Touch Thoughts: Apple's Handheld Strategy

I’m still on the RDF.
Apple‘s March 6, 2008 event was about enterprise and development support for its iPhone and iPod touch lines of handheld devices. Lots to think about.

(For convenience’s sake, I’ll lump together the iPod touch and the iPhone under the name “Touch,” which seems consistent with Apple’s “Cocoa Touch.”)

Been reading a fair bit about this event. Interesting reactions across the board.

My own thoughts on the whole thing.
I appreciate the fact that Phil Schiller began the “enterprise” section of the event with comments about a university. Though universities need not be run like profit-hungry corporations, linking Apple’s long-standing educational focus with its newly invigorated enterprise focus makes sense. And I had a brief drift-off moment as I was thinking about Touch products in educational contexts.

I’m surprised at how enthusiastic I get about the enterprise features. Suddenly, I can see Microsoft’s Exchange make sense.

I get the clear impression that even more things will come into place at the end of June than has been said by Apple. Possibly new Touch models or lines. Probably the famous 3G iPhone. Apple-released apps. Renewed emphasis on server technology (XServe, Mac OS X Server, XSan…). New home WiFi products (AirPort, Time Capsule, Apple TV…). New partnerships. Cool VC-funded startups. New features on the less aptly named “iTunes” store.

Though it was obvious already, the accelerometer is an important feature. It seems especially well-adapted to games and casual gamers like myself are likely to enjoy games this feature makes possible. It can also lead to very interesting applications. In fact, the “Etch and Sketch” demo was rather convincing as a display of some core Touch features. These are exactly the features which help sell products.
Actually, I enjoyed the “wow factor” of the event’s demos. I’m convinced that it will energize developers and administrators, whether or not they plan on using Touch products. Some components of Apple’s Touch strategy are exciting enough that the more problematic aspects of this strategy may matter a bit less. Those of us dreaming about Android, OpenMoko, or even a revived NewtonOS can still find things to get inspired by in Apple’s roadmap.

What’s to come, apart from what was announced? No idea. But I do daydream about all of this.
I’m especially interested in the idea of Apple Touch as “mainstream, WiFi, mobile platform.” There’s a lot of potential for Apple-designed, WiFi-enabled handhelds. Whether or not they include a cellphone.
At this point, Apple only makes five models of Touch products: three iPod touches and two iPhones. Flash memory is the main differentiating factor within a line. It makes it relatively easy to decide which device to get but some product diversity could be interesting. While some people expect/hope that Apple will release radically new form factors for Touch devices (e.g., a tablet subnotebook), it’s quite likely that other features will help distinguish Apple’s Touch hardware.
Among features I’d like to get through software, add-ons, or included in a Touch product? Number of things, some alluded to in the “categories” for this post. Some of these I had already posted.

  • Quality audio recording (to make it the ideal fieldwork audio tool).
  • eBook support (to compete with Amazon’s Kindle).
  • Voice support (including continuous dictation, voice interface…).
  • Enhanced support for podcasting (interacting with podcasts, sending audio/video responses…)
  • Video conferencing (been thinking about this for a while).
  • GPS (location will be big).
  • Mesh networking (a neat feature of OLPC’s XO).
  • Mobile WiMAX (unlikely, but it could be neat).
  • Battery pack (especially for long trips in remote regions).
  • Add-on flash memory (unlikely, but it could be useful, especially for backup).
  • Offline storage of online content (likely, but worth noting).
  • Inexpensive model (especially for “emerging markets”).
  • Access to 3G data networks without cellular “voice plan” (unlikely, but worth a shot).
  • Alternative input methods (MessagEase, Graffiti, adaptive keyboard, speech recognition…).
  • Use as Mac OS X “host” (kind of like a user partition).
  • Bluetooth/WiFi data transfer (no need for cables and docks).
  • MacBook Touch (unlikely, especially with MacBook Air, but it could be fun).
  • Automatic cell to VoIP-over-WiFi switching (saving cell minutes).

Of course, there are many obvious ones which will likely be implemented in software. I’m already impressed by the Omni Group’s pledge to develop a Touch version of their flagship GTD app.

9 thoughts on “Touch Thoughts: Apple's Handheld Strategy”

  1. Sérieusement, le iPhone pourrait tellement être un cheval de troie pour inciter certains développeurs à faire des applications Mac; surtout au niveau des jeux. Si l’appareil devient une plateforme viable pour les jeux, et que les développeurs doivent se procurer un Mac pour réaliser une application iPhone, et que la façon d’y parvenir est sensiblement la même que pour réaliser une application Mac (Xcode), ils ne pourront pas utiliser comme excuse qu’ils ignorent la plateforme et ne veulent pas investir sur celle-ci…

    Quand je pense à la rumeur d’un Safari pad, ça peut venir accentuer la stratégie… Non?

    (ou l’art de parler de d’autre chose dans une autre langue dans tes commentaires)

  2. Bien d’accord avec toi, Laurent. Et j’y ai pensé aussi. C’est une stratégie assez limpide et… honnête. Le coup du «deux semaines de développement pour ma première expérience Mac», c’est du génie. C’est très «démo», mais c’est convaincant. Et XCode semble suffisamment confortable un environnement que les codeurs risquent d’y prendre goût.
    Ça reste très Apple comme stratégie (outils propriétaires, restrictions sur le développement, programme payant pour les développeurs), mais ça peut fonctionner, surtout pendant une période où Vista donne pas tout ce que les gens veulent. Il y a déjà plusieurs Alpha Geeks sur Mac OS X, des projets intéressants à droite et à gauche… En fait, même le modèle de distribution est pas trop stupide. C’est un modèle parmi d’autres mais c’est vraiment une façon d’emmener un public près des produits. Ça fait penser à CD Baby sur iTunes. (Plutôt qu’aux podcasts sur iTunes, ce à quoi beaucoup aimeraient comparer l’App Store dans le cas dles applis gratuites).
    J’ai bien hâte de voir ce que ça va donner. Pour une Safari Pad, si jamais, mais aussi pour Apple TV et autres appareils du genre.
    Maintenant, si je pouvais simplement avoir un iPod touch…

  3. “Video conferencing (been thinking about this for a while).”
    yeah but quality video communication between Mac and pc with ichat is still a distant dream. I use combination of skype and for bridging this video streamings as my clients do use all kinda OS from Ubuntu, mac to pc so its not good to take any kinda chances with confidential exchanges.

  4. @Nick Even between PCs, it can be an issue. Maybe those Touch devices could eventually solve this problem. At least, between similarly equipped Touch devices.
    Haven’t used it so much but iChat between Macs seems to work rather well. So, if there were an iChat/Skype videoconference client on everyone’s handhelds, the issue would be somewhat moot.

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