It is now several days pass the announcement of Apple’s iPhone software roadmap. We are now firmly far enough away from the reality distortion field we can take stock of what it means and the possible ramifications. John Doerr certainly thinks that the iPhone is the next coming. And I am inclined to agree but I shall come back to my reasoning later on in the post.
The presentation came in two parts; the enterprise features and the SDK. I’ll consider each as both have different effects.
The enterprise features are aimed at the heart of RIM. Not only has Apple targeted the BlackBerry handsets but RIM’s whole push technology revenue. It is a classic pincer strategy and strangely enough not one that I’ve seen discussed much. By using ActiveSync Apple removes the intermediate steps of the RIM server and NOC. This will be cheaper for enterprises wanting to deploy push email and potentially more reliable, an issue that RIM has struggled with in the last 6 months.
Apple has created a viable alternative to RIM push email technology that is going to have a lower total cost of ownership. The software update is not going to be deployed until June 2008 so I expect that the update will include many other improvements to the iPhone that will make it even harder for RIM. I am interested in whether Apple will work with Google and Yahoo to bring push to the companies’ webmail. In particular push integration of Google Apps would almost make the iPhone a no-brainer for small to medium enterprises.
RIM has six months in which to respond and come up with a strategy to counter Apple. Steady as she goes is not a viable long term strategy. One possible idea is to give the RIM server software away for free/open source it and focus on providing maintenance contracts to enterprises looking for them. But it is not all plain sailing for RIM (and all the other handset manufacturers) as Apple not only announced the enterprise features but more importantly announced the SDK.
The enterprise features were about selling more iPhones and increasing access to the enterprise. The SDK is about changing the world. The SDK unlocks the power of the iPhone and turns it into a comprehensive mobile computing platform. John Doerr stated it was the third platform and I agree. Does it replace the other two platforms? Not at all. Instead it complements the other two platforms to create ubiquitous computing. Now we have the mobile platform with the computing platform and the cloud platform.
The SDK provides a little something for everyone. For enterprises it allows mobile versions of enterprise applications (ERP, CRM, SCM etc). More importantly the native applications will support offline processing allowing users to continue using the applications when not in range of large of large bandwidth connections. It also allows the applications to send only the necessary data (sync) between the central application and the iPhone version increasing the essential mobility of the platform.
For games developers it provides a mobile gaming console that with the mult-touch interface and 3D accelerometer and high resolution screen offers new gaming styles and game play. The Wii is a demonstration of how a change in interacting with a game opens up new game play. Perhaps the largest stumbling block will be Apple’s historical indifference to games on their platforms. Take a logical step further the iPhone could become a very interesting Wii-like controller for Mac based games. Imagine playing id’s Rage using the iPhone to steer and fire.
Application developers will be able to create applications and mobile versions of their applications that address specific computing needs when mobile. These applications will often be compliments of desktop and web applications. The inclusion of SQLite will do a lot to reduce the issues surrounding EDGE and intermittent connection.
Like a butterfly flapping their wings only to create a storm, the true impact of the iPhone mobile computing platform is unpredictable. Like Jason said, this will play out over the next two decades. Not having “social” mentioned is hardly a reason to doubt the impact of the iPhone as Fred Wilson does. The point is the SDK is about the how of mobile computing not the what. The what is left up to the developers and users.
All that can be said for sure is how we think about computing and its involvement in our lives is going to radically change just as the PC platform and the Internet Platform changed computing before.