A Challenge to iPhone & Mobile App Developers

Here’s what it looked like in Pasadena, CA a week after the iphone went on sale.

Two weeks later, the iPhone is nearly sold out nationwide. So, if anyone still doubts that (a) were in a new era of mobile computing or (b) that it took a force from outside the telecom industry to make it happen you are (a) asleep or (b) hallucinating.

It’s a great start, but there’s work to be done. The device and the OS are innovative, but the ideas for applications lag far behind. Yes everyone is excited that we can actually do things at all on a mobile devide after years of stagnation and control by the carriers. Yes Evernote and Pandora on the iPhone are cool. But after this initial euphoria, we’ll see there are entire classes, worlds of applications missing. It’s a new media.

Right now we’re doing what we always do: dump old media in to new media to see what fits, what doesn’t, then adjust and eventually innovate. There are conventions to be developed. Genres to be invented.

Developers are generally thinking desktop-to-mobile or web-to-mobile rather than mobile-to-place & people. The mobile experience itself has not been thought through, so ideas for it are all adapted from the desktop metaphor. There are other, more appropriate metaphors. (I like the video camera metaphor personally. Looking up and out into the world rather than down and away from it into a 2D abstraction.)

It’s time to start thinking of fresh ideas for mobile applications. Mostly what we see now, and will continue to see for the near future, are desktop and web apps / sites made available for the iPhone. By definition this means the mobile experience itself is not primary, rather the emphasis is on fully accessing the existing web on a mobile device. This is to be expected, but there’s nothing holding us back but imagination, and to some extent hardware (but not for long).

Let’s start thinking about what what it means to have a mobile device that is fully connected and powerful and with us all the time. One that knows where we are, and who and what are around us. One that has not only media consumption capabilities, but media creation and participation capabilities.

How can we interface with the world around us directly? Must the information about something that is right in front of us have to come from a web browser? This seems strange. We’re leaving, in a way, where we are when we do that. We’re going to the net, in a browser. We’ve left the building , so to speak.

I think we should challenge ourselves to develop applications that allow us to interact directly with our environment and the people and things in it.

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