Like many others I am nervously and anxiously awaiting the last couple of weeks that remain until the iPhone is released in all of it’s glory. I am keeping up with the blogs, podcasts, news, keynotes and every little bit of information that I can gobble up on the subject.
One of the most interesting things I found from the initial demonstration of it, is that King Jobs insisted that this was NOT carrying a stripped down version of Mac OS X. This was the full fledged, complete with bells and whistles version of Mac OS X. They did some work for the user interface and a couple of custom applications to fit the form factor, but in essence the underlying operating system were the same. As a developer (and nerd) I immediately had a vision: I could run all of my favorite applications on this slim and sexy device. I could have all of the stuff I wanted on the go. It was almost something out of the page of a science fiction book.
Lessons have been learned in the past about third party software. Sadly they tend to break and ruin the experience which was very carefully developed for the base platform. And mobile computing platforms are not the exception. Anyone that has had a Palm or Windows Mobile cell phone can probably concur and share a couple of horror stories. There is simply no way to control this 100%.
As a new product, it is utterly important for Apple that the iPhone make the best impression possible. They have an unbelievable amount of hype behind this device. Once you promise the moon and the stars it is impossible to deliver upon that promise, but you try to get as close as possible anyway. Doing as much as possible to maintain the usability and stability of the phone itself is a very important factor in this respect. If third party applications are permitted unto the phone, this could (and probably will) lead to some crashes here and there. Jobs has publicly stated a scenario where part of ATT’s network would come tumbling down due to an application on one of the phones. I think this is a drastic exaggeration. Yet, it may become troublesome for them. This will lead to higher support costs, due to applications that don’t generate them any income. Not to mention the legions of unhappy customers which will probably blame Apple for the frustrating experience.
On the other side of this discussion, the iPhone is an excellent platform for delivering a wide range of applications. While the applications that Apple distributes are always very sexy, have an excellent user interface and are generally very popular, they don’t fulfill all needs. The phone will come with 11 pre-installed applications. All developed by Apple. It is fairly safe to assume that in the near future Apple will continue to release other applications which can be executed on their product. What if I want something else? What if I want to consume media in a format that is not supported by the available applications? What if I just want to tinker away at it?
This would also contribute to adding more developers to the Mac platform. If it really is the same base operating system, applications could be easily ported from the mac pc, to the phone and vice versa. You could interest developers in developing for the phone, and have them stick around for the other platforms. It would only help the Mac developer community to grow. Not that there is a small group of Mac developers, but their numbers are easily dwarfed by Microsoft’s group in comparison.
It would also help to make their phone platform even more popular. I could make any distributed system I want using the phone as the client interface. This gives me great flexibility. I can already dream up a couple of scenarios where this could help out tremendously.
There have been some recent rumors stating that there might be a possibility of an SDK for the device. Sadly King Jobs or Apple PR have never taken a solid stance on the matter to begin with. This just added to the rumor flames.
Then the day arrived. The day of the WWDC conference. Where we have been promised to get more enticing details on the beloved phone. Let me jump straight to the point: Regarding to this much anticipated issue Mr. Jobs responded: “We have been trying to come up with a solution to expand the capabilities of the iPhone so developers can write great apps for it, but keep the iPhone secure. […] we have the full Safari engine in the iPhone. […] And so you can write amazing Web 2.0 and AJAX apps that look and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone, and these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. […] They’re secure, and they run securely sandboxed on the iPhone. And guess what, there’s no SDK you need! You’ve got everything you need if you can write modern web apps”. (From Gizmodo. For full article click here).
I’ve heard opinions on this matter that qualify this statement as “patronizing” or “condescending”. Let me add my own two cents. How about INSULTING?! Tell me that you will not develop and SDK for security reasons, but I can always run web apps on the phone. I will feel bummed out, but will ultimately understand their posture and try to make the best of it. Sticking a web app in my face, assuming I’m stupid, and telling me this is just as good as and SDK? Sure, let’s make a web app! I can access the phone’s wi-fi, bluetooth, multi touch and other hardware on it, right? I can have applications that run offline right? My app can live independent from the cloud, right? I can consume media that is not supported by Apple’s application standards, right? WRONG. They gave me Flash and AJAX (with whom I’m already pissed off to begin with), and told me it’s better than an SDK. At a develpers conference no less. Where people with half a brain, that actually understand half of the specs that are put on the slide show sit. C’mon Jobs! I expected more from you.
Yes, there are a bunch of great web apps. Innovation in web applications is great. Yes, Google Gears is the coolest thing sinced individually wrapped slice cheese for web developers, because it might automagically turn them into real application developers. So please don’t comment saying these things. They are old news. The fact of the matter is simple: A web application is a web application. It does not replace my local counterpart. I don’t care how cool, or fast, or interesting it looks.
Jobs has done an unparalleled job in the past of swaying the masses in his favor. He has a cult following like few other communities in the industry. He is a master in the art, and I will not try to chip away at that. One simple miscalculation though. It’s one thing to assume your users are stupid. That is very necessary for application development. I do it with every new application I build. It is quite another to say it in their face.
Will less iPhones be sold? I highly doubt it. Will I still buy mine? Sad, but probable. Yet Apple has one more unhappy camper to add to their list.
Something very interesting happened recently. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs attended an interview. They discussed many topics, ranging from the current state of their projects, how they viewed the other person and company, and their position on the near future and evolution of the industry, amongst other topics. We even learned that they have been secretly married for the past decade. There have to be dozens, if not hundreds of mainstream media venues and blogs talking about this event, so I wont go into detail. If you want to know more always remember: Google is your friend.
This reminded me of “Pirates of Silicon Valey”, which is a top movie for any nerd, and yet I have not seen it. I took it upon myself to utilize the occasion and watch the land mark film, since these two behemoths will probably not rejoin any time soon to offer me inspiration, or for any other reason. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie it tells the tale of the surge of Apple and Microsoft, although that’s not really important right now.
I was very surprised at how Steve Jobs was portrayed in the movie. He’s eccentric to say the least, and some of the things he did were unreasonable to say the least. I don’t really know how much of the movie is fact and how much is fiction. Again, unimportant detail. The one thing that really caught my eye was the passion that the character of Steve had in the whole movie. This passion has also characterized Jobs himself in the few press conferences and communications I have seen in the recent past. I’m guessing it may be more fact than fiction. He took risks, he stuck with them. He is today one of the most successful and charismatic men in the industry. He has an almost cult like following that will defend him at any cost. A real Cinderella story, if I’ve ever heard one.
This reminds me of one of the many failed attempts I have had in this short but interesting life. Like many others I quit the day job in order to pursue a start up company. As for school, I had already dropped out a couple of years ago at that point, so don’t even bother questioning that. I got together with a couple of my friends and started working on software that we identified that was needed in the market. Software that was inexistent in the market for the most part, and if not, fundamentally flawed.
I was the self appointed software architect. I would dream up most of the designs, and try to plan the stuff to the best of my ability. This does not mean by any extent of the imagination that I had the credentials, experience or know-how to actually do an adequate job. I simply was the guy in the role. I designed a couple of applications, and swiftly started working on them. I was full of life, full of passion. I was glad I had escaped the corporate shackles. I was living my life, my way on my terms. In the end, everything would be alright, or so I told my wife (at that time still girlfriend), every day.
The idea of doing your own thing was very appealing to me. My current day job, considering the market, didn’t have a too bad salary. Yet it got to a point where it was a simple repetition of outlined steps. It quickly became very redundant and boring. To make matters worse, corporate politics, company oversights and bad management made my experience there a whole lot worse. I was escaping all of this. I was going to do what I wanted to do, AND GET PAID TO DO IT. If you add to that family and friends, you’re set! What else do you really need to be happy? Aaahh… the eternal unanswerable question.
Yet the dude (that’s my cute nickname for God) is not without a perverse sense of sarcasm. My planning skills, as I have mentioned before were not stellar. Therefore implementation time was becoming more and more extended due to unforeseen complexities. Discussions turned into fights. People started pointing at my code, ridiculing it. Saying I was a fanboy of a particular technology or a particular construct of a language. I did my best to keep my cool and keep working. After all, our survival was at stake. I had alredy quit my day job, and a couple of the other guys were on their way to do the same.
Then an defining day arrived. One of the guys popped. I don’t know why. I have several theories. Maybe he felt unimportant. Maybe he felt ignored. Maybe he felt that his contributions were not taking into serious consideration. Who knows? Up to this day I still haven’t asked him. He sent a very beautiful email insulting everyone in the group and their mother. The group was already in a tense state. This was just adding a tank of propane, bathed in gasoline, to the fire. Keep in mind I had invested a lot of my creativity and time to the group’s objectives. Hell, the current code base was at least 80% all my own handwritten code. All the designs were mine. Never the less, I promptly quit, wished everyone good luck and started to look for potential job opportunities. I was simply too frustrated and didn’t want to put up with it anymore.
I know have another job, at another corporation. This one seems to be much more friendlier, flexible and comfortable to work with. They try to keep bureaucracy to a necessary minimum and make their employees comfortable. This is a world of change in comparison to the old job. Yet I still feel the same sense as before. I am repeating the same steps over and over again. I am doing a job that in the end will not positively influence someones life. I am simply there, because justification is necessary.
Steve Job’s character (in the movie) in the beginning said that their objective was nothing mediocre, but to make a dent in the universe. He was out to make a difference. He was out to change everyone’s life. I had that kind of passion once. Probably not to the extent of Mr. Jobs, but definitely something palely comparable. I think it’s still lurking down there somewhere. Yet I have lost hope. Not in the group, but in myself. To actually get a start up going takes a lot of hard work. To do it while maintaining a day job, going to school or having other major responsibilities makes it near impossible. Yet there was a day where I laughed in the face of this feat. That day is long gone. I miss being fearless. I miss working to reach objectives I truly believed in, not just for the next paycheck.
Now, making a dent in the universe is pretty big deal. While there are some talented few that are meant to lead, most of us have no choice but to follow. I wanted to be a leader. Apparently I did not have the chops to make it happen, or maybe I gave up too soon. Who knows? Can I still turn it around? Or will I just be another sheep gladly following the herder, reminiscing of a short period of time in my life where I made my own rules, before it all crumbled down to the ground?
The dust has settled. The larger than life keynote announcing the IPhone has ended, and the tech world is still trying to clean up it’s collective drool. While most of the stuff I’ve seen in the web is either stating that the IPhone will be Steve Job’s gift to the earth or the most horrible and destructive invention since the guillotine. Putting myself aside from the fanaticism (or at least making a good effort) if we take a step back and look at the keynote event, Job’s speech, and the promised features in the product, a lot can be learned and implemented in our daily business.
The keynote event itself was exceptional. Presentation was a key element. This comes to no surprise, Apple is well known for displaying top notch presentations year after year. Everything from the lighting, mac ad, movie/show clips, to the logistics of the show were beautiful orchestrated. Aside from the fact that some of the invited speakers are not as fluent as Jobs is another story, and sadly, something that is totally out of their control.
I want to make special mention to the technology being utilized to show in the projector the activities on the IPhone being used for the presentation. This isn’t a mind blowing concept. So they have some client/server application that is listening to all the events being fired on the phone’s UI and making an equivalent display on the projection. What’s the bid deal? The big deal is that without making a big fuss they solved a very important problem in presentations: third person view. In similar presentations, I am forced to watch a camera zoom in of a person utilizing the device himself. His hands (or whatever he may use to interface with the device) partially block my view of the device itself. This isn’t just solve the problem of “I can’t see the damn thing”, it also offers them a very subtle but important incentive: immersion. Immersion is that zen-like feeling you get when you are watching a movie and for a period of time, be it a split second, or the duration of the movie, you forget you are in your crappy life, and have full concentration in what is being presented. You are effectively in the movie, you are within it’s environment, it has your complete attention and you are solely interacting with it. Having the phone presented with no obstructions gave the audience and experience similar to what they would perceive if they were holding the phone itself. Someone is not pointing at the thing and showing it to you, you are experiencing it! This is a very important factor in convincing the journalists that assisted the event that not only should they report the invention as something that was worth purchasing, they want to get one as well.
The phone itself does not have any superficial technological marvels on the hardware side. I dare not speculate on the internal design of the device. The proximity, gyroscopic and ambient light sensors are not recent inventions by any extent. The device has other hardware related highlights, but I choose these since they are the most talked about features. Their beauty does not lie in the hype stating that these are state of the art concepts, and the mac crowd willfully believing it. Their beauty does not lie in that apple is the first one to implement these concepts. Some of these things probably exist on other existing portable devices in one way or another. Their beauty lies in that all of these feautres are put together in one package in a way which makes sense. You don’t have to remember to switch to horizontal view, it just does it. You don’t have to realize you are in the dark and can’t see the screen very well, it auto-adjusts. You will save your precious battery life, by making the screen go to low power mode will talking. That’s it. I love my current phone, but it’s inconvenient to have to switch photos from horizontal to vertical perspectives and vice-versa. To me, as a consumer, this not-such-a-big-deal feature is very appealing.
The phone runs OS X. We have no idea if it’s a mobile version of the OS, but it’s the most likely scenario. That means that all of the great applications (or faithful mobile versions) that have made mac users happy will be available. If you add into the equation the “free” services that will be thrown in from Google and Yahoo, and you have a very solid package. What does this mean? The user will not have a stripped down experience utilizing the phone and it’s features. Not text email, but HTML email. Not WAP, but www/html. Not minimalistic little applications, but the whole deal. You take away the sensation that you have to trade in the value of the software for mobility, and the product becomes very alluring.
The phone automatically syncs with your mac. This is probably one of the most important features. Since your contacts, your mail connection settings, your content… basically all valuable data will be transferred to your phone seamlessly, you achieve one of the most important things in this industry: You minimise or eradicate the fear of change. I’ve seen this over and over again. It’s one of the main problems that is stopping Linux distro’s from being ubiquitous on the desktop computer. Users are afraid of change. Even if you emulate their previous environment as close as possible (without violating any patents of course!), they still have that fear. Changing to a position where you are not sure what to do is discomforting. Especially if you come from a position where, after a lot of dedicated time and effort, you finally got a hang of what you are doing. This phone auto-magically sets itself up, and copies all your stuff over. The interface is very similar, so there nothing to worry about.
The genius behind multi-touch concept simply amazes me. Stop thinking about the technological side of it for a second. Analyze how babies and small children interact with the environment around them. When there is something new or different to them, they want to explore it with their senses to get acquainted with this alien object. One of the first instincts is to touch the new object. I know that a lot of accidents, funny stories and wrong doings may come to mind as well, but put them on the back-burner for a second. As you grow, you have some experiences which teach you not to feel so eager to touch everything you see. That doesn’t mean this necessity has vanished, you just restraining yourself from it. With the multi-touch, they are giving it back to you. Come on, touch it, it’s OK, that’s how it works! The gestures that make it work are natural gestures you would make in a similar situation. Slide your finger down to make it scroll, “pinch” it to make it bigger. One of my problems with the Opera browser’s gestures, is that you have to memorize the gesture-action library. They aren’t particularly natural or very mnemonic. I will admit it’s hard for them considering what the actions are, and that fact that your primary interface is a mouse. Nintendo has made great strides with this concept, first with the DS‘s stylus and touch screen, and now with the Wii‘s motion sensing controller.. Apple’s phone is a testament to how important it is to make device interface feel more natural.
Users are lazy. There is nothing you can do to change it. Instead of trying to change it, you need to realize this and utilize it to your advantage. The phone gives you instant gratification for just about everything you want to do with it. At least the features that they demoed in the keynote, one or two finger presses, and bam! You were there. Making calls, listening to a song, or looking up an address. No lag time was perceived on the interface. Users want their stuff and they want it now. I could go on about this, but I won’t be able to say anything more important than what I have already said.
I was inspired by these principals. Again, nothing revolutionary. Most of the ideas that have been employed are not well kept secrets. They’re public knowledge. The difference is that Apple took these principals, implemented them flawlessly, and set the bar to a new high. This is an excellent example of how to carter to the masses. I will definitely take these into account in the near future. Will you?