iPhone: Practically Speaking

Written by: Alex Curtis

Categories: Editorial

I know Adam isn’t the biggest fan of the concept the rumored Apple iPhone. So, instead of talking about rumors, let us leave them aside for a moment and practically consider a scenario where Apple were to sell a mobile phone.

The “I wish Apple would make a” Syndrome

The consumer expectations bar is always high for Apple. The general public looks to it as a problem solver. Apple is a leader in thinking through technical tasks and making them easy for everyone. That’s why we’re always hearing: “I wish Apple would make a …”. And when I say Apple, I think much of the credit goes to Steve Jobs, who is nothing if not a perfectionist, and we’re all beneficiaries of it.

Apple’s ability for making things easy is much needed in the mobile phone arena. Consider the iPod—the now ubiquitous five year old digital walkman. Think of of getting music onto a portable digital player before iTunes and the iPod. Apple made the process of ripping a CD (and now downloading it online) to a computer, connecting a device, transferring the music, and easily listening to it on an iPod, an absolute breeze. Apple’s “making things easy” approach is much needed in the smart phones market—especially for the non-tech-savvy consumer.

Just like the iPod five short years, Apple took a market that was very complex and made it simple—and is now the dominant market player for the mobile media device. I believe in the exact same way that the mobile phone market (especially smart phones) is ripe for Apple’s picking.

Realistic Predictions

First off, I think everyone would agree that an Apple branded phone would have to be more than a typical mobile phone with iTunes. It’s prior collaboration with Motorola on the ROKR, and iTunes enabled SLVR and RAZR was fine for playing your iTunes music on a mobile phone, but I think we’re all looking for more, here.

An Apple phone must be better integrated with iTunes and Mac OS X. Yes, we have iSync, but its spotty compatibility with your typical mobile would have to be spot-on for Apple’s own phone.

Since iTunes 7.0, we’ve seen more complete device integration in the app itself, instead of in iSync. It makes sense because it gives the consumer one place to conduct all their syncing needs. For the iPod, it makes the most sense to put this synchronization in iTunes because that’s where all the media is—but you also have your Address Book and iCal syncing thrown in. Keeping device syncing features in iTunes also enables Apple to extend the features to other OSs, like Windows. Expect to see this same iTunes device management for an Apple phone—there’s even evidence of such integration in the error codes of iTunes 7.0 .

I don’t think that Apple would build such a device from the bottom-up. The iPod is essentially a play-back only device-—and an amazingly ergonomic and well designed one at that. But it’s all about data retrieval (music, photos, video, contacts, calendar) not data entry or creation. On a mobile phone, as a base, Apple would start with iPod functionality, add making calls, texting, emailing, adding phone numbers, gaming, surfing the net, taking photos, etc. There’s a lot more work that goes into a mobile phone than an iPod, which is why I don’t predict Apple would invest the time to engineer a mobile OS from the ground up.

Instead, I believe Apple would pick from an existing platform. They’ve done this repeatedly before. Two major examples that come to mind are: Mac OS X is built on NeXT which is built on Unix; and Safari is built on khtml from the KDE project. An existing mobile phone platform must be robust enough for current iPod functionality—playing music, H.264 videos, and games, while adding advanced contact management, Internet applications, and file browsing. It will need to be powerful and flexible enough to enable major GUI changes—as no current mobile phone interface is intuitive. Lastly, they would want a platform that has an existing base of developers.

I don’t believe the platform will be Microsoft Windows Mobile based because there’s too much rivalry between Apple and Microsoft—after all Apple didn’t choose Windows to underpin their new OS or Internet Explorer for their new web browser. Linux is an options, but from all reports, the mobile phone versions just aren’t ready for prime-time. No, I believe Apple will choose a powerful third party platform for which they’ve already ported and developed—-Symbian S60.

Yes, Apple has helped develop for the S60 platform-—the S60’s browser is based on Safari and khtml. It’s a great mobile browser, providing a lot more functionality than the often touted Opera Mobile does.

As a plus, S60 already has built-in support for OS X’s iSync. It works well with iCal for events and to-dos, and it even brings over your Address Book contacts’ mug-shots—all functionality rarely seen consistently on other mobile phones in the market.

Apple will do more than add themes to an existing interface. I believe that they might use the S60’s supported Adobe Flash to create their own intuitive interface. Additionally, they already have experience with the S60 platform—which would leverage their existing assets. Developers are already writing apps for the S60 platform as it is, so it would be easy to get them onboard as well.

The S60 platform gives Apple the ability to hit the ground running in the mobile market, and the flexibility to create the iPhone as they see fit. I’ve essentially talked about software because I think sky’s the limit on hardware when you have a designer like Jonathan Ive.

But that’s just my two cents. What do you think?

There are 9 comments on iPhone: Practically Speaking:

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  1. Bruce | Oct 27 2006 - 10:21

    I’m excited for Apple to make a mobile phone, but I could really care less about it being a multimedia device. iTunes compatibility is only cool if I can use any song I choose as a ring tone. Other than that, I have no use for music on my cell phone.

    Taking pictures with a cell phone is an ok feature, but I’d honestly rather use my digital camera.

    Let’s not even talk about video on a mobile phone. I’m still getting use to the small iPod screen.

    If Apple makes a cell phone, I want it to be pretty basic customizable wallpapers, ringtones, bluetooth, text messaging and not much else. What I think consumers want is ease of use. Intuitive feel. A cell phone that makes using it a pleasure. That equals user interface and design more than multiple features that most don’t use.

    Maybe it’s best if Apple makes two phones. A basic, straightforwars phone in addition to a smart phone for the more techie crowd. Somehow I think they will sell more of the basic phone.

  2. Craig | Oct 27 2006 - 11:52

    ^I completely agree.

    I’m going to be buying the new Motorola Krzr in a few weeks. I like the Krzr because of its tiny size, the look, and bluetooth. That’s all I want. My iPod nano and digital camera do the rest, much better than any phone on the market.

  3. Dave | Oct 27 2006 - 03:14

    I was recently thinking about getting a Motorola RAZR, but I only really want because it can play MP3’s as ringtones. Which my Sony Ericsson T637 cannot, my Sony is also a camera phone, I don’t use that part, because of the poor quality camera. The phone itself is really small (thankfully its got bluetooth) and no dedicated talk/end buttons, which I sometimes find annoying.

    I’m hoping Apple will come up with a solution that is easier and intuitive to use than many of today’s phone as far a interface goes. I want something that I don’t have to hunt for various functions that are buried deep in menus on most phones, an iSight quality camera might not hurt either. I’m still trying to figure out how to save phone numbers on the fly with my Sony. :-|

  4. Joe | Oct 27 2006 - 03:52

    I’m almost willing to bet Apple spends zero on R&D. Why should they when they can go to sites like this one and not only find out what we want but why and how.

  5. BruceG | Oct 27 2006 - 08:04

    Thanks Alex for a really thoughtful and informative article.

    I agree with the one or two previous comments re. a simple to use; not too many frills but elegant phone in the Apple design mode.

    By the way, check out David Pogue’s take on the new Samsung/Bang and Olufsen mobile phone in this past Thursday’s N.Y. Times Circuits section.

    This is an amazing device only for the Rolex crowd — it retails for over $1200.00 would you believe!

    For those who are in the dark about the Bang and Olufsen corp. — it is a Danish electronics company known for its pricey but distinctly designed — like Apple — audio and video equipment. They also produce really distinctive cordless phones.

  6. JB | Oct 28 2006 - 12:59

    Yeah i would also love a simple (GSM) phone that i could swap my SIM card in when i didnt want to carry my bulky blackberry after i was done work for the day or on the weekends

  7. EddieRanu | Oct 29 2006 - 10:38

    I’m holding out for an iPhone, must stop reading those apple rumour sites!

    As with most people here, I’d be after a minimum of features, say:
    -iTunes intergration
    -iCal integration
    -Address book integration

    Okay, so that’s looking like quite a few features, but here’s things my current phone has that i don’t want / use:
    -Web browser
    -Email facility
    -Voice recorder
    -Push to talk
    -Countdown timer!

    I hope Mr Jobs is reading this :)

  8. Gus Miller | Oct 29 2006 - 08:56


    You have a very good basis here – making lists is one of the best ways to start something, and in this case, revise something.

    I have a Motorola SLVR, and it does so many ridiculous things that I would never use, and probably some things I don’t even know exist!

    I very much like iTunes. Auto-filling it and listning to it on the go is fun, especially when you don’t know what’s on it, and then using shuffle. This would be a must-have.

    On the other hand, there are a lot of other things I can do without – for instance, I could definitely live without games and an intrusive “Buy stuff now!” scheme (Ex. Media lists’ first item is without fail an advertising trap that often launches the web browser when accidentally selected and proceeds to download hefty image-ridden pages and eat into the cell phone bill with high data charges – Ugh!).

    Overall, I could deal with a stripped-down phone for calls and text messages only. Even axing the calendar would be fine, because picking through a tiny little month diagram is difficult for me – why not use paper and pencil?

    Now that my rant is done, I can safely say that I would be happy with just about anything Apple puts out. No definite prerequisites, just that it does what it does well, and that it looks half way decent (and doesn’t have a dang shiny metal back on it!)

    By the way: Good job on the article, Alex. Keep posting. : )

  9. mit | Nov 02 2006 - 12:19

    I got a Slvr a while back and even though I own several ipods I must say that having that ability to just keep the headphones on while recieving a call and then switching back to The Shins is really great.

    At first I didn’t use the itunes alot (I bought the phone for the design – despite the ui) but I’ve found that carrying around 1 device is alot easier than 2.

    I was one of the “I really don’t need music on my phone! I’ve got 4 ipods!” type but I have to say it’s been very nice. Now I pretty much leave the ipod’s at home and update it frequently.

    For me getting out of this rediculas motorola ui is what makes me the most excited. They may be able to make great feeling hardware, but their software is painful!