This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Smartphone

On July 6, 2008

On Friday the iPhone gains the ability to accept third party programs. In doing so it joins the ranks of the Treos, Windows Mobile and Symbian devices. Right?


Although it would be easy to make the analogy between iPhone applications and the applications on all those other devices it is the wrong analogy. In fact, I would venture to say that if that is the analogy that frames the development of iPhone applications the device will be sorely underutilized.

As July 11th approaches it is becoming increasingly clear that there are two possible scenarios that could play out beginning this Friday and only one of them sets the stage for the next generation of mobile computing.

Scenario 1- We see tons of software released for the iPhone that looks quite similar to their Windows Mobile, Treo or Symbian counterparts. While they will certainly add functionality to the iPhone, they will, by and large, be missed opportunities that maintain the status quo.

Scenario 2- Developers realize that the iPhone offers new options and power that shape the direction of their programming for it. As a result, the applications released for it are conceived of and executed DIFFERENTLY than the programs built for WM, Treos or Symbian devices.

Some may look and function the way similar applications do on those other platforms but others will enter into entirely new terrain.

I, for one,  am glad to see that this is exactly what is happening- at least when the SDK is in the hands of some of the more creative and forward thinking developers out there. 

Two examples immediately come to mind.

First, as reported in TUAW last week, former EA exec Neil Young left EA to form his own company. The new company will focus exclusively on development for the iPhone. Moreover, it is clear that they are looking to take a different approach to programming since, according to the post, Young says that they want to step up to be the "spiritual first-party" for the platform.

He goes on to point out that the iPhone necessitates such a new approach because while it has the power of a PSP it has a whole lot more as well.
What a shame it would be for programmers not to take into account the iPhone’s camera, accelerometer, and wide multitouch screen. What a shame to ignore its ability to be location-aware, carry gigs of media or have instant on with a full range of connectivity options.

How fortunate that there are already developers who are thinking about things differently.

In other words, the iPhone gaming environment will be created, shaped and owned by those developers who don’t just port the same old games to it. (Although there are some games, like Hitman, that I would love to see ported!) The same can be said for ALL applications.

The second comes from those developers like Alex Kac of WebIS who, as I posted about last week, recognize that it is better to take the necessary time to develop applications that truly make use of the iPhone’s power and flexibility rather than rush to have apps to “stock the shelves” on day one.

We could get more of the same this week OR we could get something entirely new. I’ll vote for the latter.

I was talking to a good friend who is intimately involved in development for the iPhone (although with respect to the tight-lipped confidentiality that is part of the culture surrounding Mac, “talking” is a bit of a stretch) and he made the point that those who truly “get it” don’t think of the iPhone as a converged device. Those who TRULY get it think of the iPhone as a really, really small Macintosh.

(Or as Dimitri said while we were watching the WWDC keynote- "the thing isn’t a phone, it’s a computer".) Exactly!

We have, in fact, seen this playing out already. After all, how many software updates that truly add functionality and/or change the device have you seen for any other handheld?