David Pogue’s column, NY Times March 13, 2008
Before you start reading this, a word of warning: this column is about the iPhone. If you’re one of those people who are sick and tired of hearing about the iPhone, then scroll on while you still can.
Then again, if you’re one of those people, you’ve got much bigger problems than this column. Maybe you’d better take six months off to explore the Serengeti. That’s because last week, Apple announced iPhone 2.0. It’s not a new phone model (although that will be coming this year, too)—it’s new software for the existing phone. And in my considered opinion, it will be an even bigger deal than the iPhone itself.
The new software, slated for the end of June, will have two parts. First, it will tap into Microsoft Exchange, the e-mail distribution system used by hundreds of thousands of corporations. You’ll get “push” e-mail, meaning that messages appear in real time on your iPhone. And when anybody changes your calendar or address book on your computer at work, your iPhone will be automatically, wirelessly updated, wherever you happen to be.
All of this is already on the BlackBerry, which is Apple’s obvious target here. Without an actual keyboard, the iPhone won’t kill off the BlackBerry entirely (although I do like the way the on-screen keyboard forces iPhone people to be super-concise). But it will carve away a certain chunk of the BlackBerry’s market. The big knife is Part 2 of iPhone 2.0. That’s the SDK—the Software Development Kit—which Apple has released in beta-test form. The idea here is that any programmer can now write software for the iPhone. Not illicit, hacky apps like people have been writing so far, but authorized, tested, legitimate software, much of it free, that can tap into all the features of the iPhone.
There’s a video of Steve Jobs’s announcement.-thirds of the way into it, you can see demos of five iPhone programs that software companies came up with when given two weeks with the SDK. There was an AIM chat program, a sales-force automation tool, and so on, all good-looking and natural-feeling on the touch screen. And there was an Electronic Arts game that exploits the iPhone’s accelerometers, which detect how you’re tilting the iPhone in any dimension; in this game, you navigate the 3-D world by tipping the iPhone forward, back, left, right, up or down.
I can’t tell you how huge this is going to be. There will be thousands of iPhone programs, covering every possible interest. The iPhone will be valuable for far more than simple communications tasks; it will be the first widespread pocket desktop computer. You’re witnessing the birth of a third major computer platform: Windows, Mac OS X, iPhone.
Sure, there are add-on programs for the Treo, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile. But they’ll never achieve the ubiquity or popularity of iPhone apps, because Apple will preinstall the iPhone Apps Store right on every phone. That’s an online catalog of iPhone programs, which you can browse, download and install wirelessly, wherever you happen to be. That’s several thousand fewer barriers and steps than you’d encounter on the other smartphone platforms. That, and the fact that the iPhone is already the second most popular smartphone (after the BlackBerry), spells good things for the success of this initiative.
Software companies and programmers can charge anything they like for their programs—Apple keeps 30 percent of each sale—but I expect many or most of the apps will be free.
The one thing that raised my eyebrows, though, is that Apple intends to be the exclusive source of all iPhone apps. You won’t be able to get iPhone add-ons from the usual shareware sites like Downloads.com, Shareware.com or VersionTracker.com, or even from the developers’ own Web sites. (Or, rather, you will, but you probably won’t be able to do that effortless wireless finding-and-installing thing.) Once again, Apple is doing things its own way, tradition be damned.
On the plus side, this arrangement means that Apple is responsible for approving the quality and safety of each program you install. It also means that it’s easy to find some program you’ve read about, since there’s only one place to look. And I’m guessing that Apple will make paying for the for-fee programs effortless, like clicking BUY SONG on the iTunes store—even fewer barriers to entry.
All of this, of course, will have the side effect of enriching Apple; Apple’s shrewd that way. But aside from the usual Apple-bashers online, nobody will mind. The release of iPhone 2.0 is over three months away, but I’ll stick my neck out and make a prediction: it will be a gigantic success, spreading the iPhone’s popularity both upward, into the corporate market, and downward, into the hands of the masses. iPhone 2.0 will turn this phone into an engineering tool, a game console, a free-calls Skype phone, a business tool, a dating service, an e-book reader, a chat room, a database, an Etch-a-Sketch…and that’s on Day One.
In short, it’s not going to be a pleasant summer for people who are sick of hearing about the iPhone.