Thursday, October 04, 2007

WWJD - What Would Jobs Do...

Somewhere in Apple there is a product team with a plan. We now have observed several steps unfolding in this plan, so I'm going to put myself in their place and try to make sense of the plan so far and where it could be going.

I have *no inside knowledge* of anything going on at Apple, this is all conjecture, OK?

Product teams have four big things that can be traded off against each other to some extent.
  1. The release date
  2. The available resources
  3. The feature set at launch
  4. The product quality at launch
For the iPhone, they waited until they had working prototypes in January, and set a release date for June that they kept to. The product quality at Apple has to be very high, and I think they did a great job with the iPhone at launch. However, products always take longer than planned, and we know that Apple delayed the launch of MacOSX Leopard so that they could put extra resources into the iPhone, so it was probably slipping at that point. The one thing that I think they were able to trade down to get a high quality product on the release date was the feature set. This is why I regard the iPhone as an unfinished product. To get a high quality product, you can simplify testing by having fewer features and fewer options in those features. This is the Minimum Marketable Features (MMF) approach I have mentioned before. Some simplifications at launch:
  • US Market Only - no internationalization
  • Basic camera support, no video capture (not even demo'd at the launch event)
  • Relatively few preferences and options
Apple appeared to schedule bugfix and minor features releases shortly after launch (1.0.1 and 1.0.2), while concentrating development and testing to include internationalization for the worldwide rollout of the sister product, the iPod Touch and the international iPhone with 1.1.1. The Starbucks feature of the iPhone music store has its own roll-out issues, so it makes sense to add that feature as a major update rather than on initial launch.

I expect that Apple thought they had locked down the phone well enough in its first release and were surprised by the speed and extent of application and SIM based hacking. Adding digital signatures to prevent hacking in the initial launch version would have also made the final stages of debug and testing harder, so it makes sense that they didn't do it. Once Apple realized that they needed to lock down the phone to take back control of their product feature rollout plan, they  had to find extra resources to develop and test the extra security features. This had to steal resources from something else, so I expect that some features originally planned for 1.0.2 and 1.1.1 have been delayed.

Opening up a product for developers is a lot of work if you do it right. There are developer specific tools, APIs that need to be stabilized, extended and documented; training classes and developer support organizations to put together. We already know that Apple was pulling resources from Leopard development just to get the iPhone out of the door. We also know that Apple already has a developer support organization, but that organization already has its hands full trying to get Leopard out of the door as a high quality product with a lot of new features that need to be documented etc. Leopard ships this month, so Apple's developer support organization should now have some spare resources to focus its attention on doing the work required to do proper high quality iPhone developer features and documentation. Based on this analysis, the earliest I would expect to announce developer support is MacWorld in January, and that plan could have been set over a year ago. I also think Apple underestimated the demand from iPhone developers, but had no spare resources to do anything about it other than emphasizing Safari based applications.

The iPod Touch has a smaller set of applications that have been fully internationalized. The extra applications on the iPhone are the US specific ones. I still think this is a transitional problem, and I expect that a minor update in October or November will upgrade the iPhone to have more extensive internationalized support, and that the non-phone-specific applications will all end up on the iPod Touch as well. If I was planning the release calendar, I would bring out one new application in each release, along with a set of less exciting upgrades like internationalization.

There are three empty slots in the iPhone user interface. I think they will all be filled by the time we get to January's release. One will be the Finder, so that users can store and browse files and applications, one could be an iWork launcher to highlight some of Apple's own business oriented applications, and January's icon could be related to installing and managing third party applications, hopefully including Flash and Java.

Its possible that iChat could merge with the SMS tool, and I would expect video support to be a feature of the camera tool. I would like a terminal with ssh support, but that's not mainstream enough to get its own icon....

Of course, Steve calls the shots, but what do you think the three remaining icons will be used for? Let's collect some suggestions in the comments.

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