Saturday, March 15, 2008

Hello BlackBerry, Meet the iPhone

The iPhone comes of age ...

"Before you start reading this, a word of warning: this column is about the iPhone. If you’re one of those people who are sick and tired of hearing about the iPhone, then scroll on while you still can.

Then again, if you’re one of those people, you’ve got much bigger problems than this column. Maybe you’d better take six months off to explore the Serengeti.

That’s because last week, Apple announced iPhone 2.0. It’s not a new phone model (although that will be coming this year, too)—it’s new software for the existing phone. And in my considered opinion, it will be an even bigger deal than the iPhone itself.

The new software, slated for the end of June, will have two parts. First, it will tap into Microsoft Exchange, the e-mail distribution system used by hundreds of thousands of corporations. You’ll get “push” e-mail, meaning that messages appear in real time on your iPhone. And when anybody changes your calendar or address book on your computer at work, your iPhone will be automatically, wirelessly updated, wherever you happen to be.

All of this is already on the BlackBerry, which is Apple’s obvious target here. Without an actual keyboard, the iPhone won’t kill off the BlackBerry entirely (although I do like the way the on-screen keyboard forces iPhone people to be super-concise). But it will carve away a certain chunk of the BlackBerry’s market.

The big knife is Part 2 of iPhone 2.0. That’s the SDK—the Software Development Kit—which Apple has released in beta-test form. The idea here is that any programmer can now write software for the iPhone. Not illicit, hacky apps like people have been writing so far, but authorized, tested, legitimate software, much of it free, that can tap into all the features of the iPhone.

There’s a video of Steve Jobs’s announcement.

About two-thirds of the way into it, you can see demos of five iPhone programs that software companies came up with when given two weeks with the SDK. There was an AIM chat program, a sales-force automation tool, and so on, all good-looking and natural-feeling on the touch screen. And there was an Electronic Arts game that exploits the iPhone’s accelerometers, which detect how you’re tilting the iPhone in any dimension; in this game, you navigate the 3-D world by tipping the iPhone forward, back, left, right, up or down.

I can’t tell you how huge this is going to be. There will be thousands of iPhone programs, covering every possible interest. The iPhone will be valuable for far more than simple communications tasks; it will be the first widespread pocket desktop computer. You’re witnessing the birth of a third major computer platform: Windows, Mac OS X, iPhone."    (Continued via New York Times)    [Usability Resources]

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