August 18, 2008

The iPhone Cannot Be The End. So What's Next?

My Mobile Phone Progression: What's Coming?

When I go into work on Tuesday, one of the first things I plan to do is turn in my Blackberry, and begin the process of porting my cell phone number over to the iPhone. Within days, I expect I'll be Blackberry free for the first time in about five years. But this isn't the first cell phone product transition, and it certainly won't be the last, for me. While the iPhone, for many today, represents the "ultimate" in cell phones, something will take its place, just as has been played out time and again as technology evolves.

As users, we tend to gravitate to a specific platform and declare it the "best" or the "winner", supporting it fanatically, buying proprietary applications, and demanding everything we use synchronize with it. It's what we're doing today with the iPhone, it's what we did with the Blackberry before it, and previously, the Palm OS. Even today, I could probably write out the alphabet in Graffiti if handed a stylus.

But to pick up a Blackberry today already seems antiquated, and, with luck, even though it's been a great platform, I may not ever have one again. If I were to bring out a Handspring Visor or a Palm III or Palm V, I'd be hearkening back to the days of tech's yesteryear. And God bless those poor souls who would love to show you the capabilities of their Apple Newton. There's just no saving them.

In the fun of going through the iTunes App Store and getting new applications and games with basic features, including a bowling application, Tetris, and Bejewled, it struck me as having something of deja vu to it - as I had downloaded similar games and apps for Blackberry, and for Palm before, and maybe for a Sony Ericsson I owned for a short time. Yes, the applications are getting better, and taking advantage of new technology like multi-touch and GPS or WiFi, but once again, I'm buying apps for a single platform that I think is the best at the time.

So, in three or five years time, as the iPhone has evolved, or been replaced, by Apple or others, will I still be using those applications? Probably not. Will I again be buying the same applications but on a new platform? Probably.

The fact is that there are a finite number of developers and an increasing number of places to deploy these applications. We've heard stories of what Google's Android platform will or won't be, and we've heard how developers are happy, or aren't, or how they're switching instead to write for the iPhone. Where those applications may at one time have been debated to write for Macintosh or Windows, you now also have the option to write for Windows Mobile, for Blackberry, for Android, for the iPhone, for Facebook, for Flash or for Java, to deploy on the Web, or any of the game consoles - the Playstation, the Wii, the XBox, and their portable derivatives.

Evolution always pushes forward, on the desktop, on the Web, or, in this case, in the world of mobile handhelds. And it's very rare for a single company to be the leader for more than three to five years. The Microsoft desktop monopoly has been protected for parts of three decades now, legally and illegally, and they've never achieved the same level of success in the world of handsets, as much as they wish they could. Should we expect that Apple will coddle their lead on the iPhone, as they carefully massaged their leadership with the iPod, or will they rise to this pinnacle, only to see it eroded away by one of the current players, or someone new? It takes more than developing the world's best mobile phone experience. It also takes coddling and rewarding of a vast development community to pick you ahead of all others.

As a consumer, I've won with each move. I won by going from land line to mobile phone. I won by going from a pager to my Hanspring Visor with the VisorPhone. I won by going from the VisorPhone to a Blackberry. And so far, I'm sure moving from the Blackberry to the iPhone. The question is, will my next move, in a few years, be off the iPhone, or simply to a newer model?