Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Meaning of iPhone, Part II

This is where it get provocative:

  1. iPhone uses the mobile network as a backstop. The real action will happen on iChat, over WiFi. The iPhone platform is sure to be used in iPods that don't have a mobile phone radio in them. But those iPods will have WiFi, and they will be communications devices as well as media players. Communication will be an Apple product, but not the way the mobile network operators would prefer. iPhone is turning mobile service into the dial-up modem of the 21st century. The mobile carriers have been quarantined into providing switched circuit voice service in the iPhone, and left out of iPhone's commerce and higher-value communications.
  2. iPhone is an embarrassment to 3G. iPhone isn't selling music over 3G. Unless there is some unforeseen disaster in iTunes sales because people can't buy music while driving, iPhone will show up 3G data service as not having found an application. The premier mobile media commerce channel brushes off 3G as unnecessary in a mobile product, and the network operator accedes to this decision. Verizon turned down iPhone, and Cingular snagged a long term of exclusivity, so it's also a missed opportunity for EVDO and MediaFLO.
  3. J2ME is a ghetto for low-rent games. Too limited. Too security obsessed. Too much rigmarole to install and manage applications. Too fragmented to support applications that have a lifecycle. What could have been done in J2ME will be done in widgets or Cocoa (or in Symbian-native apps on Nokia handsets, or in .NET Compact Framework on Windows Mobile devices). However, most mobile applications will be AJAX running in full-featured embedded browsers. Java on devices? Make it Java SE on Linux, which is a fine alternative to .NET and Cocoa, is needed for applet support (dirty little secret: some of the best “AJAX” is actually applets), or fuggedaboudit.
How can the Empire strike back? By being more communications-centric than Apple. Apple can't be overtaken in mobile media, and despite Jobs's silver-tongued oratory about phone calls being the “killer-app,” GSM switched circuit calls are more like the filler app with no new capabilities. The mobile industry needs to turn that around.

The communications part of mobile telephony can be made more valuable and more powerful:
  1. Presence is the killer feature of IMS. Presence that is standardized and that interoperates across service providers.
  2. The user interface should have presence at the center, not off in a cheesy push-to-talk application written by a 3rd party and with a UI that looks like a programmer drew it with a crayon.
  3. Presence is common to mobile and Internet communication. Make something out of that fact that makes users go “oooooooh!”
  4. Real-time and messaging are a continuum. Push-to-talk is the bridge.
  5. All messaging is the same – to the user. Break down the protocol-based silos.
  6. Find applications and lead experiences outside of mobile media: Enterprise integration, social networks, etc. Don't bang your head against iTunes.
By incorporating the above principles into mobile devices, the mobile network operators can bridge the distance between mobile and Internet communication and they can own the bridge by adding value.

The mission for the mobile industry is to add value to communication. That's easy and natural in IP media, and anyone can create a new application. If comparable natural flows among modes of communication are available on mobile devices, users will go with mobile networks for their pervasive coverage. Blending the mobile network's pervasive availability with Internet applications captures the best of both worlds.

IMS both creates opportunities but it presents a potential blind alley, too: IMS makes mobile presence-based applications, like PoC and instant messaging interoperable and standardized, but it also plays the siren song of “service creation” - a blizzard of new services that won't add much value and that will confuse users. Stay away from things that duplicate a Web service using IMS.

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