What I’d Like To See Happen With The Apple iPhone

Ini­tial­ly, Angela was pret­ty excit­ed about the Apple iPhone when we watched Steve Job’s pre­sen­ta­tion on the day of it’s announce­ment. The abil­i­ty to have all of her elec­tron­ics in one easy-to-han­dle device was very appeal­ing to her, even with the high price tag and required cell provider switch (which we did, with some regret after the fact). Of course, this is the big draw to the iPhone for a lot of peo­ple, cou­pled with the amaz­ing­ly ele­gant inter­face.

How­ev­er, her enthu­si­asm soured as she learned that not only would her old hand­held soft­ware not work on the iPhone, there was not going to be any sanc­tioned third par­ty appli­ca­tions. Her hand­held phar­ma­cy data base is her killer ap and it’s non-exis­tence is a deal-killer for her.

Big deal, right? Who else cares about a phar­ma­cy data­base? But that is the big deal: there is a large pool of exist­ing appli­ca­tions for the hand­held mar­ket that don’t work on the iPhone and those users aren’t (and some­times can’t) turn their backs on them just for a nicer phone expe­ri­ence. Sure, the iPhone isn’t just a PDA, but if it is to replace all those gad­gets in some­one’s pock­et, it has to replace all those gad­gets.

Apple was the poster child for long tail eco­nom­ics. The iTunes Music Store showed what was pos­si­ble with infi­nite, free shelf space. Apple does­n’t write music or shows, they just re-sell them in a cen­tral and easy to use store. They even now have some soft­ware (even if they are just some rather unap­peal­ing games for the iPod).

So, in my opin­ion, the killer ap for the iPhone isn’t even entire­ly on the phone. Rather, it is a soft­ware store in the iTMS. Apple gets to set some bar­ri­er to entry which will help to screen out a lot ‘unde­sir­able’ stuff, help­ing to ensure the sta­bil­i­ty and usabil­i­ty of it’s phone plat­form. This allows for soft­ware that goes way down the long tail to flour­ish and opens up the entire plat­form of the iPhone to users that might not have been able to take advan­tage pre­vi­ous­ly. I think that this is the gate­way that Feb­ru­ary’s SDK is going to present: Apple as online soft­ware re-sell­er.

The sec­ond part cou­ples with this: get­ting exist­ing long tail soft­ware onto the new plat­form. If we are to believe that the iPhone is a mobile ver­sion of OS X, then what is to stop it from run­ning Palm or Win­dows Mobile soft­ware in a mini-vir­tu­al machine envi­ron­ment? Of course, there is some over­head with run­ning soft­ware this way. How­ev­er, it’s not too hard to imag­ine that a cur­rent iPhone can run at least a Palm emu­la­tor and soft­ware from a decade old mobile OS1. Sure, Win­dows Mobile might be more of a stretch, but it also does­n’t have the num­ber of appli­ca­tions that Palm does (did, if the rumors of Palm’s death are to be believed). There­fore, a Palm VM would have the most reach down the long tail.

So that’s my half-pre­dic­tion/ half-wish for the iPhone: An online store from Apple for third-par­ty apps and one of those apps being a Palm emu­la­tor on the phone itself.

  1. One pos­si­ble advan­tage the iPhone may have here is that it uses an ARM archi­tec­ture proces­sor, sim­i­lar to that found Palm v5.0 devices. Of course, I don’t know whether Palm apps from ear­li­er ver­sions (v4.0 and ear­li­er), which ran on Freescale proces­sors, run on Palm v5.0. If not, this isn’t an advan­tage but a not-so-small hur­dle. Fur­ther, the iPhone uses the ARM11 where-as recent Palms seem to use the X Scale. I’m not going to pre­tend to know enough about chip archi­tec­ture to make any fur­ther asser­tions, oth­er than to say this might be an advan­tage. []

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