Zeke Weeks

Web {Developer, Strategist, Native}

Tag Archives: iPhone

My iPhone 4S reaction

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Having watched the iPhone 4S announcement, it’s clear to me that Apple is unmatched in overall phone quality for most people: designing everything from the processor silicon, to the camera lens, to the app ecosystem puts them in a class of their own.

The only hope for competitors to make a better phone is to concentrate on niche markets: Geeks who want full control of their phones have the Google Nexus line. Some will swear by their physical keyboards, integration with proprietary cloud apps, or their enterprise-secured OS.

But if your needs are like those of most of us, no matter your budget, there is nothing out there that, on a whole, beats an iPhone.

(Before anyone accuses me of fanboy bias: this post was written from an Android phone, and I have no idea what I will buy next. I’m in that geek niche where there is still a heated competition.)

The press embargo for iPhone 4 reviews is over. Engadget, who does a pretty good job of objectively reviewing devices, has a very thorough iPhone 4 review. I’m surprised by just how positive this review is – Apple must have really hit it out of the park this time. Editor-in-Chief Joshua Topolsky went as far as to write:

“We can’t overstate how high-end the design of the iPhone 4 is. The 3GS now feels cheap and chubby by comparison, and even a phone like the HTC Droid Incredible — which just came out — seems last-generation.”

Way to twist the knife, Topolsky. I feel like I’m missing out now with my 2 month old Incredible. (I keep telling myself, “I went with Android for the software, I went for the software…” It doesn’t help.)

Apple’s iOS Development Manifesto: Are They Afraid of Android?

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This caught my eye- Apple has released a new video featuring the full gamut of iPhone and iPad application developers, from tiny shops to tech startups to media giants. While I think it’s overall not too remarkable – merely an ad presenting the strengths of Apple’s development platform for mobile devices – I do think it very clearly presents Apple’s approach to the mobile market.

Seeing this video makes me wonder about Apple’s competitive strategy in the quickly evolving mobile device markets. In 2007, they forced the lazy rulers of the cellphone market to start innovating again – and now they’ve finally caught up and started producing high-quality phones, some of whose features apply to many niches better than the “one-size-fits-all” iPhone. Though not #1 in smartphone share, iOS (previously called iPhone OS) certainly dominates among those using their phones for more than SMS and e-mail. But has domination ever been Apple’s strategy? Since Jobs’ return to Apple, the company has shown no ambition to kill the competition; I think they in fact benefit from having competing products around to make the case of Apple products’ superiority. And while the iPhone and iPod certainly lead in their markets, OS X certainly doesn’t – and the three use Apple’s same approach to producing highly-polished combinations of hardware and software.

I’ve maintained that 2010 would be the year of the Android phone, and I think that so far things are turning out that way. Not in terms of an “iPhone killer,” but in terms of a serious competitor. The growth of Android devices, market share, and applications have all exploded, and the Android Marketplace is quickly evolving from a ragtag group of ugly tech utilities to genuinely amazing ones that contend with some of the best iPhone apps. I wonder how Apple views Android now, especially in the light of this video, which takes several shots at perceived downsides to the Android platform. It’s certainly true that today, iOS delivers the biggest return on investment for development work. But where will things go in the future? There are some critical differences in the platforms which affect their potential:

  • Apple’s AT&T exclusivity in the US
  • Approach to usability: Apple picks form & ease of use; Android says, “why not have an annoying menu button if it gives you access to a bunch more features?”
  • Android’s double-edged differentiation sword: can better target various niches, but also introduces fragmentation and compatibility concerns for developers
  • OEM and Developer innovation: On Android, new features can be created just about anywhere, anytime; iOS waits for others to innovate and then introduces a way to “do it right”

I don’t think most of these things are “X is better than Y” values but inherent differences in the appeal of different platforms. As an owner of both kinds of devices, I think we’re going to see Android push smartphone penetration to all kinds of new market segments, and be the new platform for innovation. I see iOS as a major player for the long term, though probably not hanging on to its current dominance of high-end smartphones. There’s plenty of room for both moving ahead, and the only thing that’s certain is that everyone gets more options in their search for the device that best meets their needs.

iPhone Dual Boot with Android Working

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David Wong, better known as “planetbeing” of the iPhone Dev Team which produces jailbreak after jailbreak, uploaded this video detailing his rather mature port of Android OS to dual boot natively on the original iPhone:

Video link

This port, while not mature enough for most people to start relying upon it for their everyday use, is an incredible achievement that has the potential to tangibly change the face of tomorrow’s smartphone market.

Don’t get me wrong: dual booting iPhone OS and Android offers pretty much nothing to the everyday consumer. Even for gadget geeks like myself, its added utility will be nothing more than a cheap trick for showing  people 2 OSes, 1 Phone. (Sorry.) But what makes this important is that soon, developers will only have to have one device to develop for both iPhone and Android platforms. And many developers already own the device needed to do so.

This might possibly be a catalyst for even more development on the Android platform, as it will become available to millions of devices that are already in users’ hands. If it catches on, I think we’ll start seeing a much more mature Android Marketplace and a lot more small shops developing dual-platform applications.

This still has a good ways to go before it’s a useful solution:

  • This port isn’t of the recent Android 2.0 or even 2.1 releases- rather a 9-month old one.
  • It only runs on the original iPhone, with a small user base. planetbeing says porting to the much more popular 3G should be easier, and the 3GS with more work.
  • It isn’t a fully-customized port; button functions have funky mappings and it needs to be better integrated to the hardware to become useful.

Overall, planetbeing has done an incredibly impressive job with his port, and I’m surprised this was even remotely possible, much less such a functional port.

planetbeing has hosted the initial pre-built images and source here. Check out his post for more information, and give him a donation if you’re someone who stands to find this port useful.

What iPhone OS 4 means to everyone

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Today Apple announced their latest revision to iPhone OS, the mobile computing platform behind the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. iPhone OS is running on over 85 million devices, so it’s a pretty big deal. I don’t want to waste my breath repeating every announced feature, so I’ll just refer you over to Engadget’s excellent summary of it all.

This will be the fourth major release in four years for Apple. But for the first time, this release seems to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. Overall, I think Apple is trying to keep up in feature parity with this year’s huge new threat from Android devices. That competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Apple has a long history of waiting to enter a market and then turn it upside down and shake all the customers out of the competition’s pockets. (See: iPod, iPhone, possibly iPad.) But I think OS 4 in specific brings up some new issues for everyone who has a reason to care about mobile computing.

Innovators & Developers

What worries me most is Apple’s approach to allowing background tasks to run. Instead of implementing real multitasking in the same way desktop computers do, where every program stays running and can request CPU resources at any time, they have created seven services to allow specific actions to run in the background: audio, VoIP, geolocation, push notifications, local notifications, task completion, and fast app switching (which isn’t really a service, but the new behavior of “sleeping” rather than quitting an application.) Yes, this allows for a lot more functionality in apps while addressing a lot of the problems inherent in allowing multitasking on a mobile device. But why it’s interesting, and in my opinion not so great, is because it limits ways developers can innovate and make the next “killer app.” It’s like Apple said, “What can’t people do without multitasking?” (Or more likely, “What is Android doing now that we can’t?”) and then put out specific fixes for those existing use cases. Yes, users will soon be able to leave Pandora or Skype running in the background. But guess what? You don’t work for Pandora or Skype, and you probably don’t want to compete with them. This is a stop-gap reaction to current iPhone deficiencies instead of a new platform upon which innovators can make the Next Big Thing. I’m not saying iPhone OS multitasking itself is a bad feature; I’m saying that the platform is restricted to moving in directions chosen by Apple instead of letting developers take the helm. My bet is that we’ll see killer apps continue to be more functional on Android before they get “backported” to iPhone versions.

Another disturbing revelation is Apple’s banning of tools that allow applications to be developed with other platforms and then cross-compiled to run as native iPhone apps. MonoTouch allows iPhone apps to be written in .NET, and later this month Flash CS5 will add iPhone support as well. The new terms:

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

I believe this crosses the line and is textbook anticompetitive behavior. It’s one thing to say your OS will only run Objective-C apps. It’s another thing to say that your Objective-C can’t have been created by certain tools. I’ll leave it at that because John Gruber already has a thorough analysis of this issue.

Consumers

Customers can look forward to yet another great evolution in one of the best – if not the best – mobile platforms. The new features keep up to par with all the new Android phones while still beating them on ease of use. If Apple’s track record continues this year, there will be a whole lot more for consumers to be excited about when new iPhones are announced this summer.

The Competition

  • Android (Google): Android’s key differentiators are gone, except for Google integration and the open development model. Google had better hope the iPhone stays exclusive to AT&T. If Android doesn’t keep up on performance and improve the user experience, fighting the iPhone will get a lot harder this year. Potential game changer: open app marketplace yields a killer app unavailable on the iPhone.
  • Windows Phone 7: iPhone OS adds better and better enterprise features with every release. Trying to convert to the same business model as the iPhone is a fatal mistake. Microsoft needs to kill WinMo 7 and buy RIM or Palm if they have any will to survive in this space.

Cell Phone Carriers

Skype has an amazing iPhone app. It will soon be running all the time and will let people make and receive unlimited calls for free. AT&T has already changed its mind and decided to allow unlimited VoIP traffic on their cellular data networks. The days of bundling tiered voice plans to smartphones are numbered.

Me

This just further intensifies the smartphone identity crisis I’ve been going through all year. As a consumer, I feel like I’ll be very happy buying an Android phone or a new iPhone later this year, as both serve my needs so well. Apple still creates a better holistic product due to their vertical control of the whole experience. But at the same time, my long bet is on Android’s success as an open platform. The feature parity is so ridiculous now that I’ll be mostly considering non-OS aspects to make my purchase, like network providers, hardware features and build quality.

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