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« Windows Mobile 6 - Message flags | Main | Slingmedia sold to EchoStar Communications »

September 26, 2007

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Chris Carlin

This is one of those perspective cases I was talking about. If you wouldn't mind, I wonder if you'd comment on this.

Frankly, I don't get it :) What's so special about this program to warrant a blog post? It seems like such a trivial application.

It says it's "fully optimized"... but what about this program requires particular optimization? It's not exactly crunching heavy numbers.

Windows people often point out that the 3rd party developer community creates hundreds of signficant applications that iPhones need, but when I look I see that the vast majority of these applications are simple and trivial, entirely doable in a web browser such as safari... perhaps even more easily since there's no need for "optimizing" for different versions of Windows Mobile.

Stephen Skarlatos

Having been a waiter/bartender during my college years, I can tell you that a large group of individuals have trouble figuring out tips. Ilium Software is providing a service to the Windows Mobile community by licensing this simple application for free. It is also a way for users to look at the other applications Ilium Software offers (marketing 101). I have been using their electronic wallet eWallet for over 6 years now and find it invaluable. The word optimize was probably not the best way to describe the enhancements made in this version of the application unless you are familiar with the lineage of the Windows Mobile user interface. Windows Mobile started in the late 90’s with a stylus only interface, as touch screens became more sensitive and the Blackberry revolution evolved, users started demanding one handed and one finger operation. Microsoft and the Windows Mobile OEMs started to respond to this trend with Windows Mobile 5.0, and Windows Mobile 6. Windows Mobile 5.0 ushered in an UI paradigm shift from previous versions, introducing the soft key concept which allowed developers to easily map functions to software and hardware buttons. This shift along with new hardware designs enhanced one handed and one finger operation. When Ilium uses the word optimize; they mean optimized for the new UI paradigm in WM 5.0 and 6. I don’t have time right now to get into a debate over the richness of web based UIs vs client based UIs. I still believe that client UIs are richer, although with technologies like AJAX, Flash, and Silverlight web based application are getting closer (BTW none of these work with the iPhone Safari). In terms of complex applications, you should look at vendors like http://www.webis.net, http://www.sbsh.net, and http://www.spbsoftwarehouse.com to name only a few, then let me know if their core applications are simplistic.

For disclosure purposes, I review Ilium Software applications from time to time and receive licenses to use them at no cost.

Chris Carlin

Oh, I'm not questioning the utility of a tip calculating program. That's pretty clear, and I curse the lack of any calculator at all on my Nokia phone.

What I'm questioning is (what I perceive to be) the strangeness of, and by extension the utility of, the development community built around Windows Mobile apps. It's something I've never gotten but that begins to become significant when it's asserted that Apple must or should work to build such a community.

It's just a different world, that's all, and it's just plain strange looking from the outside.

--

As far as I can tell the iPhone does support AJAX.

Stephen Skarlatos

Chris, you are correct the iPhone Safari does support AJAX.
Don’t you think the third party community brings innovation to the world? There are a countless number of applications that were developed by third parties that are now part of the mainstream. The most important I can think of at this time is Adobe’s Acrobat and the .pdf file format. As you have previously mentioned (I am paraphrasing) that since the iPhone uses OS X, it is an extension of the iMac platform; then does it not make sense to support 3rd party innovation. Yes, there are hundreds of basic applications that will work well in Safari, but there are a lot of situations where AJAX and JavaScript do not cut it. The bottom line, why should I let Apple or any other vendor control what I can run on my computer.

Chris Carlin

It's all about balance.

In authorizing native third party development on the iPhone, Apple's own development for the device would be hampered. Having to deal with backward compatibility, the unguaranteed environment, and customer support issues arising from the third party software all drain resources that are now being focused on developing for the phone. That's not even dealing with the interface issues that play such a large part in driving Apple sales.

It's the same tradeoff with a desktop PC, but here the balance is slightly different because the iPhone is limited by its form factor. In short, the bet is that not much innovative can be done on this tiny screen that can't be done through Safari. My experience with Windows Mobile apps supports this conclusion.

And then it's not like Apple is really locking users out: users are still free to go their own, innovative way, just without Apple's support. Those innovations stand a fine chance of becoming part of the phone in the future.

Stephen Skarlatos

Although your argument makes sense, not supporting or guaranteeing backward compatibility for 3rd party applications is different than what Apple has done with version 1.1.1. From what I am reading at iPhone Dev Team WIKI, they changed the encryption algorithm on the file system. This tells me they went out of their way to break 3rd party applications. For now, it is clear they only want limited 3rd party innovation.

I could not disagree more about your statement on innovation. Building innovative functionality into an application has very little to do with screen real estate. It is about rethinking the man to machine interface for the form factor you are targeting. There are plenty of Windows Mobile applications that have done that. The Spb Software House Shell application is a good example http://www.mydigitallife.us/2007/09/ilium-software-.html.

I also think Apple has done that with their iPhone applications.

Dantv

Chris,

I knew Apple would lock down the iphone. I might switch to AT&T now. Only have a few more months left on T-Mobile anyway and I have become so hooked on the iphone that I can't go back. Looks like the Apple/AT&T deal is working. One of the Apple employees told me that Apple is holding back on releasing Cut/Paste for a future update. They are
waiting for the hackers nest move.

Chris Carlin

But Stephen,
A change in encryption is not a smoking gun. For example, it's reasonable to suspect that there were other reasons to change the algorithm.

It could also be the case that making fairly trivial motions toward keeping the thing locked down allows Apple to avoid making truly draconian motions that AT&T would otherwise require. This option lets both Apple statements (that they won't intentionally seek to 3rd party programs and that the hacking is a cat and mouse game) be true at once.

Just contrast what Apple is doing with the iPhone with what MS did with the XBox. It's a world of difference.

It may be that Apple's policy will change in the future, and they will move to more firmly stop 3rd party development. If it does will it be more telling about Apple or about AT&T and the state of the cellular industry?

--

Form factor is absolutely absolutely places limitations on innovation. Just as the iPhone's inertial sensor and touch screen opens the door to all sorts of possibilities, the lack of a seventeen inch screen constrains them.

It doesn't matter how smart the developer is; these are limitations that can't be overcome. Rethink the design all you want, there's a physical upper limit on the amount of information that can come through the screen.

Stephen Skarlatos

Let's agree to disagree on the third party application front. As you have suggested, at some point they probably will agree to support third parties, however my feeling is that the longer they go out of their way to block them will keep the issue in the press. I don't think they can sustain bad press in the long run if they intend to grab a majority share of the smartphone market.

On the second point regarding form factor, I know your point of view is popular with developers. The problem with that view is; if the bulk of the thinking when designing a mobile application is replacing the data displayed on a 17" monitor, the majority of the time it never works.

This is where inovation comes in, the form factor requires out of the box thinking. You should not think of a mobile device as a replacement. It should be thought of as adjunct to the desktop/laptop and applications should be designed with that in mind. And on that front I applaud Apple for thinking out of the box regarding the base constructs of the iPhone UI.

Chris Carlin

Ah! Return of the Microsoft point of view (I hope, perhaps, that you find some value in my pointing this out. If not I'll refrain).

You're so certain that the iPhone should be an adjunct to the desktop, and this is precisely the environment Microsoft has sought to create. After all, they get to sell the software at the center of that all. It's a business plan that the company has explicitly, publicly outlined.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. The centralized, adjunct environment can be seen in contrast to the far more decentralized environments that were developed alongside unix, just for example.

Anyway, the point being... well... from my outsiders' perspective I find that those people who are very comfortable with Microsoft environments tend to have the hardest times thinking outside the box, often being constrained by this satellite pattern.

I'm not saying that the iPhone or Apple are going in these other directions--iTunes is particularly along those centralized lines--only that insistence on the device-as-a-pc-extension model is one example of what makes your world so foreign to me.

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