Apple Rocks the Mobile World

by Russ Jones on March 6, 2008

in Apple, iPhone, Mobile Technology, Russ Jones

Russ Jones - Glenbrook Partners

Apple announced their much anticipated software roadmap for the iPhone today, with a surprising (to me anyway) two-pronged push. I was waiting for the iPhone SDK announcement, but this turned out to be a bit more than I was expecting!

The first of the two initiatives will evolve the iPhone to better fit into the enterprise — with lots of Microsoft Exchange Server compatibility, better security, VPN support, etc. This should help drive corporate adoption when it’s fully deployed and create a bigger footprint in the market for third-party, iPhone-based applications.

For third-party applications, the second initiative is a full developer’s program for native applications on the iPhone. It includes a robust SDK (more on this below), along with the surprise introduction of the iPhone App Store. The iPhone App Store will be integrated into iTunes and will be the exclusive way to distribute third-party iPhone applications.

Interestingly, Apple is doing a 70/30 revenue share with developers. Third parties develop, certify, and set the price for their applications. Apple handles distribution, all payments processing, etc. in exchange for keeping 30% of the revenue.

Full details for both programs are featured on the Apple iPhone website.

In the Q&A after the launch, Apple CEO Steve Jobs clarified that Apple would not block native VoIP apps if they are using WiFi for connectivity, but would (for now) block VoIP over wireless carriers. This policy, along with the SDK, opens the iPhone up for WiFi-based phone applications. It also further underscores the importance of the iPod Touch. I like to think of the iPod Touch is a lower-cost, thinner iPhone that is unencumbered by the “value-added” wireless carrier stuff.

On to the developers kit. The iPhone SDK provides developers with everything they need to develop network accessible, inside-the-phone applications. It includes APIs to the full touch-screen user interface, the in-phone address book, the built-in camera, and the accelerometer. There is also an embedded SQL database inside the iPhone that is available to developers. And, an iPhone simulator that runs on your Mac.

The accelerometer tells applications how the iPhone is positioned and moving in three-dimensional space. Developers can use this an another input so that a hand gesture to the right, might mean page forward. In Google Maps, for example, it might mean that tilting the phone to the left, means scroll the map left, tilting it forward means scroll up, etc. I find this personally interesting, as I think mapping is one of the killer application areas of the last three years. Oh, access to the accelerometer will also be big in the game space.

Here’s how I see today’s iPhone announcements potentially fitting with financial services companies. I expect to see all of the major mobile banking startups rushing to embrace the iPhone. I can’t imagine a single one of these vendors saying they aren’t going to provide native support for the iPhone. Who knows, with the built-in iPhone camera, somewhere in our future there might even be a remote deposit capture application that turns the iPhone into an little ATM machine.

For eCommerce merchants, there is probably enough functionality here to support an in-phone wallet, although it’s not clear how they might exploit that at checkout. We’ll need to understand a lot more about how native iPhone apps can interact with the browser. Or more precisely, how payment-enabled pages inside the iPhone browser can interact with the native apps.

In the physical world of retailing, camera support again could be interesting if it can be tied to bar code scanning and various online product databases. I could see a shopping assistant that archives a breadcrumb trail of every product you look at on a Saturday while you’re out and about, along with the ability to buy now or buy later under various scenarios.

It’s also worth thinking about all of the “shopping” widgets that have been developed for the Mac OS/X dashboard. It seems to me that dashboard widgets should come over to the iPhone pretty easily, and come over in droves. And it’s worth remembering that many of these shopping widgets interact with Amazon web services.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the potential implications.

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