I’m going to make a bold statement here. I’m going to say that the “iPhone killer” is already around the corner and when it does arrive, its impact is going to be huge. The iPhone has already laid the ground work for a revolution of sorts –successfully converting the handheld phone to a mini-computer but most importantly, a mini computer that’s on your person almost at all times.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I don’t personally have an iPhone, but my husband does and he loves it. Why haven’t I made the plunge? Simple — I’m waiting for the next big thing.
When I travel, I have five vital pieces of electronics with me. It’s always a struggle to get my iPod, cell phone, digital camera, Nintendo DS, and laptop in one computer bag (my “personal item”) so that I can stuff my other carry-on full of clothes and other necessities.
I would love to have just one appliance to take care of my most important needs that those five items do for me now:
- Check my work (Outlook) and personal email
- Check /update my Outlook calendar
- Access my Outlook contact list to quickly make phone calls
- Purchase, sync and listen to music
- Purchase, sync and watch videos
- “Connect” to folks on my social networks like Facebook and Twitter and update my status
- Take photos and video and upload them easily where I want to
- Let me play games
- Read/write Word documents
- Read/write Excel spreadsheets
- Pay for applications/content once—access it across as many platforms as possible (computer, phone, audio device, game console…)
- Save all of my existing content (music, videos, photos, documents, etc.) in one place for me to sync and access easily
The iPhone does the first seven things well with the help of ActiveSync (to sync with Exchange Server), the Facebook app, and iTunes. Windows Mobile does the first ten things but it lacks a lot of the more fun applications available to the iPhone. Number eleven and twelve are the big items that neither can deliver quite yet.
Here is why I think the time is now. Apple has convinced the American consumer of what the Japanese have known for years: that a phone-sized computer can be used for an assortment of activities. In Japan, people use their phones to play games, read books (in fact the best selling novels often start off as cellphone novels), watch TV, and pay for items — using it like a debit card — which is why the iPhone hasn’t been a success in the Japanese market. Americans have started to recognize that they can use their phones for both business as well as pleasure. There are also more useful apps like the SonoSound ultrasound viewer for doctors and the NikeWomen Training Club to customize your daily workout, while games are some of the most popular iPhone applications downloaded from the iTune store.
Apple achieved this culture-shift by doing what they do best, making things fun and easy to use. There are a plethora of applications and content just available for you to try in iTunes from your phone. As soon as you’re ready to purchase, Apple makes this task as easy as pie, especially if you’re already used to using the same experience to get audio and video content for your iPod.
To get all of that content, Apple made it super easy for content developers to develop the content (getting your content through Mr. Jobs to sell it on iTunes is another story we’ll ignore for now). The biggest hurdle for mobile content developers was always the lack of consistency and requirements across phones. Imagine this: You’ve got a great idea for a mobile application but you have to develop it in several different languages (Java ME, BREW, .NET, Palm OS…), for phones with a variety of screen sizes, and then you’ve got the distribution nightmare. Say goodbye to any hope of making any money. iPhone and iPod Touch have one programming language, one screen size, and one distribution channel. Not to mention that it’s got a huge share of the cellphone market in the
But I’m going to point out the elephant in the room: Are you tired of buying content and applications just for use on your iPhone? I know that I stopped adding content to my iPod because I’ve got two iPods and several computers and I’m tired of encoding/copying/moving/synching my files — I want to buy or encode once and share all of the files regardless of device. Besides that, I’m an NPR addict and my iPod doesn’t have access to radio without external hardware. So I’ve actually gone back to what I used to do before I had an iPod, listening to internet radio stations and streaming my local NPR station live. And I know that I’m not alone in this.
On the business side, I love that my Windows Mobile phone allows me to use Word and Excel on my phone — no need to purchase any apps or convert my files. I can also VPN into our business server from my phone. That means that I don’t need to store all of my important content on my phone, I can sync it from a server.
Microsoft has already opened their Windows Marketplace for Mobile to developers. They need to make sure that they don’t fall in to the trap they often do — by making their OS and applications available to too many manufacturers without requiring them to stick to enough standards. It’s going to be key that developers feel like they’ll be able to make money on the content and applications they create and not wasting it on porting it to too many different phone requirements.
This is why I’m hopeful about the Zune Phone, aka Pink.
First, the Zune Phone will need to run off of Windows Mobile so that I can take care of my business needs and also my “need” for other mobile applications that I’ll be able to purchase from the Windows Marketplace.
On the fun side of things, the Zune already plays my audio and video content and has a radio tuner, so I’m going to assume that’s all on the Zune Phone. XNA, the Zune game programming language is also supported on Xbox. In fact, Plexipixel did the design for the Zune Sudoku game that was released with the 3.1 software update. There’s been chatter about a portable Xbox console since 2006 — could this be the next step to that reality?
And what about the social experience? Xbox Live has been an excellent connector. At GDC, Microsoft announced the social extension of Xbox Live, Twitter and Facebook integration but more importantly the ability to watch videos or listen to music with friends. If the Zune Phone is able to tap into some of the Xbox Live social functionality, I’m buying one immediately.
Finally, Microsoft has a big ace in the hole called Azure. What is Azure? It’s Microsoft’s cloud computing solution — platform, software, database, OS offerings all in one. Why is Azure so important? Think of being able to access all of your photos, videos, audio, business documents, games all on your Xbox, Zune Phone, Zune, and PC. But let’s go beyond that. Let’s say that you’ll be able to run some big juicy applications on your smaller devices like your Zune Phone. More and more developers will be building their software as a service (SAAS) — think Google Docs or Salesforce CRM — now that companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have cloud offerings available to developers.
I bet you’re wondering by now what this all has to do with branded entertainment or advertainment. Think about it: Your advertainment apps or content will no longer be tied to one platform — iTunes already offers a number of branded applications in their store. People have been talking about mobile advertising for ages but nothing’s hit. It’s been expensive and difficult to execute. But if there are only two or three major phones and even better, one solution for multiple platforms, think of the possibilities.
I’m hoping that Microsoft can get it right. They have so much that they can leverage — a great OS in Windows Mobile, industry standard applications like Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook, an amazing game console in Xbox, the social experience of Xbox Live, a good audio/video device like Zune (that has lots of opportunity to be so much better), and now the Windows Marketplace for Mobile and Azure. It could be a hugely powerful combination!