Saturday, July 28, 2007

Apple: Open Your iPhone

by Tim Bajarin - eSeminars

The term "platform" is often used in tech circles to represent everything—a new device, an OS, or even a software application environment. It's tossed around lightly, but it's an important concept—one used by our industry when developing and explaining technological roadmaps.
The granddaddy of platforms for the PC industry was the personal computer itself. To be more specific, it was the IBM PC and the clones that followed.

If you are an industry history buff, you know that when IBM decided to produce its personal computer back in 1981, the company created it, for the most part, from off-the-shelf components. And by going with Microsoft's MS DOS operating system, which included developers' tools for creating applications, IBM developed what was to become the most successful technology platform of the last 50 years.

Of course, IBM never dreamed that there would be a "clone" market, or it might have developed its PC within a more proprietary environment in order to gain royalties from licensed clones. Interestingly, around the end of the 1980s, IBM tried to create a proprietary PC called the PS/2, and it lobbied hard to get the industry to back it. But in one of the more courageous moves in our industry's history, some clone makers—including Rod Canion, then CEO of Compaq Computer—said no to IBM, and as a result, the IBM PC remained a broad open platform.

This broad open platform has done wonders for the PC industry, as it became a rich palette where third-party software developers could create and innovate. In the early days, these folks gave us WordStar, Lotus 1,2,3, and, eventually, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Office, and thousands of other useful applications that were based on those industry standards. Thanks to top-notch developers' tools that can be applied to these open platforms, developers continue to surprise us with new products and applications.

There have been other successful computing platforms as well. Microsoft's Windows OS is another environment in which developers can create applications that span dozens of user categories. And Linux has rapidly developed into another successful platform that is being used for all types of creative applications and purposes. The Web itself has become one of the most important development platforms of all time.

The platforms mentioned above have one common denominator: They are based on industry standards. These resulting products have helped spawn the sales of close to 300 million PCs every year. And if you take this example even further, the various cell phones on the market today, though not as open as the original PC, still center on mainstream industry standards. These standards attract third-party developers who create useful applications and have contributed to the industry's success—last year, more than 800 million cell phones were sold. —next: Fulfilling the iPhone's Potential >

Apple's iPhone is clearly an outstanding device, combining phone, music, video, and Web capabilities. Look more closely and you'll realize that it's really a miniature Mac in your pocket. It's a personal computer in its own right. By no means is it an open platform in the same way as the original IBM PC was. But it is based on many industry-standard technologies. If viewed as a platform, it has the potential of being a blockbuster hit for both Apple and the industry.

For the iPhone to reach its full potential, I believe Apple needs to open it up for native software support in the same way that the company allows third-party developers to create native applications for the Mac platform. Apple has resisted because, as it has told us repeatedly, it was concerned about maintaining a level of software consistency and security for the iPhone. Okay, I buy that, and I believe that was probably a wise decision.

To be fair, there is a way for third-party developers to support the iPhone via the Safari Web browser and the apps created within this Web environment. But I am talking about being able to create apps such as the YouTube or the Google Maps apps that are on the iPhone today and are an integral part of its experience.

Using open platforms based on industry standards is critical for any company that wants to sell millions of devices. I do not expect Apple to open the iPhone at the hardware and OS level, since it wants to prevent iPhone clones. But I do believe that it needs to open this area of native software applications.

Apple has hinted that opening the iPhone to third-party native apps is under consideration. After using the iPhone for a couple of weeks—and really enjoying the few native apps that are on it—I am convinced that moving in this direction will be critical for its future success. The iPhone has the potential to develop into one of the more interesting technology platforms of this century.





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