As the iPhone outgrows its name, what's next?
This guest article was submitted by Chris King.
When the first iPhone was released back in the summer of 2007, it laid to rest all of the rumors that had been circulating for years. While the original handset was a complete game-changer in the cellphone industry, its true potential wasn't fully realized until last summer with the introduction of the iPhone 3G and the App Store. Even more than the upgraded specs in the new phone, the App Store is what continues to separate Apple from veteran smartphone companies like Palm, Nokia, and the tag team of HTC and Microsoft. These companies basically stood pat until Apple came along and showed them what people today wanted, and only now are they starting to respond with their "iPhone clones" and their own versions of application repositories.
For Apple to stay ahead of the competition, which they should have no trouble doing for the next few years, they need to start treating the iPhone as more than just a phone and more like the computer platform they have always claimed it is. With the 3GS's new ARM Cortex processor running at 600MHz and the PowerVR SGX graphics system, we are quickly approaching netbook power. And that is what I would like to see the iPhone become, another category just below the MacBook that offers much of the same functionality but with a slimmer OS.
Now that the iPhone has been a reality for a few years, we keep hearing rumors about how Apple needs a netbook to start competing in the latest emerging market. I would buy an Apple netbook in a heartbeat, touchscreen or not, because I simply prefer to use OS X. Even an iPhone tablet would be a neat idea, but there is one other possibility, and hopefully Apple comes out with something similar.
What I am thinking of is a type of docking unit for the iPhone not unlike the Celio REDFLY Mobile Companion that works with many Windows Mobile smartphones. But instead of just using a USB cable or Bluetooth for connection, they should leverage the power of the iPhone and its dock connector. The dock connector has been used in countless audio accessories, but to me it would be perfect for this type of device.
Apple could make a device with a 7- or 10-inch 1280 x 800 screen and a keyboard with a buttonless trackpad like the newer MacBooks. Somewhere on there could be a dock to accept an iPhone, maybe a small slot on the bottom of the unit that the phone slides into like a cartridge.
Now, I'm no programmer, but adding keyboard, mouse support, and resolution scaling to the iPhone OS seems like it would be fairly straightforward since it's based on OS X. One complication could be the landscape screen, but I would think most apps eventually will be landscape-compatible, especially with the extended use of the landscape keyboard in OS 3.0 versus the spotty use of it in previous versions.
What really got me thinking about this is just the number of useful programs now out for the iPhone. Of course, there are a ton of games, but there is so much available now that if Adobe and Apple suddenly became best buds tomorrow and released the long awaited Flash for iPhone, I could almost get by completely with an iPhone and the aforementioned netbook dock.
In addition to the excellent Mobile Safari, there are now apps for full office functionality (Quickoffice, Documents To Go), multimedia (SlingPlayer, SiriusXM), credit card processing (Credit Card Terminal), document scanning (DocScanner), and navigation (AT&T Navigator, MapQuest 4 Mobile). Obviously, I am only mentioning a few of the apps, but my point is that just about any task that can be done on a computer can now be done on the iPhone. That is what makes the idea of a netbook dock for the iPhone even more interesting, since there is no doubt the hardware can handle it.
Before someone mentions it, I do realize that software like this is available for Windows Mobile, Symbian, Blackberry, etc. But keep in mind that the iPhone is the first smartphone to bring apps like these to the masses, not just the few geeks like us who await the release of new technology as if we are Ralphie waiting for the infamous Red Ryder air rifle. And these masses are the ones that companies are after because of the huge amounts of money and marketshare involved.
So as the iPhone continues to advance and becomes more than just a simple cell phone, remember this won't be the first time that a name suddenly seems out of place. After all, we are still using iTunes, and it has been about more than just music for many years now, but the name sticks. I see the same thing eventually happening with the iPhone, with a range of devices carrying the iPhone moniker, and I sure hope it happens soon.
Do you share the same vision of the iPhone? Chime in and comment on what you would like to see next from Apple.
Chris King (orbitalcomp) is a long-time handheld tech user, dating back to the original Newton MessagePad and then moving on to dozens of different devices over the years. Currently, he finds himself surrounded by a multitude of touchscreen devices, including a pair of Fujitsu U-series, a Nokia N800, and an iPhone 3G.