iPhone’s missing killer app: social networking
The reviews are in, hundreds of thousands of proud iPhone owners are playing with their brand new toys over the July 4th weekend. The hype has been (very) high, but the wonderful internet resources of today – digg.com, google, mac forums, youtube, etc – have responded with expediency in weighing the pros and cons of Apple’s foray into mobile platforms. This in addition of course to more traditional reviews and commentary such as those by Walt Mossberg at WSJ, David Pogue and John Markoff at NYT, and Steven Levy at Newsweek.
So we know the industrial design is solid from PC World’s harsh testing, the guys over at ifixit.com have taken it apart, over at macrumors.com literally hundreds of reviews are looking at the device from all angles, and several wikis have been started (at least five by my latest count). Smash has documented the 10 things that suck, we now know that it wasn’t a sellout (except at the poor smaller AT&T stores), and that the poorly recessed headphone plug doesn’t work with most 3rd party headsets. The inevitable mobile phone pundits have compared it with the N95, Blackjack, Curve 830, and Treo, AT&T accumulated some bad press with all the activation issues, and predictably all manner of opinion abounds about the lack of a tactile keyboard.
People have even dissected precisely how the design of the iPhone has changed since Jobs presented it at MacWorld in January. Not to mention sites that assemble a COMPLETE gallery of every single user interface aspect (I’m not even linking to that).
Steve Jobs is positioning the iPhone as the third leg of their strategy chair. He is saying that the iPhone will reinvent the notion of a cell phone in the way that the Macintosh reinvented the notion of a computer.
I disagree. I don’t think the iPhone fundamentally innovates over and above the existing offerings, in the manner that the iPod, the Macintosh, and the Apple II all did in their day.
The iPhone is AWESOME
Before I start slamming the iPhone, let me make one thing clear up front. It is a fantastic device. I am in love with it.
In fact, I happily engaged in iFriday together with many other tech enthusiasts in the bay area. I drove to several stores during the day, including stopping by Valley Fair and interviewing The Woz (I might make a YouTube posting with that). I set up and managed the bay area twitter group, and all day and evening we messaged each other with updates on the lines etc.
Thanks to technology like Google Earth and speed dialing on my (Sprint) Treo, I found the one AT&T store with a really short line as late as 2:30 pm. I was in the first batch of customers let in through the doors, and I bought my iPhone at 6:15 pm. My MacBook Pro was prepared with the iTunes patch, there was free wifi in that neighborhood, so I sat down outside the AT&T store to hook up and activate my phone. Amazingly, lots of people came out of the line to photograph me (!) to send to their friends. Before 7 pm I had my new AT&T number, and was syncing contacts, videos, music, etc.
Much of this blog posting was in fact written before iFriday. But I didn’t want to post anything until I had had some serious quality time to play around with a production version of this new marvel.
And as far as I’m concerned, I love it. I’m already buying more music and videos. And I’m busy discovering all sort of nifty things. Like in the kitchen – I finally can listen to loud music without risking not hearing the egg timer! Yeah, it’s got an egg timer built in, and it will (obviously) pause the iPod music when the alarm goes off.
The YouTube integration is excellent – I’ve watched more YouTube in the past 72 hours than since YouTube launched. It’s an excellent night digital book reader. Web pages that are specially designed for the iPhone are popping up all over. The web browser works great; I can actually read news extensively on this device. The photo album function is the first one in a portable device that I have used to show other people pictures of my kids. The battery behavior is incredible – I can watch hours of video and the battery is still over half full.
I even did a few hours of “operate with one hand while driving” testing. With a little practice it was straight forward to bring up Google Maps to where I was, enter a search for some nearby business keyword, select a business, and hit the “dial” button on the contact info. All with one hand, and all while at the same time the iPod part of the phone was dishing out great music.
So before the Apple stalwarts start flaming me in the comments section, let it be known that Peter Loves the iPhone. Truly. Any technology enthusiast needs to get this. And don’t even get me started on the quality of the industrial design. This thing is a work of heart.
Apple Doesn’t Get Social Networking
Ok. With that out of my system I can get back to slamming Apple.
Here’s my theory. Apple can only do really interesting products if Steve Jobs understands the end user. And Jobs does not understand the 21st century computer usage paradigm. In this century, people don’t send memos to each other. And that’s what email is – electronic memos.
Today, people chat; they blog; they share multimedia like pictures, video, and audio; they flame each other on forums; they link with each other in intricate webs; they swap effortlessly between different electronic personae and avatars; they listen to internet radio; they vote on this that and the other; they argue on wiki discussion groups.
At it’s heart, the iPhone is a projection of the original vision of bringing clunky desktop applications like email, contact databases, to-do lists, telephones, note taking, and web browsing to the palm of your hand. Because that is essentially Steve Job’s generation – transitioning from the mainframe office environment to the PC-based office. Jobs can’t quite get rid of the notion that a mobile device is nothing but a really small personal computer.
For example (and boy are there many examples), there is an ENTIRE distinct widget (or whatever it’s called) for tracking stocks!
Yeah, the internet generation really spend a lot of time checking their stocks. My eight-year-old actually does own gold, but it’s in the bank in Ironforge, not on ETrade.
(Oh, yeah, there’s SMS. And it’s actually labeled “SMS”.)
Meanwhile, outside Apple’s reality distortion field …
There are a couple of Big New Things going on in the tech space that Apple (and Microsoft and many others for that matter) have by and large not understood. First there’s grid computing and related things like virtualization. Then there’s this whole web 2.0 thing. Then there’s mobile platforms. And lastly there’s the whole digital entertainment thing, which is sort of half old news and half new news.
Now, Apple seems to be getting it mostly right only in the digital entertainment side. They’re leveraging the Web 2.0 thing mostly as a side effect of simply having the best unix-like development platform. They didn’t plan that, it just sort of happened that way since Apple failed at one attempt after another to do their own OS and finally decided to do yet another Unix. (Well, technically they bought it, and anyway it’s a good thing that they did.) The grid computing side they’ve missed entirely since they insist on being vertically integrated.
The iPhone, of course, is intended as their mobile platform play, leveraging off their strengths on the desktop and in digital entertainment. As quoted above, the “third leg” in their strategy. Let’s have a look at those strengths.
Flashback. The original iPod (released in October of 2001) had a couple of key things going for it. Everybody emphasizes “ease of use” to explain the iPod success, but that’s a cop-out. It was more subtle than that. I bought the very first iPod and remember clearly the key technology strengths at the time, namely:
- It was hard-drive based, 5G, allowing a significant number of songs (on the order of 1000). iPod wasn’t first with a hard drive, but the alternatives were really clunky. At the time, the best flash-best players had 128M. That’s a big difference.
- The interface was Firewire and not USB. Remember, this was way before USB 2.0. Thanks to Intel and others not wanting to pay Apple $1 in royalties for Firewire, the users were doomed to slow serial interfaces for many years. Firewire was standard on Macs, and FW400 (as it’s now referred to) is MUCH faster than USB 1.x.
- The software on the “server” side (laptop/desktop) was excellent. Other consumer players like Sony simply did not know how to write software for PCs (or Macs for that matter). There was nothing remotely like the rip/mix/burn paradigm as clearly evident in any other app.
- The iPod had a small number of useful productivity applications as part of it’s OS – a clock, some games, and some other tools; these quickly fleshed out to include contacts and calendar support. Not to mention early FAT32 support. This distinctly added to the value.
- Yes, a very easy-to-use interface. Most importantly, it was responsive, and was designed to actually help you deal with the notion of 1000 or more songs on your device.
There were all sorts of other aspects as well that helped Apple. For example, Intel was actually one of the strongest contenders for the mp3 market at the time, with products like the Intel Pocket Concert. But the usual corporate screw-ups at always-asleep-at-the-wheel Intel decided around then that that was a good time to shut down the home electronics division (!).
Plus Apple did lots of small, but important stuff, right, like supporting a wide range of audio formats; and they were reasonably quick with supporting PCs.
And of course, their next big strategic step, the iTunes Store, which opened in April 2003, was very well executed.
The point is, these were Really Significant Advancements. Apple invented the space of the premium portable music playing device. I could do a similar analysis for the Macintosh and, before that, the Apple II.
Social Networking and the Mobile Platform
Ok let’s flash forward again to iFriday, when the iPhone, accompanied by almost hysterical media interest, made it’s US debut. Enough had leaked about the device, and enough major media players had been permitted to publish extensive reviews prior to release, that it was pretty straight-forward to size up the product before you got it in hand.
What struck me already from the early reviews was that Apple seems to fundamentally not understand social networking, and the potential that a brand new mobile platform could have for that. It’s a generational thing, I guess. Steve is even older than I am, and I’m having a real hard time keeping up with the times. Plus he’s busier than I am.
Unless you’ve been spending time with all the new communication flavors out there – stuff like Flickr, Twitter, Myspace, Facebook, last.fm, the RSS universe, etc etc – you won’t notice the egregious strategic blunder that Apple is in the midst of making. The mainstream reviewers certainly haven’t picked up on it.
The thing is, the use of mobile devices for social networking is something that has been forced into the current platforms out there. There are all sorts of obscure ways to leverage text messaging infrastructure to support higher semantic notions like chat rooms, instant messaging, bulletin boards, classifieds, etc.
I was actually in the room when Steven Jobs first announced the iPhone at Macworld earlier this year. I was immediately struck by his emphasis of desktop/iPod-oriented features; using the telephone, using the calendar, todo lists, listening to music. That’s the stuff the 1990s generation did, and they do it on their desktops. The 21st century kids – and workers! – have other frameworks. They chat; they blog; they share their music playlists; they listen to internet radio; they play text RPG-like games on wikis; they argue on bulletin boards; they exchange pictures and phone/webcam videos; they watch youtube; they post video responses to youtube.
The new generation doesn’t use the phone. They don’t call somebody to discuss a document. They just change the wiki entry and they know any subscribers to changes will be notified. They chat. They update their emo trackers with mood and location like “wd market, nw” [walking down market, nice weather]; and so forth.
Yeah, they got youtube. But only because Google had bought them. And you can’t post to youtube from the iPhone. Even if you could post, you can’t actually make a video with the iPhone.
You can’t even leave a friggin comment on the youtube service.
So why was the iPod different? Very simple: Steve Jobs actually understands music and related technologies. He’s an artsy guy. He’s even known to have a real good musical ear. That’s why the iPod was awesome. Jobs actually understood the target customer.
Ah well. What could have been…
What the iPhone would have looked like if I was Steve Jobs
Social networking would have been front and center. It would have been a social networking device from the ground up. One that – oh, by the way – can also be used as a “telephone” or a “web browser” (yawn). And of course as an iPod and a video player etc.
It would have supported dozens of social networking concepts from the get-go. iTunes would have been expanded to take your user name and passwords for major social networking services, and then it would just suck down all the meta data it needs for the corresponding functions to work on your device.
Or, perhaps even better, Apple would roll out it’s own Web 2.0 alternatives, ones that are fully coordinated with the Mac, with iTunes, with iPods, and with the iPhone.
Photos would automatically sync with your selected photo sharing device. Instant messaging would manage multiple groups and friend lists on top of SMS, hiding control data in SMS messages from you and just showing the socially relevant data.
Location-aware signaling would be built it. The phone would sense if you were in your favorite coffee shop and flag that to friends.
The wifi software would support peer-to-peer; it would let you know what people in your vicinity are listening to; it would include a bunch of multiplayer games that you can play right away with friends (or strangers!) in your vicinity. Or anywhere! In fact, it might include traditional games like chess with direct support for a global iPhone chess ranking.
Calendar would sync with online services, not wait to be connected with a big, ugly PC. It would be extended to support stuff like movies, shows, bands, local events, etc.
Video, of course, with automatic syncing with my own location on the web for storing and editing them.
Messaging would be integrated into a single view, with iconic/font/color indicators to separate news items, blog entries, text messages, chats, etc. You have full control to organize all the streaming sources into one or more distinct “pages”.
My own personal web page would be set up and be accessible from the phone or anywhere else. My own blog, of course, with direct in-phone support for updates; plus simple options for making my location visible to friends. Maybe even share on my blog my 10 most played iTunes songs during the past 72 hours.
Personal podcasting would be seamless. In fact I can stream my audio to my web site to friends who want to listen. Group (buddy) audio conferencing would be easy, and would be separate from the notion of “calling a phone number”.
There would be an official Apple iPhone wiki that all iPhone owners are immediately subscribed to for communal sorting-out of issues.
There would be official Apple iPhone support forums that are directly accessible from the phone.
The Google Maps function would plot all the iPhone owners with a little red dot; you can click on the dot to send a message to them. Or click on yourself to make a “talk” comment that nearby iPhone owners can “hear”. Or click twice on “yourself” to “shout” to iPhone owners that are within a few miles. A simple “/ignore” function would allow you to silence pesky shouters.
Etc. You get the picture.
But seriously. All of the crazy and not-so-crazy ideas above would not make sense to have in a single device; or at least it wouldn’t be practical to figure out how to integrate everything in time for a 1.0 release.
Now, with lots of enterprising people out there, it’s possible the iPhone will be pushed in the right direction (people like iPLing are already showing the way). It’s not as if the other cell phone manufacturers are ahead of Apple. At this point, the iPhone is simply an (excellent) embodiment of the desktop computing paradigm, adjusted as well as can be expected to a 3.5 inch touch-sensitive screen with no keyboard.
Which is wonderful. And I love it. And it’s not a bad starting point.
But, as opposed to iPod, Macintosh, and the Apple II, at this juncture the iPhone is not a vision of the future for mobile devices.
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Hi Peter, I agree!
It’s fascinating to see that phone manaufacturers and operators don’t get the social trend. One example: My kids and other boys in their age (17-19) in Sweden almost never use mail. Their primary way of communicating is MSN. But their mobile phones don’t have MSN-clients built in or something like it. And the operators have unresonable costs for data traffic.
Yes indeed, isn’t it strange? And the European operators have had many years to absorb this behavior.
Apple is no longer a techy company for nerds. They are the new Sony. They let the Nordic technology driven companies (E’’’, Nokia) develop and try out new technology standards, while they develop cool and intuitive stuff for the consumer market. I was doubtful about the iPhone. Now I’m convinced. I’ll most likely buy the rumored European one with 3G and MMS.
I agree with you that it would be nice to have all the features you mentioned, but its always easy said then done. How many major phone companies are in mobile businesss for decades, but none of them have even achieved what Steve has and I should say he has done it in time and efficiently.
My suggestion here would be that Steve should open a forum for developers or small companies, who can integrate all the fancy features one by one and Apple can pay for their services.
Great article. I think you’ve really picked up on a major trend that all the big players are missing–or at least can’t figure out how to handle. One thing I’d mention: privacy. That’s the only issue with making the device super “sociable”. But I’m sure there are ways around that. I think the Sony MYLO was geared with the social aspects in mind, but it was too underpowered feature-wise.
Thanks Tony. As to privacy, you’re right. Technically I think the principal way to address that is for devices (and environments in general) to natively support the notion of multiple personae.
Your article is crap. All those features apply to people who are under 15 years old. I am 24 and could care less about flaming people on forums or talking through instant messages to people in my area. If you are 35 and using those features you really need to get a life. Not to mention apple can add features in the near future with an update. Who wants to play a RPG game which can take hours on your phone. Unless you literally have no life, playing an RPG on your iphone is pointless. I get phone calls every hour so why would i want to spend more than an hour playing a game on my phone and miss a bunch of calls. And if you look at most of the games that are on cell phones, they suck. Apple would have to come up with something unique which would take time. I can sit here and list a million features that they should add, but whats the point of bashing the iphone its already revolutionary and they are going to be adding more stuff in the future.
[PSM] My article is “crap”, huh? Funny how you couldn’t care less about flaming people on forums since right now you’re … ehm .. flaming people on forums. Kek.
Heh, PED over at B2.0 liked the blog so it seems I’ve gotten a new (and different) crowd over here (The iPhone’s Secret Blindspot). Welcome to petersmagnusson.com, one and all.
The flames over on B2.0’s forum remind me of the last time I slammed Apple’s strategy in public, back in 1993, when they claimed CISC (x86) would die and RISC (PPC) would win. I pointed out that they were simply technically wrong.
Gee, I wonder who won that argument …
Have you checked out any of the new (or soon to be coming out) open source phones? How do they compare? I have been eying the FIC Neo1973, It looks cool. I still have a really old phone because I haven’t found one that really serves my purpose or even impresses me. Does the iPhone have the ability for 3rd party developed apps to be loaded? What do you think about the new Open Source phones? Thank you.
Peter (as well)
[PSM] Hi Peter! No I’m not up to date on them. For me it’s not so much an issue of feature sets as divining the overall strategy. As for iPhone 3rd party apps, the most accessible option now is to leverage AJAX support on the (excellent) built-in Safari browser. And that of course leaves an obvious avenue for Apple to improve things, like adding better support for bookmark management, and adding subtle additions to their API to access some phone functions (like location).
Very good article. A key point is that the iPhone is a software-configurable device in the sense that Apple can, and no doubt will, add new features through its well proven Software Update system. It is a near certainty that many of the social networking features you propose (and others beside) will be offered by Apple. Could I propose that Apple offer different configurations for individual choice eg the basics plus the social networking features for the young crowd, or the basics plus features used most often in business for the professional market, etc
“There was nothing remotely like the rip/mix/burn paradigm as clearly evident in any other app”
At the time, I was using J River’s Media Jukebox, which let me rip/mix/burn between many devices, including but not limited to ipods. At the time it was years ahead of any other software.
Today I use J River’s Media Center. It’s still years ahead.
I just graduated from college, and I think you hit the nail on the head. A social networking device like the one you described–basically one that combines facebook with the iphone–could make the device must-have for many college students. Most students with laptops bring them into class just to spend all of class on facebook or AIM anyway. Now to be able to do this directly with people in your class, or to spend class time reading the blog, or class notes, or listening to the podcast or the music of the person sitting next to you, go out and know exactly which bar your friends are hanging out at without contacting them, is something that I think college kids would dish out hundreds of dollars for. For those of us who use facebook (which basically everyone I ever met in college) I think there are tons of obvious synergies with the two products.
Also, facebook doesn’t get less popular with age, major firms with recent grads have tons of facebook users, and the friend and network feature takes care of most privacy features. Thanks for your post, I really enjoyed it.
Sounds to me like Andrew — “Your article is crap.” — is just another Einstein here to give us a lesson on general relativity. Thanks, Andrew, for helping to frame the debate.
Anyway, I’m blown away by the raging flamers over at CNN’s business blog (http://blogs.business2.com/apple/2007/07/the-iphones-sec.html). What a sociologists dream, to see “Generation Gap” spelled out so plainly. Here’s a shortened version of a comment that I left on that site:
“This IS a different generation, and unless you stay vital and socially connected with this group, you’re not going to see it.
Mr. Fierberg’s comment is particularly rich: “I personally don’t agree that older people can’t understand younger, and I don’t agree with half the things he says ‘younger’ people want. Who would want their location broadcast to someone else…?” Obviously not you, Mr. Fierberg, but isn’t that rather the point?
Many of my friends happen to be in their early 20s and fresh out of Duke, Dartmouth, Stanford, etc. and are now professionals who are already light years ahead of their peers — and they really DO make use of the kinds of social networking that Magnusson describes.
Understand that this generation’s pockets and book bags have always been filled with tiny gadgets — phones, handheld computer games, PDAs, mp3 players, key FOBs, etc. — and they used these tools for social networking. Many have Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn accounts. They IM and SMS. They share music and pix on the web. They game over local and wide area networks. And they do this stuff as a part of their regular routine, apparently without a lot of privacy worries. If it weren’t for having so many young friends inviting me to join them, I don’t think I would know about this.
I’m sorry to say, but the rest of you seem to be showing your age, and not very gracefully.”
Thanks for your BALANCED point of view. I agree that the iPhone is amazing from a design and integrated software perspective. There is no other phone out there which comes close to the usability of the iPhone! As you’ve said, there is room for it to get even better and I think some of your suggestions are spot on. Good news is we know that Mr Jobs is most likely already working on some of your ideas.
Thanks again and I would suggest others to read your ENTIRE blog before commenting.
Peter, I loved your article. I happen to agree that social networking and Web 2.0 functionality are essential for any new product to become the next “killer app.” I think it is really important to always be looking critically at both the pros and cons of new technology, because it will only improve if power users like ourselves not only fawn over it, but also pick it apart for ways to make it more powerful. I am as big a fan of Apple as anybody out there, yet there are still many areas in which they wear blinders as big as a lunar eclipse.
Jobs new about the missing killer app. He was apparently apprised of this through a third party. The offer involved access to the largest and most coherent network of interchangeable master channels ever assembled on the public Internet. The 600 plus Interchangeable Master Channels channels would have allowed Jobs to social network with the iPhone on a scale previously thought impossible with a device like iPhone. The proposal involved using the master channels which are called “pods”, which are themselves supported at level three by corporate brands around the world. My guess is that Jobs indeed does not understand so-called Web 2.0. If you want a hint of what Jobs was actually offered try USPTO under the trademark Infopod.
Social networking is not just for kids any more. Collaborative work is becoming part of the mainstream. The iPhone isn’t touching that yet. I don’t think it is a problem though. The iPhone is simply a superior DEVICE. Software can catch up.
[PSM] Yes indeed, and well put. Frankly I can’t stop laughing at people who are posting on forums slamming my blog – and at the same time saying that they don’t think a business users need stuff like forum support (!). But yes, to some extent, software can catch up. However, Apple runs their platforms (Mac, iPod, and now iPhone) as a highly vertically integrated environment. So it their own strategic perspective on the device is really important. But, yeah, as I write in my summary, I am hoping that the community (e.g., us) can prod Apple in the right direction; that’s kind of what I’m trying to do. After all, it wasn’t Apple who invented desktop publishing, but they did embrace it.
I completely agree with your thoughts on Apple’s failure to harness the social/web 2.0 movement that we are in the middle of. For a company that is as forward thinking as Apple, I am very surprised.
I totally agree with you. What you did not mention is the data rate speed… To exchange, upload and watch video you need something more respectable than AT&T service… May be you should look at http://www.wefi.com that try to leverage social activity with communication; it is still in infancy but should be quite handy to iPhone and alike.
[PSM] Well I didn’t see much point in slamming Apple for that since they’re clearly aware of it, and have stated that they are doing their best to balance battery time, choice of carrier, etc. And I think they have done a reasonable job. Plus the wifi part works reasonably well. But yeah, stuff like WeFi would make it even better, and I expect that to happen.
Peter; Good article, i will study further.
BUT have you not read, err studied, ALL the rumors about how Apple’s new (really new) platform is a total social networking platform???
Please search for this and you will be amazed.
[PSM] Have you got some pointers to stuff I’ve missed. Because I have searched.
I’ve been keeping up with all the stuff that’s whizzing around the net about the iPhone, and I’m severely hankering for one, but at the moment we haven’t got them in the UK, and I wouldn’t be able to afford one anyway Seeing as Apple claim to be quite innotive, it’s shocking they haven’t catered for such a huge gap in the current markets, makes you wonder how much market research they compiled on their chosen audience before actually making this I’m personally not a massive mac user, I use them for Final Cut & afteraffects at college and they are a God send, Much perfer them to my current OS, so I wouldn’t know much about the 3rd party apps and what would be possible from that perspective, but it sounds like Apple have missed a huge chunk of what made them that innotive in the first place…
[PSM] Well, thankfully, Apple isn’t very market-research driven. And it’s a very top-down driven company. So in the end I think it by and large boils down to one person’s perspective, which has it’s strengths and weaknesses. And to be fair, it’s by and large mostly a strength. Apple is the only “old” technology company that is still able to pull forth powerful new narratives.
I think the answer is really simple – the major networks can’t make money from $19.99 flat rate data traffic. To get $80-$100+ a month out of consumers, they need to charge them for voice, roaming, SMS, MMS, etc. As soon as you build an IP-based chat infrastructure on a phone, you don’t really need SMS anymore. And once you integrate VoIP, you don’t need voice calls either. That’s what the big carriers are PARANOID about.
To get started, Jobs had to make nice with the carriers and create a device that pushed the boundaries, but not too much. He still needed a carrier to work with, one that could provide a data and voice network. In the future, he might not need that so much.
Maybe once iPhone rev 1 is successful in the market, and new broadband data networks based on WiMAX or some other technology are out there, someone will have the brass to build a communication device that doesn’t pander to the carriers and protects their revenue streams. Or maybe the carriers will wake up and realize that the first one to offer a $50/month all you can eat data package with VoIP, chat, blogging, RSS, etc, will win big?
There’s a lot of money at stake here – I mean billions and billions of dollars. And that’s why things aren’t changing very fast.
[PSM] I think by and large you are absolutely correct in your analysis.
I think one thing that people often overlook is that Steve Jobs knows where the sweet spot is in the market. He knows design but he also has a great business sense. This phone is a step above the smart phones that are out there, but is not as advanced or new-fangled as the device that you’re describing, and there’s a reason for that. The simplicity of the software on the iPhone (1.0 mind you) is where the market is for people who will pay $600 for the slickest iPod yet.
You’re right to point out that they *could* have put more investment in social networking software, but you’ve failed to take into account what kind of risk that would be. Would it really be a good idea to put thousands of programmer man-hours into software for a device that is ultimately probing totally uncharted waters? And given the price, aren’t we really talking about 30-40 somethings who don’t do the social networking quite as avidly?
This is a first release. Get “the low-hanging fruit” as it were. KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) and when all the hype is done, they can release the iPhone mini or Lite or whatever to make the kids happy. People are acting like the software is set in stone when in reality Apple is going to be making updates with new software all the time. In two years there will be a whole line of iPhones with all kinds of social networking apps. Don’t forget, Steve Jobs might be an older guy but there are a lot of young turk engineers at Apple who are very clued in about everything you’ve mentioned. 1.0 is not the place for that sort of experimental work.
[PSM] I simply don’t think that it’s a question of trading off features. This is not a version 1.0 problem. For example, the visual voice mail function does not have an option for me to send an SMS to the person who left me a message. That’s not a lot of code. Or, like I point out in my blog, there isn’t any form of forum-style support anywhere – most notably in the YouTube function. In comparison with the overall coding efforts of this project, these are not big things. I don’t believe it’s an engineering budget issue, I think it’s a perspective issue.
I followed the link you posted on Biz 2.0 to get here. I have to say that your post was excellent and very informative. It was also quite interesting how aggressive some of the posters got on the Biz2 site against social networking. I am 31 and only do LinkedIn, but many of my peers (and younger sister) live on myspace and the like. While I personally wouldn’t care about location plotting and all that I can certainly see how my sister would love to know which of her friends were at the same club or mall. Some people are blind except to their own concept of the world and that certainly was the case on the other site. I will check out your posts again.
[PSM] Thanks Wendy! I think a lot of the critics haven’t stopped to think what social networking is. They don’t realize that when they are using Google, or the Wiki, or reading blogs, they are essentially participating in “web 2.0”.
In case you want to know, this is Web 2.0: http://www.oreillynet.com/lpt/a/6228
I believe that the depth of personal customization features on a mobile device will predict its success, along with whether it works or not. All Apple products work, so the latter point will never be a problem. Regarding customization, iPods are easily customized because their primary function is storage, and what you put on one (inside and out) is clearly up to you. iPhones might be easily customizable someday soon, with the selection of which apps you do and do not want on the device being much like selecting widgets in the Dashboard program of the Tiger OS. It seems that Apple thinks this way: iPods primarily use media, with a single application – the iPod OS – being along for the ride, while iPhones primarily use applications, with media being along for the ride – conceptually speaking, that is.
The iPhone is not a social networking device. It’s a telephone that happens to do other cool stuff, hence the name. Peter’s right in that this is not a paradigm that will change society. It’s merely a paradigm that will change what a cellphone experience could be. That’s what the Apple II and the iPod did. They changed what a personal computer experience and a music player experience could be, respectively. How the iPod changed society was truly a fortunate coincidence – right place at the right time. And when the time comes for a social networking device, I’m sure Apple will build one, as long as Steve Jobs has anything to say about it. But in America, Apple is betting that it ain’t the time, or perhaps it ain’t yet possible to do right.
International views on privacy vary widely, and for good cultural reasons; either travel extensively like me to witness these differences, or just watch Bowling For Columbine to learn how no one in Canada seems to lock their front doors, as we all do in America. Thus, international views on social networking will vary widely as well. In Western Europe and Japan, the device Peter describes would easily become the Next Big Thing, and it would do so right now. Yet here in the vast US Midwest, it wouldn’t do nearly as well, certainly not at $500 each. Drop it to $200, and add some Web 2.0 features that are not related to stalking, and it would take over every college town in North America and also large parts of China.
Out here, most people buy/own/build what they need, regardless of their income. That’s not being a redneck so much as it’s being practical. As the price comes down, more and more regular folks will jump on the iPhone bandwagon, but most just don’t need it. Many don’t even own cellphones, and many don’t own computers, but they still would purchase this handheld miracle device if it was both durable and inexpensive, and it didn’t need to access a computer. They’re not Apple’s target market, I know, but meeting those three conditions will be how Apple could bring them into the fold. Of course, all young people – even those out here – go for trends regardless of cost, and thankfully the excellent products of Apple are becoming more and more trendy.
The first iPods are currently viewed as being overpriced dinosaurs. Yet, that product line flourished in its habitat by becoming both cheaper and customizable, through gaining more storage space and a flood of accessories. So, when the iPhone becomes cheaper and very customizable, by utilizing numerous optional applications and more storage space, it will do well everywhere, and with everyone. Now, let’s all watch the iPhone product line evolve and see if both Peter Magnusson’s and Steve Jobs’ visions come down from the trees to form their own cultures.
[PSM] Thanks for your thoughtful posting Rick. I disagree with a couple of minor points you make, but let me focus on what I think is the key difference: I don’t think the iPhone is a big enough step over the best cell phones that are out there. But iPhone’s superiority over the best from players like Nokia is more like the MacBook Pro’s superiority over a Dell laptop running XP. I much prefer the former, but if the latter were status quo, then the former would constitute a big step forward. But not a revolution.
By making it a “social networking device” and then saying the other features are extra, you would be making the iPhones demographic teens and young adults. From the iPhone’s advertising it looked like Apple not only wanted the young demographic, they also wanted the business and affluent audience.
You make some really great suggestions, and I hope someone forwards this entry to Apple. Then I hope they’re taken into consideration and included on future generations of iPhone. You nailed it.
[PSM] Thanks Donny! I hope so too. A lot of people are saying similar things so my passionate hope is that Apple will move the iPhone towards a more networked perspective.
Awesome article. It describes exactly why I don’t care about the iPhone… I’ve actually been driven into complete apathy by because I wouldn’t want to have to port everything over into a new software solution when I can do everything I need to from Google Calendar/Gmail/etc.. from any computer. I don’t want an iPhone because it isn’t revolutionary enough to be interesting to me. Apple is a big monopoly and even though they are viewed in a good light by a lot of their fans… they are still a monopoly. Being a monopoly means they don’t always like to collaborate with budding technologies like Facebook and Twitter. When a smartphone integrates, I’ll be the first one in line. Hell, they could even use Facebook as an operating system!
[PSM] Thanks J! But if you can afford, you should buy it. I really don’t want people to think I don’t love the iPhone, I do. It rocks. And yes they are a bit of a monopoly, they are very strict in running their ecosystems. But to be fair, a lot of their innovation in past decades has really required a high level of control. It’s a tricky balance. And yes, Amen, it would have been nice if the calendar and email had properly synced with gmail. I can’t even figure out a way to propagate the gmail sorting rules to the gmail-aware email client on this thing!
3000 visitors and lots of very good comments. i’m fried right now, but i’ll try and work my way back up these postings and comment. thanks for the interest and the feedback! have a great 4th.
Your wishlist is absolutely ridiculous, not to mention naive, money-is-no-object naive. Do you understand the concept of ROI? What’s the return on social-networking investment when your target audience are 25+ year olds with disposable income? This audience is most likely white-collar workers with a company laptop(not desktop) that goes home with them. They sit in front of it 8 hours a day then it goes home with them for another few hours of quality online time. Any social networking is done easily at work or home on the *laptop*. This iphone article was found, then read, and this blog entry written from my laptop at midnight from the comfort of my keyboard. Why would I want to do this on my phone? The phone costs $500-600. For that price it better allow me to easily make calls and enter appointments.
And, no, I would not do social networking on my cellphone when on the train either. Remember, I can afford $500 and so can afford a $70/month broadband card for my company laptop. I’ll read/blog/im/vote/discuss when I arrive at my destination.
If you ask my son he would agree with your wishlist. I know he would love to chat/blog/im/upload/download on a cellular device but he’s *not* getting one at $500 a pop. He’s going to have to make due with whatever features his *free* Sprint cellphone came with. If that means he’ll have to call his friends instead of update his myspace page so be it.
[PSM] The ROI on projects like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc seem to me to have been pretty competitive, but that’s not really the point here. There will be many people who, like you, balk at the price. That’s reasonable, and not the point either. The point is that Apple (Jobs) is positioning this as a revolutionary step in the development of cell phones, on the scale of things like the iPod and the Macintosh. That’s the part I am disagreeing with. And you may not want such a product, and that’s fine too – it’s a free society. But that does not change the fact that the killer app for mobile devices that remains up for grabs is social networking, and Apple clearly doesn’t understand that. They may come around to understanding it, which is why Apple supporters like myself and many others are trying to point it out to them.
Oh, forgot to mention that I don’t own an iphone and don’t plan to buy one.
Very useful info
The iPhone developer community is working hard to meet the desires for a more social iPhone. At the http://www.iPhoneWebDev.com list we’ve been implementing things like Jabber for the iPhone, Twitter for iPhone, and more. We are figuring out how to make better UI for the small screen, and sharing tricks for how to do things like hide the URL bar and deal with orientation changes from portrait to narrow.
If you are a designer of web pages or a potential iPhone webapp developer, come join us!
[PSM] Thanks for the pointer! I was thinking of doing a separate blog posting with a similar list, but now I can just point to you guys. Keep up the good work.
Excellent take on the iphone and Jobs. As Steve commented about Microsoft and Bill Gates last month, “We weren’t so good with partnering with people. Bill and Microsoft were really good at it.” It’s not in Apple’s DNA to want to figure out better ways to partner. This would support your case. Apple is Jobs…it isn’t in his DNA for social connection or partnering. Thus, the major hole in the iphone. You cannot partner with other companies and with other people.
[PSM] Have you got some pointers to stuff I’ve missed. Because I have searched.
These are all speculation but based on actual Apple projects:
Run all this together given Apples tools and web push and voila u get social networking re MobileMe TM 🙂
[PSM] Wolf, many thanks for the pointers, they are worth reading. However they really underscore rather than contradict my point. The bulk of the writing is the writer speculating what Apple *could* do, given their position. E.g. adding a wiki server doesn’t mean they “get it” in any reasonable sense. And they actually need to do a *survey* to find out what social networking stuff iTunes could do? I’m sorry if I pinprick your optimistic balloon 🙂 but if those pointers are the best indicators out there, then they prove the counterpoint.
That is why we launched Ccube.com. Ccube is a community that lets you find and connect to the right person anytime anywhere over the phone, while keeping your number private.
It’s the social network on the phone. After you register, you don’t even need a computer. Talk from your cell, home, or work telephone, even your new iPhone!
– Mahesh Lalwani
[PSM] Hi Mahesh, thanks for letting us know about Ccube.
I could not agree more with your comments. When I look at my kids (8 and 12 years), their view of the technology and networking is completely different from mine and my wife’s (40 plus). We have been in the US for almost 10 years and as native Finns, we we have been educated with the cellphone in our hand… As busines executive, I do not see any reason to move to iPhone even if I like the design. My global BlackBerry is a killer and works whereever I am at… even Carribean islands
[PSM] It’s really hard to beat a modern BlackBerry as a professional communications device and I don’t expect the iPhone to make much of a dent in that market any time soon. (I have one as well, with a European GSM account.) I scoffed at Jobs’ notion that the iPhone would grab serious business market share. It’s not ready for that yet. I view the iPhone in a similar way that I view the iPod; the latter is not really an “mp3 player”, it’s an “iTunes device”. I currently view the iPhone as a premium entertainment and internet navigation device, which also happens to do a reasonable job at email, telephony, and text messaging. And as such it’s really a brand new market segment, which, if Apple plays their cards right, they can outright own for a very long time.
Peter- Your post is spot on. I think fundamentally what you are saying is that in this first version of the iPhone there is not even a hint of what the future of mobile social networking could be. The physical interaction paradigm and the form are new, but the software interactions and therefore the social interactions are old school. I think that part of the problem is that the mobile Web is not the Web we are so familiar with. We are all still grappling to understand what form it should take. Some try to shrink the Web, others give you widgets, some integrate with your phone book, and some think it’s search. My own thoughts are that the mobile Web should be synchronized with the Web Web through your contact list. A mobile phone is fundamentally a social device and the interaction metaphor should be largely about people not applications or services.
A week ago I might have agreed with you Peter, but after seeing my 24 year old daughter, who had been totally wrapped up in social networking apps, spend six continous hours with the iPhone, including much texting wtih friends, and practically demand one for her birthday, then rave about the functionality, the integration, the elegance, then my neighbor’s 12 year old exhibit practically the same reaction over three hours, the next day, I think we’re both too old. My daughter spent more time in Safari (there were 46 completely independent url’s in the history folder, and maps, which she never looks at when she’s on her Mac, than everything else combined. She’s now called me three days out of five which is more than she’s called in the last month to ask more questions about the phone. To hear her squeals of glee as I describe the deeper integration, is simply out of character. I spent nearly two years on a corporate Blackberry and wouldn’t have another one.
While I agree with you about the lack of social networking in the iPhone, I think you have missed a key point, which is that mobile computing platforms are still in the 90’s in terms of capabilities.
Social networking could evolve over a working internet infrastructure, but we still don’t really have that in mobile. Simple things like signing up to a new social networking site can’t happen if you can’t even get the darned confirmation email — and don’t tell me that we already have mobile email yet — 9 million BBerry users is a drop in the mobile ocean.
My own belief is that social networking can’t just leapfrog over the need for the older technologies — we still need to get the mobile browsing and mobile email problems solved while we work on bringing the latest internet trends to mobile.
[PSM] I agree, but I think that just underscores Apple’s challenge; e.g. iPhone isn’t even a very good email device.
Of course he doesn’t understand it-the guy doesn’t have friends. He’s too busy bossing people around and acting like Nero. The internet 2.0 stuff is about SHARING. Steve Jobs accumulates-he doesn’t share jack diddly. He doesn’t want to communicate with strangers, he’s a hermit. A Hollywood superstar. Web 2.0 people want to make their lives important by publishing crap about their banal lives. Jobs has money,a very nice life,a historical page in the Bible and so on. He doesn’t need relevance.
[PSM] Lol, ok that’s another perspective on motivation!
Did you keep your Treo?
Y you you keep
[PSM] Lol, yeah, I still have it. I’ve been using it in parallel with the iPhone. But as time goes by I’m getting used to the iPhone annoyances and using it more and more.
I thought your article was excellent and insightful!
The iPhone is quantum step forward in many regards, but like many other phones is lacking features, namely software applications that leverage the phone’s power and the wireless networks (telco, WiFi, Bluetooth, and now NFC), that more and more of them support.
Part of the problem here are some of the limitations imposed by the Compact Framework and J2ME MIDP 2.0 CLDC environments. But with a growing number of devices that support J2ME CDC (embedded linux, Windows Mobile and some Symbian phones), this is quickly changing.
Additionally, more device makers (such as Motorola) are embracing Linux, and as a previous responder stated, a handful of open-source software stacks, as the platform for their smart phones.
Also, once J2ME CLDC phones start to show up with support for MIDP 3.0 (which allow for faceless midlets and midlets that run as daemons), the handcuffs of the developer will be further removed.
But what is also needed is a software development platform that will allow developers to more easily develop applications that communicate not only back to the enterprise, but also with other phones, desktops, laptops, set-top boxes, RFID and Bar-code readers etc., around them. This will allow the peer-2-peer, peer-2-community, ad-hoc messaging that you speak of which will enable a whole new generation of applications, some of which you mention in your article.
Recursion Software (www.recursionsw.com) is targeting the Mobile 2.0 world that you describe and I encourage engineers to download a free developer version of Voyager Edge, a platform that enables the social networking capabilities you describe and more. Voyager can turn every device into an intelligent server, and enable the very applications, which you speak of, and many more. Feel free to share apps or ideas you have developed with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think the iPhone has some amazing features, but for it to be revolutionary, it needs to be much, much more developer friendly and platform agnostic.
Come on Mr. Jobs, allow for a virtual machine on the iPhone and the iPod.
Without OS-level API’s no harm can be done and the development community will take these great devices to yet another level for the consumer and professional!
[PSM] Thanks for your posting. The telcos are of course intentionally holding back making the cellular system “open” in any true sense. We forget that most systems aren’t typically open; the PC and the Internet are unusual exceptions. The telcos saw what happened with long distance and international rates, and are in no mood to forego fat monthly subscription fees. It’ll be interesting to see what the pressure of customers, Apple, and companies like yours will accomplish.
Dude – You just haven’t discovered iRovr.
[PSM] Lol, nah, not quite, but thanks for the pointer. I’ve gotten a lot of email as well pointing me to various web (Safari) based efforts. None of which affects my assertion, namely that *Apple* doesn’t get social networking.
I have been confused now for the last two to three years by Apple’s inability adapt to Web 2.0. I have dutifully paid my DotMac membership fees during that time expecting a big break to happen any day, but even after the release of iLife08 I am still amazed. The servers that support the DotMac service are so slow that even with some of the new iWeb templates the service is really not useful – I can’t have people coming to my website and waiting for it to load at dial-up speeds on a broadband system. Apple just does not seem to have placed any priority on the development of its web-based products. Thus, YouTube, Flickr, iLike, DIGG, Facebook have taken Apple’s lunch and created multi-million dollar properties that should have been created by Apple. As an Apple shareholder I worry about all this income that Apple has left on the table and about the long-term consequences for an Apple that is hemmed in by these social networks. And even at a more mundane level – in 2007 you still cannot put an event on your Apple calendar by using a browser! At this point, the competition in Web 2.0 is so strong that it will take a drastic takeover for Apple to turn itself around on this front. Its been 3-4 years now and everything I have seen from Apple suggests that they just don’t care about social networking. My only hope is that they are seeing something that I am not.
What if Steve Job is a Japanese and lives in Japan?
[psm] Then their holographic video conferencing is better than I thought.
Well, sounds like Apple still remains behind the curve on social networking (see recent article below).
In the spirit of Peter’s comments, I for one want a Contacts icon on my iPhone (like on the iPod Touch–but with a nicer non-crud brown icon) just to find PEOPLE first, method second!!
I don’t want to have to always go through my “Phone” icon and menus to get to someone I may choose to text, email, call or eventually MMS or IM if Apple ever gets themselves together.
Also, Address Book on the Mac needs a complete overhaul. It’s an oversimplified pain. It can only look up one record at a time, makes you hit edit again and again if you make changed to multiple records. And it also needs a multi-category function for classifying your contacts (Friend, Work, Friend AND work, new category, etc.)
And for Smart Contact Lists, the iPhone needs to be able to take a revised Contact entry and automatically put it in the appropriate Smart Contact List if it meets that lists requirements. It’s just generating an “on the go playlist” only this time is a “playlist” of contacts. The metaphor and the solution are the same as with music on the iPod.
Let’s see some innovation and simplicity based on how people WANT to interact. It’s about people, not about methods. Facebook is great. Love it, though it’s overly simplified on the phone right now. More things like it. Great AIM and MMS functionality are essential to add!
Former staffer: Apple currently averse to social apps, blogs
[psm]Totally agree. Apple is pretty week on these practical, corporate-oriented functions. I’m seriously considering switching to Outlook 2003 on Fusion as a principal communication platform, now that VMWare Fusion has iPhone sync capability in 1.1.1 (supposedly).
Ok, smart guy! You have said what you wanted, and by your words, if you were Steve Jobs, I can conclude that the iPhone would be, not the device of the year, but the device of the century twenty one.
Now, can you imagine the impact that the integration of iPhone technology into the MacBook Pro would have on the computer industry? —Just imagine a MacBook Pro without the regular keyboard and with multiple virtual keyboards, speakers on the sides of the screen, two microphones and two sight cameras (one one each side…) also on the sides of the screen… Just imagine moving all the folders and files icons from the screen to that virtual keyboard surface and leaving the whole screen for computing work… Of course, about that you you have never thougt, but Mr. Steve Jobs knows all that, I am absolutely sure. Do you know why? —Sorry, I´m not going to tell you,,,
Of cours that all that stuff you talked about can be included on that big machine!
[PSM] Not sure what your point is. As for your vague notion of a futuristic desktop, I’d be happy if there was simply a decent native email client.
Peter, I think the problem is that you see the world as “on it’s course” and that trying to influence the course is a deplorably bad idea. Steve Jobs is an entrepreneur like you, but unlike you, he’s not wanting to ride every wave of newest trend set by your 8 year old and his/her peers. now some of your ideas in this article are truly great, but some of them just buy into the trend(s) of a 21C world without even asking how legitimate those trends are. you’re right that people are more likely to update a blog or wiki than to phone their friends about something…but that’s not a good thing in my mind. we’re becoming more daft and ineloquent with every chat/blog acronym that we create. and don’t get me started on youtube comments. anyone that posts or reads youtube comments is guaranteed to be spending too much time watching other peoples’ home movies. so in a nutshell, the best new product is not the one that mimics the MOST trends of an evolving culture…rather, it’s the one that integrates the BEST trends. obviously, no single person has the authority within themselves to determine the best trends, but they can take a gander at it with the way engineer their product. THIS is what i think Steve Jobs is so brilliant at…he’s not halting cultural ingenuity and progress – he’s steering it, with his specific vision for a high-tech world.
[PSM] I see your point, but I disagree. Obviously I’m not saying you should put in the kitchen sink of social networking features, and indeed some of the current “trends” are more fads. But I don’t think Apple’s decision to leave out social networking as a concept in the iPhone was a deliberate omission based on a superior vision of the future. As I argued in the posting, I think it’s a generational issue.
While I agree with some of what you say, I don’t think Apple missed the boat on social networking. First, people are already getting fed up with some of what social networking has to offer. I don’t know too many people who would want any random iPhone user to be able to locate them and send them messages. The only users for this would be teenagers. And even then, most teenagers only want people to know what they want them to know. They like to create a persona and let everyone see that persona. They want to leave a message or away message telling people what they want them to hear and know. “out and about” or “around” or “at the bar” They do not want people to be able to see that they’re at the coffee shop down the street. That’s just asking for stalkers. Even people that they know. If they wanted you to come to the coffee shop, then they’ll tell you that’s where they are. This is why Twitter is lost on the younger crowd. It’s too real. Social networking websites are about a facade that people put up.
On top of all this, from my experience, most iPhone users are not teenagers tooling around. They are adults, tech geeks, and those who always want the latest and greatest. Adults don’t need social networking. They need it to function well. Tech geeks and the rest will move on to the next big thing shortly after. Apple just needs to provide the hardware and the basic software. Adding java would be nice. More memory. A 3g model in the U.S. would be nice. And eventually opening the iPhone up to the the rest of the wireless community would be nice. If a customer wants social networking let them add an external app. Someone will develop one that can do all of the above. For everyone else, Apple should focus on what’s really important. They may not have the perfect product, but they’re on the right track. The Blackberry beware.
[PSM] You could have said the same thing about iPods originally – that Adults don’t go around listening to music. No, they didn’t, not before the iPod. But with the iPod, they did. They same will happen when a truly great social networking device comes out. But the iPhone wasn’t it.
I was reading this essay about the killer app on iphone and tried to think of something that would be that “killer app”. Maybe social networking is that thing.
[PSM] Perhaps. Or (hopefully) something new entirely. The iPhone platform is more open and capable than any broadly available mobile platform, so I expect to see interesting things.
Alot of bloggers aren’t very happy with the new iPad.There was just 2 much hype regarding it and lots of blogers got turned off.Thing is, I can actually see great deal of the awesome potential of this gizmo. Third-party soft for composing music, games, papers and magazine and books, all kinds of neat stuff, but they just didn’t really sell it properly (excluding the books). It smells kinda unfinished