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.
- 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. [↩]