In the mobile research report we’re doing for the eLearning Guild, we’ve been debating the relative merits of the new iPhone from Apple. I’ve already talked about it, but the discussion that’s been of interest is how the iPhone is a fundamental switch. And the point that my colleagues are making is that it’s no longer a device, it’s a platform.
The distinction is that you can change the software, and make it a different device. You can load software to do maps, stocks, weather, and there’re web apps that can deliver custom applications. It’s got a general purpose (read: touch) interface, a real operating system (OS), and a way to load new software on to it.
And I agree that a platform is a fundamental switch. It’s what the computer really is, a platform, the ultimate customizable environment. Phones with some pre-selected capabilities, rich as those capabilities may be, are not platforms. So, for instance, the Blackberry, with its limited 3rd party market, isn’t really a platform. I’ve been frustrated that the iPod, with all its ubiquity, isn’t a platform. Apple controls it too tightly, and only applications meeting their determination of appropriateness are available.
My reaction to my colleagues viewpoint is two-fold. The iPhone is not yet a platform, and there are existing platforms already.
First, the iPhone is not yet open. Apple’s not controlling it as badly as they have the iPod, but currently the only way to get third party-capability is through web applications. That’s not effective where I am now, 35K feet in the air. Steve Jobs has promised he’s working on a solution, and that will change the game if indeed they do produce a way. I understand Apple’s desire to control the quality to ensure a great customer experience, but it’s a tradeoff. As of now, however, it’s not a platform.
That’s why I’m still with another, earlier platform. The Treo not only has a general purpose interface (keyboard, jog-dial, and touchscreen), but is open to 3rd party development, allowing you to find apps to do almost anything, or create your own (ok, if you can program). Yes, the OS is old, not multi-tasking.
Windows Mobile is a platform as well, supported on another wide variety of devices, also with general-purpose interfaces, and a somewhat more modern OS (though also the inherent Windows problems…).
So, I’m eagerly awaiting my chance to get an iPhone, but it’s not time yet. We’ll see if they solve some basic capability issues, and open it up. I can always upgrade to a newer Treo…