Saturday, March 08, 2008

How Apple Just Made All Other Mobile Platforms Irrelevant by Blake Spot

I was recently discussing all that has happened with the iPhone in the past week with Arn over at MacRumors. It's pretty amazing to think about, really.

RIM, the "smartphone" industry, the PDA industry, and the handheld gaming industry just got served by Apple.

The iPhone has been out for just eight months now and has already captured 28% of the US smartphone market share (second only to RIM). It already offers, hands-down, the best web browsing experience of any such device and packs a revolutionary interface through which the whole iTunes experience can accessed anywhere, on the go. And that's not to mention e-mail, rich mapping, YouTube -- the list goes on.

But that's really nothing compared to what's coming in June: the iPhone 2.0 update. This free update will bring with it a host of enhancements that will turn the iPhone into the platform for the casual user, the enterprise, and the mobile gamer. Make no mistake -- this is a certainty. Let me explain.

The casual user: The iPhone 2.0 update will enable users to access the iTunes App Store through which third-party applications (many of them free of charge) can be wirelessly downloaded and installed on the device. Simple, elegant. On Thursday, Apple released the iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK) as a free download for anyone that has a desire to create native iPhone applications. It includes an updated version of Apple's Xcode -- the most advanced development suite available for any platform today, that is able to compile native iPhone executables and run them in the included iPhone simulator. All the power and ease of use that Mac OS X developers have been enjoying for years is now available to would-be iPhone developers. Given that there are already over 1,000 iPhone Web Apps out there, the number of developers that are drooling, as I type this, at the prospect of creating far more powerful and responsive native iPhone applications is immense. And so will be the number of apps available when the 2.0 update lands.

The enterprise user: While the iPhone is exceptional for the web and offers flexible and powerful email capabilities, it currently lacks certain key capabilities that make RIM's BlackBerry a much more compelling communications device for business. With iPhone 2.0, Apple has brought this all to the iPhone.

* Push email

* Push calendar
* Push contacts
* Global address list
* Cisco IPsec VPN
* Certificates and Identities
* WPA2 / 802.1x
* Enforced security policies
* Device configuration
* Remote wipe
* Active Sync and Microsoft Exchange support

With all of these in place, there will no longer be reason for enterprise users to be forced to endure the BlackBerry's limitations in the name of dependence upon its particular strengths. And let's not ignore the fact that a notable portion of the many native, third-party iPhone applications under development are geared towards the enterprise.

The mobile gamer: The Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS are the only platforms of note for gaming on the go. They're great devices with a huge number of excellent titles for each. The PSP is notable for its high resolution screen and powerful chipset while the DS is praised for its innovative touch-screen interface. How can a phone compete with these platforms when it comes to quality games? Games on phones suck, right? Let's take a look at a few basic specs of these devices.

* Sony PSP

o Processor: MIPS CPU @ 222 or 333MHz (selectable)
o Screen: 480x272 pixels
o Input: D-pad, analog stick

* Nintendo DS

o Processor: two ARM CPUs (67MHz and 33MHz)
o Screen: two 256x192 pixel screens
o Input: D-pad, touch-screen

* iPhone

o Processor: ARM CPU @ 620MHz
o Screen: 480x320 pixels
o Input: multitouch, accelerometer

Surprised? The iPhone has the highest resolution screen of the lot, a CPU that runs at nearly twice the clockspeed of the PSP's, and an input system consisting of multitouch combined with accelerometers that can take the sort of truly innovative game titles that the DS's touch display has brought to a whole new level. What's more, the iPhone's chipset features "powerful acceleration for embedded 3D-graphics" accessible through OpenGL and Apple's Core Animation technologies, all part of the iPhone OS. It's an extremely solid gaming platform, evidenced by the fact that in just two weeks time EA ported its much anticipated title Spore to the iPhone while SEGA did the same with its hit Super Monkey Ball -- and both developers were new to Xcode and the iPhone development environment. SEGA in particular was surprised at the ease of development and power of the iPhone, calling the experience of gaming on the device "console gaming." Smartphone gaming, this is not.

And all of the above applies to the lower-priced iPod touch, as well (with a small fee attached to the forthcoming 2.0 update).

There are over four million iPhones out there presently and Apple is shooting for 10 million units sold by the end of this year -- and don't forget about the 3G iPhones that are just months away. When you think about those numbers and what Apple's announcements this week will do to enrich the platform, it becomes clear that the iPhone is absolutely the mobile platform of relevance in this crowded market. Why would developers choose to expend energies on other less broad, less powerful, less standards-based platforms? Why would users look to any other device?

When Steve Jobs took the stage in January of last year to unveil the iPhone, he told us that it was every bit as revolutionary a moment in technology as the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984. Looking at where this platform is clearly headed, I'm here to tell you...he was right.

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