There is a very nice posting on the iPhone at RoughlyDrafted, taking a thoughtful look at all the coverage, and pointing out double standards in many of the negative commentators who are putting down the iPhone for not being "enterprise ready".

Back in January, I wrote a summary of thoughts on the iPhone from the perspective of typical product development practices. That post got a lot of traffic, it seemed to be very popular in Germany, where there is a great tradition of quality product design (I can't think of a German designed product that isn't well engineered).

Overall, with the additional advance information that has been released so far I don't think I was too far off the mark. I did expect that support for Adobe Flash and Java would be included, but they both appear to be missing. This is going to be the biggest pain, as there are a lot of web sites that use Flash or Java applets. Given time I expect these issues will be addressed.

I talked about Minimum Marketable Features (MMF) which are described in a book called Software by Numbers, written by my good friend Mark Denne. Its a philosophy of development that optimizes product features by releases over time. Many of the iPhone's shortcomings are explained by an initial focus on the needs of people who have never used a "smartphone" before, (rather than a focus on the business market) and a close integration with other Apple products that support an "insanely great" combination of product features.

For integration with non-Apple products, there is a two pronged strategy. One is to provide basic file viewers for Microsoft Word and Excel documents that are common email attachments. The other approach is to leverage Google's web based application suite within the Safari browser, which now includes Word, Excel and Powerpoint, Gmail etc, and also integrate with the Google maps application on the iPhone itself.

For the question of whether the iPhone can be used in corporate environments, there are two issues - virtual private network (VPN) access to get at internal web sites, and email integration with Microsoft Exchange. There have been some hints that the standard MacOSX VPN functionality is included, and Apple states that syncing is supported with Outlook/Entourage contacts and calendars. For actual Exchange email access, the Exchange server would have to support IMAP or POP (most aren't setup this way) or the Outlook Web Access client could be used in the Safari browser on the iPhone.

Safari is key. It is not only the way to manipulate documents and corporate email, its also the designated "API" for new iPhone applications to be developed. Apple stated that Safari will have access to many of the internal functions of the iPhone, so that the primary programming language for developers becomes Javascript. For all the people with existing mobile applications this is a pain, as they want to have J2ME to get them ported quickly. However, the iPhone is a huge leap forward in user interfaces, and to provide the consistent look and feel that magnifies the ease of use, Apple are enforcing Safari as the only framework for extending the iPhone. This makes perfect sense as a product strategy. It has upset many developers, but the laser-like focus on ease of use greatly increases the iPhone's perceived value and total addressable market. More users will be willing to pay more, increasing Apple's sales. Later on, perhaps Apple will focus more on the "traditional" smartphone market, but for now they are simply going to redefine what that market is.

How many people have both iPods and cellphones in their pockets? This fall, how many students will turn up at college with an iPhone in their pocket?

My work machines are a MacBook Pro and a Blackberry. I'm building the homebrew myPhone design (more on that later), but I think I'm getting tempted by the user interface, I want an iPhone....

1 comment:

  1. I am waiting until the iPhone has more business application personally. I don't wanna have to lug around the iPhone and a Pocket PC to check corporate email accounts.

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