iPhone: What Else Might Be In Store?

January 10, 2007

Yesterday’s announcement by CEO Steve Jobs of the company’s iPhone somehow managed to live up the hype preceding its release. This is remarkable, considering the fever pitch of rumors and speculation about its features, pricing, and “Cool Factor” so rampant over the past several months. Apple needed to knock the world off its collective feet with the device to avoid a denouement of a product announcement, and they delivered. The announced feature set is already well-traveled on the Internet, so the focus of this column will turn to the exciting road ahead for Apple, the iPhone, and its soon to be users.

First, let’s address the foundation of the device, which provides some guidance in determining what can realistically be done. While Apple has not (to my knowledge) announced the processor architecture of the iPhone, we do know it runs on a modified version of Apple’s desktop and server platform, OS X. Kinda UNIX and BSD under the hood, and the heavyweight champion of the world in user interface, OS X is a mature platform that has proven scalability and reliability. Just how close the iPhone’s version is (at the core) to the desktop version remains to be seen, but it presents to awesomely intriguing possibilities for software development. Apple is set to release DashCode, its so-easy-to-use-even-your-mom-can-do-it custom widget builder with its next desktop release (code named Leopard) sometime this year. It’s no stretch at all to imagine DashCode bundled with the iPhone so users can customize their mobile experience like NEVER before. And as long as the core of OS X is there, how hard can it be for developers to give us other third party apps? How cool would a remote desktop client or a Keynote/PowerPoint player be? Google Earth iPhone Edition?

Another clue Apple gave us is the integration of Google Maps. Complete with directions and satellite imagery, it’ll make for a sweet addition to the iPhone as it is. But why stop there? My HP iPAQ 6515 has a built-in GPS receiver, and it’s over a year old. The iPhone begs for a Google Maps/GPS integration that not only shows you where your destination is, but tells you how to get there–even if you don’t know where you are.

Finally (for now), Jobs noted in his presentation that voice is the killer app. for this market. More than just stating the obvious, he was making the point that voice conversations are the market driver for this sector, and that devices should make the experience simple, even elegant. So what about a voice interface that senses the switch from GSM/EDGE to Wi-Fi, and routes the calls on the Internet using a SIP interface. This could be transparent to the user, with the exception of a possible visual indicator on the iPhone so the user knows not to walk out and hop on a bus in the middle of such a call. A big-league feature this would be for users, especially businesses and other organizations paying for multiple wireless voice plans.

At first glance such a feature would seem like a horrible deal for Cingular, the iPhone’s lone carrier. But let’s not forget Cingular’s place as an elder sibling in the larger AT&T family. Yeah, the same AT&T that offers CallVantage broadband voice service. All the components are out there, waiting for convergence, and the advantages aren’t just in cost savings. Wi-Fi in many homes and offices far exceeds the signal strength of Cingular wireless connections, so a carefully executed implementation on this front could result a more satisfied AT&T and Apple customer. No one has to lose.

It’s important to note that the demonstrations we’ve seen of the iPhone show a curiously odd “empty space” available for more applications on the Home screen, so its rather riskless to anticipate even more features announced by the secretive Apple empire before the iPhone’s availability in June. I can’t wait to get my hands on one, and will be watching for any further feature announcements like a hawk in the meantime.

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