iPhone: APIs, 3G and “nothing new”

iPhoneNews flash: iPhone is coming out on Friday!

(oh – you knew?)

I’ve been moaning about it (in Icelandic) since it was only a patent and do not doubt that it will be a major success.

In my evangelism since I’ve heard three main things criticized:

  1. It’s not a 3G phone
  2. It doesn’t allow 3rd party applications
  3. Other phones have all the same features

…and then of course the price. But who wouldn’t price their products high with this kind of anticipation? AT&T has even added an activation fee and the subscription plan announced today is not exactly cheap either. They will still be stressed to keep up with demand. The first couple of million buyers don’t even think about the price.

As for 3G, it’s a perfectly rational decision not to support 3G for the initial US version. AT&T’s 3G coverage (and in the States in general) is spotty and the fact that the iPhone (opposed to most other phones with WiFi support) automatically logs on to open and known WiFi networks for internet connectivity should actually make the experience quite impressive most of the time. Many of us spend most of our time either in the office or at home, and apart from that, EDGE is actually not too bad. It would actually not surprise me if Apple still had an extra card up it’s sleeve, using HTTP compression technology to speed up the downloads. The rumors that the European version will support 3G (and not be released until late Q1 or even Q2 next year) are getting louder and make perfect sense.

The lack of API suggests to me that Apple is trying to drive 3rd party development to use the integrated Safari browser instead. Keep in mind that this is a fully compatible XHTML/Javascript browser. Just look at some of the things that people have been doing with AJAX in the past 24 months or so. It’s possible to write pretty much any end-user application you can think of that way – and it keeps the applications securely isolated from the phone’s OS – which in my mind is a half-decent excuse by Jobs for not having an API. By supporting URI schemes like tel or wtai, they could allow calls to be set up directly from such applications, and by adding a couple of custom tags, schemas and/or javascript calls that would give access to things such as the address book and the maps. My money is on that being what Jobs was referring to here (see Q&A session). I believe my theory is further supported by Apple’s release of Safari for Windows, guessing that Jobs is buying into predictions that browsers are replacing operating systems as the most important software on any device.

Finally: Yes you can find all the features of iPhone in other phones. You might even find a single phone that sports almost all of them. But if you think the game is about that – you’re totally lost. Apple has three things that combined make them unique:

  • Brand and marketing muscle (including the loyal user community)
  • Hip designers
  • A dedication to and nose for superior usability – that means that people will actually use all those fancy features

This is what separates the iPhone from the rest.

In short: Apple is not making any rash mistakes. Any product design decision regarding the iPhone is taken either to make it a better product or for Apple’s benefit in their quest for the throne of IT.

3 comments

  1. I fell in love with the iPhone also. Both the Apple fanboy in me and the mobile fanboy. I understand the decision to skip 3G in the first generation version but Jobs reason for not having 3G was the effect it has on battery life.

    That does not sound as an solid argument. A lot of the 3G handsets available have better cameras than the iPhone, video functionality which the iPhone lacks for some reason and they all have good battery life and they are all even smaller and lighter than the iPhone. The only conclusion I got was that Steve Jobs maybe did not want to point his finger at the carriers and instead blamed hardware which would improve in future versions.

    The thing I really love about the iPhone is that it´s developed from the software point of view which Apple excel at instead of the hardware point of view (apart from the multi-touch screen of course) which the regular big boys like SonyEricsson, Samsung and Nokia have all nailed to the smallest detail.

    There are much more powerful, ergonomic and feature packed phones out there, but they don´t looks and work as cool.

    Sign me up.

  2. It’s a great device – but i’ll pass for the 1st generation – more likely i’ll buy the 2nd or 3rd generation of iPhone – then hopefully it will have better camera and 3G and some API… ?

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