Anyone out there still think this isn’t a smartphone?

Wow, what a day for the iPhone. In keeping with my no re-blogging policy, there are full reports on what’s been announced here, here, here and here.

Looking over my last post, I see that my thinking was constrained to just considering what mobile applications could be released. Now the SDK is out, I see that the potential is much wider. This really is Apple’s trojan horse platform. As John Doerr pointed out at the SDK launch, the iPhone is:

…in your pocket, broadband and connected, it’s personal – it knows who and where you are…

Absolutely. But there are plenty of compact devices vying for this crown: Nokia’s N-Series, SonyEricsson’s P1i, plus Blackberries, Windows Mobile devices, even GPS traffic products that are adding features. So what’s new here?

Well, what does Apple do so well? Take existing ideas, add design polish, and making them easy and pleasurable for the user. And this time the jewel in the crown is…

The App Store

Let’s think about this in relation to another announcement at Thursday’s event. Phil Schiller took us through the existing setup for getting Outlook sync with a mobile device, which he presented as:

Device — NOC — | — Message Server — Exchange server

Apple has pared this down to:

iPhone — | — Exchange server

They have removed complexity from the setup, and thereby removed barriers to adoption. Exactly the same has happened with the App Store – it’s a classic example of Apple’s way of thinking.

So how do smartphone users install apps at the moment?

Take Nokia S60 devices – there are two main methods:

(1) You can buy apps from a variety of sources – Handango, etc etc – plus there are free apps available. Typically, it’s:

  • find the website
  • either free or a paid purchase, followed by
  • download of the .sis file, then either
    • install using Nokia’s PC Suite,
    • or transfer to the phone by USB or Bluetooth, and then install on the device itself

Don’t forget you’ll have to get the email with your license code and type that in as well. Oh, and you have to know where on the web to go and buy these apps, if you even know that you can buy and install applications on your phone in the first place.

(2) Install apps directly from the on-device “Download” function.

This is much simpler.

  • Purchase and install directly from the phone

Easy! Except it’s only a store for Nokia software, and what’s in the store is entirely dependent on which country you’re in, and what software your carrier has decided you may install.

This is where the App Store steps up.

One store, on-device, with purchase tied in to your existing Apple Store account (no extra licenses required). As straightforward to use as the Wifi iTunes store. Download wherever – through desktop iTunes if you must – and instant install. No thinking, “Can this phone do more than it does at the moment?”. No searching around the web for the software you want. The App Store is an in-your-face always-on ad that will drive impulse purchases.

This will be a boon for iPhone users, and also for developers. The $99 entry fee is reasonable, and the 70/30 split is just about “livable“, at least according to Rogue Amoeba. One pretty full-featured development environment. No worrying about signing up with a multitude of stores, or developing and hosting your own store. Any upgrades to your software are taken care of: all the developer has to do is deliver a new version, and the store will notify the user. Plus – no marketing, just sales.

Yes, there are some restrictions on the apps that will be allowed: no porn or objectionable content, no unlocking tools, VoIP over Wifi only, no excessive use of bandwidth. This rules out P2P / torrent apps, but why bother when they would quickly drain battery life? Plus those who really want these apps on their iPhone will find a way (more on that in the next post).

The jailbreaking community has already shown that there is a hunger for native apps. After the official iPhone 2.0 software release in June, the App Store will enable officially-sanctioned software to pour forth at an astonishing rate, with many making full use of the connectivity, the superb screen and graphics, and I’m sure, novel uses of the accelerometer. Developers have a single, focussed route to market. Customers will have a simple way of extending and personalising the use of their iPhones.

My only question is – how will people give me free copies to review? 😉

More to come in the next few days on other SDK implications, and on the beta release of the BBC’s iPlayer for the iPhone (if you’ll excuse the Americanism – it rocks!)