Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What we want from the iPhone SDK: A buyer's perspective

What would it take for a prospective iPhone buyer to take the plunge? Matthew Ruiz discusses what could finally push him over the fence.

With the iPhone SDK-related announcement scheduled for this week, we here at infoSync World decided to take a stab at what kinds of programs and applications we'd like to see come of the release of the Software Development Kit.

As a currently iPhone-less AT&T customer, I've wrestled with the decision to buy or not to buy for months, and figure to do so until the second iteration of the iPhone is released. There are a few problems I have with the current iPhone that are deal-breakers, and many of these could possibly be rectified by the release of the SDK.

Exchange ActiveSync

As a tech journalist who lives and dies by his smartphone, the most glaring omission from the iPhone's feature set is support for Exchange ActiveSync. Most business users will have at least a fleeting familiarity with this; if you're a paralegal and get pushed an e-mail at 11pm on a Friday night telling you to go back into the office to make photocopies, chances are that email is hosted on an Exchange server.

Why is this important? Because Exchange does more than just push e-mail. It also syncs your contacts, calendar, notes and tasks. This means when you punch in the phone number and e-mail address of company rep you met into your smartphone, it is automatically saved to the server, and appears everywhere you need it. We're hoping that when the kit is released, it will come alongside a way to integrate Exchange support for the iPhones contacts, e-mail and calendar.

Adobe Flash

Probably the most anticipated possible SDK application is a flash player. More than just embedded YouTube videos, countless Web sites use Flash players for showcasing their content, and some Web sites are even completely reliant on Flash. While Apple loves to show you how awesome the New York Times home page looks in Safari, the fact that there are plenty of commonly-used Web sites that rely on Flash makes Apple's claim of "the real Internet" seem a bit silly.

So what's holding the iPhone back from being the be-all-end-all of mobile Web browsing? Well, Mr. Jobs, for one. Dow Jones recently ran a story reporting Jobs' comments on Adobe's versions of Flash player, in which he whines that Adobe hasn't created a new player that is tailored for his device. He says he wants something better than the mobile flash player Adobe currently makes, but the iPhone's hardware isn't fast enough to keep up with the full-featured player. "There's this missing product in the middle," Jobs said.

So, how about an end run around Apple? Opera, a browser that has done well on multiple platforms with full-fledged desktop, mobile and mini versions, could possibly take advantage of Jobs' resistance to Adobe's current player. Were they to release a multi-touch browser with Adobe's mobile flash player before Apple, they could dig a larger foothold into the market and finally become a household name.


With the increasing speeds of HSDPA and EV-DO wireless data services, file-sharing protocols like BitTorrent are becoming a viable option. Before the RIAA and MPAA start screaming, think of what the implementation of BitTorrent could mean for iPhone customers and developers. BitTorrent is the most efficient and socialistic way to distribute digital content on the Web. Rather than forcing the content distributor to act as the host for all the data and provider of all the bandwidth, BitTorrent shares the burden. This means that small startups can reach millions of users without having to incur massive bandwidth costs. In turn, this means your favorite band can release their latest video online on their home computer and have it on a million iPhones before the day is over. The possibilities are endless, although it benefits the little guy a lot more than large corporations.

Of course, even though the iPhone comes with an unlimited data plan, "unlimited" always means "as much as we think you need." It might take some re-thinking of price models on the carriers' part, but we don't think Bittorrent capabilities are necessarily unreasonable.

File browsing

Something as simple as a file manager would seem to be standard on a phone that is basically a small computer, but currently the iPhone restricts the way you manage files on the device. For example, were you to decide you want to take along a word document (say, your latest term paper or legal document), you would need to e-mail it to your iPhone, and open it from within the Mail app. Considering the iPhone is already a 16GB flash drive, it seems silly to require users to find loopholes to access files they want on their device.

This is especially troubling for two reasons. For one, Windows Mobile has an extremely functional file manager that allows access to anything on the phone's internal and external memory. For another, because Apple's Spotlight and Finder applications on Macintosh OS X are so user-friendly, intuitive and powerful, it seems silly not to incorporate one of the OS' best tools into the new platform.


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