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.
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 donâ€™t think that Apple would build such a device from the bottom-up. The iPod is essentially a play-back only device-â€”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 donâ€™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 theyâ€™ve already ported and developedâ€”-Symbian S60.
Yes, Apple has helped develop for the S60 platform-â€”the S60â€™s browser is based on Safari and khtml. Itâ€™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 Xâ€™s iSync. It works well with iCal for events and to-dos, and it even brings over your Address Book contactsâ€™ 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 S60â€™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?