Category Archives: iphone

iPhone

What will the iPhone on Verizon look like?

Well, it finally happened – after many years of speculation on when AT&T’s exclusivity on the iPhone would end, Verizon announced yesterday that they would be carrying the iPhone 4 starting next month. There are some slight feature differences between the iPhone 4 on the two networks:

  • Verizon’s iPhone will offer wifi hotspot functionality, to go with it’s solid wireless network and lower dropped call rate
  • AT&T’s iPhone will still allow users to talk and surf simultaneously on a faster (i.e. data transfer) network.

But the big story here is not on feature differences. It is about how the iPhone reach will expand now that it is on the two biggest wireless networks in the U.S. And how Android will be impacted. To date, Android has been Verizon’s answer to the iPhone and they’ve sold a ton of Android devices on their network. But now that Verizon will carry the device they have competed against for the past few years, what will happen to Android’s market share here in the U.S.? I think we’ll see it dip a bit, but the fact that it is still carried on all four U.S. wireless networks (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile) will keep it big.

I think Verizon’s plan to carry the iPhone will accelerate Android filling in the low-cost smartphone market. The iPhone is a premium product that the carriers pay large subsidies on, eating a lot of up front costs when a customer subscribes to an iPhone and voice/data plan. But Android devices, based on the free OS, cost much less for a carrier to offer and allows them to bring the price down into the sub-$100 range. Whereas as recent as last year the majority of phones sold in the U.S. were inexpensive “feature phones” that lacked many smartphone features such as large touchscreens and app downloading, moving forward we will see the smartphone filling that role, with Android (and perhaps other players such as Windows Phone and Blackberry) capturing much of the sub-$100 market and Apple filling the $100-$300 range. Apple will have competition for sure – Android, Windows Phone, HP (with WebOS) and others will fight for this territory too – but this will be the market that Apple will continue to dominate for the foreseeable future.

As with many consumer electronics products, there are magical psychological divides when someone purchases a phone: $0-$99 is a set range that many people will only spend in, whereas $100+ connotes more of a premium mobile experience. Soon that premium mobile experience will be the norm – a good smartphone can and will be had by all.

AT&T Mark the Spot app

Makes me feel a little better about AT&T – their latest (only?) app allows iPhone users to quickly tag and submit areas of poor coverage. User location data is submitted, aggregated and hopefully used to improve the network.

A good deal for AT&T – crowdsourced network troubleshooting. One problem: as you are trying to mark a spot that has poor coverage, you need network connectivity to submit your location. At least they are trying (while shaking in their boots as the iPhone/AT&T exclusivity comes to an end soon.)

Background Location-Based Services on iPhone?

loopt screenshot

loopt

To date the iphone has only allowed certain built-in Apple apps to run in the background – mail and messaging for example – that basically listen for new events to come through and update you in real time. Apple doesn’t allow third-party apps to run background processes – basically when you quit the app it is completely closed.

A big area where this lack of background processes is problematic is location-based services (LBS). If an app like Maps can’t run in the background, it can’t receive notifications as the user changes location. So even though the iPhone has the ability to know where you are at any given time via built in GPS, apps can’t take advantage of this information until you actually start an app. What that means is that cool services like being notified when you are near othe people or places doesn’t happen automatically – you have to intentionally have to check.

The social networking app Loopt, with the help of AT&T has somehow gotten around this problem. For $4/month you will be able to have background location enabled – for the Loopt application that is. So basically this will enable the iPhone to update the users’ location information even when the Loopt app proper isn’t running. That’s cool, but I say a) this functionality should be available to any developer building an LBS-based app, and b) it should be free.  There are rumors that Apple may provide such an option in a future OS update, but for now they are tightly controlling this access.

Other mobile OS’s such as Android and Palm’s WebOS provide this ability built-in.  This is one differentiator to makes me less of a fan of the iPhone OS and more open to moving to one of these other platforms. But it is clear that Apple has the capability to make this happen, so maybe they are just holding back and slowly releasing this functionality on a limited basis.  Either way, background LBS-based services, especially tied to social networking apps, is going to become more and more ubiquitous and important on mobile.  This IS one of the key differentiators between the mobile device and a desktop computer – it should be wildly taken advantage of.

Where are the Killer Apps?

…on the iPhone. Or should I say, where is the killer functionality? Since the announcement of the iPhone apps store on July 11th, I’ve spent around $40-$50 on apps, and have “researched” many, many more (amazing how you can kill a few evenings looking at app descriptions and screenshots.) In the app store there are tons of games, cool “show off” apps, some productivity and information apps, and some interesting social media tools. Like I said,  I have downloaded many of these and tested them out. I can’t say that I’ve hit them all (there is something like a few thousand up now.) But so far, very few are standing out for me as being must haves.

I really like some of the IM apps, particularly Palringo. I also really like Pandora and AOL Radio for streaming internet radio. And the News Reader RSS app is pretty sweet. But in all of these cases, there is no way to run the app in the background like you can on your desktop computer. This is a big deal, especially in terms of what I like to call the “flow” of the device – the multitasking and switching between apps that make for a fluid mobile experience. Not being able to run apps in the background may not  sound like a big deal, but it really is. Let me explain…

With instant messaging it is important to have a persistent “on” state so your status is visible, you can receive messages, etc.  However, all of the iPhone IM apps shut down as soon as I want to do something else on the device like check my calendar, look something up on the internet, or take a call. And when the app shuts down, any conversations end – just like you went offline. Apple does have a “notification” solution coming in September which will allow indicators to be sent to your device in the background – you can see if someone sent you a message and then open the app to start the conversation. But somehow this seems to put a dent in the user experience of the app. Blackberries and T-Mobile Sidekicks have several options for good instant messaging experiences, all of which run in the background so you feel connected. Pandora and AOL Radio have amazing interfaces, great quality sound, and key functionality. But the fact that I can’t use either of these in the background while doing other tasks also dents the experience (it is interesting though that the iPod part of the iPhone can run in the background). Even the Palm Treo allows for playing internet radio in the background. 

This “not-able-to-run-in-the-background” extends to other apps as well. In particular, RSS newsreaders benefit greatly by being able to download content in the background so that it is ready to go when you open the app. Not on the iPhone – when the app opens it makes a call for data. And you wait. Again, it might not seem like a big deal, but all of these usability hits add up to a less than optimal user experience. If you’ve used an RSS newsreader on your desktop or even Blackberry device, you know how responsive this type of app can be. And you’d also know that the content is available to read offline – say on the airplane or in the subway.

As the “mobile experience” is continually being defined through the plethora of devices, interfaces, and standards, it is important to always be thinking about the overall user experience and to try to leverage the technology where possible. There are many places where focusing on the overall user experience pays high dividends. Mobile device usability is defined by many factors, all of which need to add up to more than just the individual parts. By paying attention to the details, we create a better user experience. 

So maybe Apple’s upcoming notification system will do a good job bringing back some of the usability we’ve come to expect in our desktop machines.  So maybe it is not so much about where are the killer apps, but rather where is the killer functionality that will lead to the killer app. Do location services run in the background – does the iphone “know” where it is even when you don’t have Google Maps open? However, even though the upcoming iPhone OS update (2.1) will include notifications for non-running apps, we will still be limited by the extended functionality/user experience by not allowing multiple apps to run concurrently. It is interesting though that many of the built-in Apple apps can do this – you can play the iPod while using Safari. Mail “listens” for new messages and downloads them even when the app isn’t open. Perhaps Apple will start to let up on the constraints of what apps can run when and we’ll start to see/hear an improvement in the overall iPhone experience…