Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

18 July 2007

A platform for dissension

Clark @ 7:47 PM

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…


  1. Clark,

    I’m one of your colleagues.

    But I’m not one that sees it as a platform. The thing that truly amazes me is how good the browser experience is. I’m able to do REAL work and interact with website that have not been optimized in any way to perform on a small screen. Jeez, I can even get into obscure corners of the Guild’s web site and this certainly was not designed with a small screen in mind.

    So, where are we today. I can access lots of web sites. I cannot, however, run Flash-based apps. I expect that will be happen sooner than Apple creating a developers kit and an open API.

    So, when will there be a developers kit and an API…?

    Somebody has to show Steve Jobs that he’ll make more money by opening up the iPhone to third-party developers. This means that either

    1) Somebody shows Jobs that they will sell millions of units they would not have sold if they open the thing up; or,
    2) Apple’s competitors come up with something really compelling (and it sure ain’t a Treo) that has an API and which allows the creation of third-party apps.

    In the first case, the driver is “do this and you will sell more units.”
    In the second case, the driver is “if you don’t do this you will sell fewer units because sales will go to your competitors.”

    There’s a third factor. If Apple opens up the iPhone they will want to make money from developers that are riding on their train, so to speak. My guess is that they will charge developers some type of reasonable run-time fee.

    In any case, as of this second the iPhone can do some incredible things to help people perform better. With Flash support, it will be better yet.


    Comment by Steve Wexler — 19 July 2007 @ 6:22 PM

  2. Steve, agreed the browser is the best yet on a smartphone, and when it has Flash, it’ll support the best web productivity yet. But before you diss the Treo too bad, I’ll say that I’ll put my Treo up againts my best effort to outfit an iPhone, for my needs, I’ll still be more productive with my Treo (admittedly, for now). You can’t control a PPT with an iPhone, you can’t transfer notes between a laptop and an iPhone (in any meaningful way, and attaching them to contacts is NOT a meaningful way), you can’t check the Bart schedule (in the air), you can’t keep secure passwords, you can’t even cut and paste. Note that I fully expect the iPhone, with it’s software upgrade capability, Apple’s drive for aesthetic interaction, and commercial pressures, to solve the problems I cite.

    And I’m totally in lust with almost all of the user experience. Yesterday, two well-known eLearning experts were discussing how they went to Apple stores to switch to a Mac and talked about the horribly arrogant people they encountered which led them to stick to their PCs (sigh). And then they couldn’t take their mitts off of another colleague’s iPhone.

    I’ll get one, I reckon, but I’m not to the point where I have to have it, and it’s about functionality. Flash will help, but there’s still more. And I do expect it to get solved.

    Comment by Clark — 20 July 2007 @ 3:42 AM

  3. Apple doesn’t throw out life-changing experiences on a whim the way MS tries too. The single greatest surprise for me is that I’m actually using it as an iPod, Phone, email, address book, and more. My Treo was supposed to do all of the that but it was a nightmare to get it to work. The Treo had the added benefit of shutting itself down in the heat, which in AZ is a bad thing.
    Check out getleaflet.com to see that, yes, in fact, the iPhone can be a platform. Google did some quick recoding of its apps to work with the iphone. They did a great job. Google Reader rocks on the iphone, sucked on the Treo. Is it perfect, no. But all of the things I use a mobile device for actually WORK on the iphone…and beautifully I might add. Its easy to bash the iphone for one thing or another but the basics work flawlessly and I can’t say that for any other technology maker.
    For many people waiting is a good idea if there is one particular feature that you absolutely must have. And that’s okay. But there is more going on with the iPhone than many understand and you just can’t understand it if you don’t have one in your hand.

    I’m sorry to hear that people trying to switch are being turned off by arrogant sales people. Perhaps if they bought their first online, they could avoid that. The new MacBook Pros are awesome, and you can’t go wrong with an iMac.


    Comment by Brent Schlenker — 20 July 2007 @ 10:20 AM

  4. Brent, Sorry to hear re: your Treo experiences, but many did (or do) share my ‘out of my cold dead hands’ attitude towards how it makes us more productive. It ‘just works’ for me.

    I agreed that the iPhone is a platform, just not the first. I don’t get the getleaflet.com reference, I confess.

    The iPhone doesn’t do all *I* do (and I’ll agree that’s probably a ‘yet’), and that may well be the difference: different functionality needs. I didn’t try to listen to music on my Treo, nor do I have an iPod (I do have my CD collection in iTunes, but I’m not one of those with my head in music all the time). But I cut/copy/paste stuff, I use my Treo to control my presentations, and I very much use Notes (aka Memos) between my laptop and smartphone. I’ve had my mitts on an iPhone now, and I’m truly wowed by the experience, but not yet the functionality.

    Overall, I think we agree. And yes, the MacBook Pro *is* awesome (he ways, writing on one ;).

    Comment by Clark — 21 July 2007 @ 9:19 AM

  5. I had a typo in that link. Getleaflets.com has aggregated some very cool Safari web sites (or should I say apps) that are optimized for the iPhone experience. You don’t even realize that you are in a browser…its very cool.
    I don’t believe the iPhone was initially targeted at the Treo and Blackberry users. Its something totally different than either device. If you have gotten those devices to work in your life then I wouldn’t recommend throwing away that investment of time and money. I’ve told many people whos habits I’m familiar with NOT to get the iPhone. Its simply not ready for them yet. The iPhone is for the rest of us who were not able to get other devices to work into our daily lives.
    The iPhone does all of the little things that my Treo couldn’t do…or let’s just say not without a lot of monkeying around.
    I used to be a PC zealot because I liked to tinker. Now I’m finding that I’m too old to care about how it works and I just want it to work.
    I’m glad the Treo works for you. Like I said, it is a very cool tool if you can get it too work.

    Comment by Brent Schlenker — 23 July 2007 @ 6:13 PM

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