The software makes the phone

August 27th, 2008

In between resetting my iPhone (see below for more), I’ve been loving all the new apps available. Even before the 2.0 software release in early July, having a near-perfect mobile web browser came in quite handy and even allowed me to travel without any additional computer (like my now-neglected Eee PC). Despite the tiny screen, I could keep tabs on my feeds with Google’s wonderful mobile Reader, and had enough horsepower to manage my Netflix queue (341 and counting!).

That was before the Apple added the ability to install software on the iPhone. Once that happened, my 9-month-old phone felt like a brand new…computer. The third-party software meant that I could make my phone do exactly what I wanted. If I wanted a dedicated twitter client, a beefy weather app*, a Yelp interface, and a program to control iTunes and AppleTV, well dammit I can do that.

The iPhone’s apps are its new killer feature, and the millions who have bought the 3G model can attest to that. I almost bought the new model, but decided to wait until I played with the new software. After realizing that I had a new phone, for free, I couldn’t justify paying $200 for occasionally faster network speeds and GPS when I got the best feature as a free update.

Unfortunately, Apple took on more than it could handle at a single time for the launch. The new OS was rushed and buggy. Remember that resetting I started talking about? I’ve had to reset my phone three times in the last week after the phone did a forced-reboot but wouldn’t finish, thus bricking my phone. It happened today, and I was without a phone until I could get home. All that for a friggin’ Wikipedia app!

A lot of people blame apple for being greedy, but this was a tactical mistake in a well-constructed strategy. If done right, having a new phone, new software, and a new sync software all on the same day would be mind-blowing for those of us who are as fully digital as current technology allows.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. MobileMe tanked and barely worked for two weeks. My own exposure was minimal: most of the problems were with email, and I’ve migrated well away from my .mac address, while everything else was syncing fine and I could access iDisk fine. Apple, for their part, gave everyone up to 3 months free, and accepted the blame. There was even a MobileMe blog for a short while which began, “Steve wanted me to create this blog…” as if the big man himself was using his legendary temper to get the troops to fix the problems.

Then the iPhone platform started to develop problems weeks after everything launched. Users are currently trying to figure out who’s the blame for the mediocre 3G reception. And applications are crashing the phones, and crashing them hard.

Apple most likely knew how important having third-party software on the iPhone was going to be. All those fakes of promoting web apps and denying third-party software were just to buy them time to get things ready, and the applications had to be ready to install by the one-year anniversary or the wind would leave the sails. And now that they’ve accomplished two herculean feats: launching the original iPhone and the pushing out the updated version, it’s crunch time to keep the new platform from collapsing and for people to lose faith in the company.

And you know what? Apple will pull through and everything will be fine. This is still new territory, and the important part is that the iPhone actually shipped. The only difference between what’s happening now and earlier rough patches (releasing the original Macintosh, OS X) is that a lot more people are using Apple products. And that’s because they’re the only ones making computers and gadgets that are useful and feel futuristic at the same time.

*The combination of being an information junkie and growing up in Tornado Alley has given me an appreciation for knowing the weather forecast and keeping a radar map handy.

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