September 04, 2008

The iPhone's Missing Link: User Profiles

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (

The iPhone has quickly become one of the most popular and sophisticated devices on Earth. With a very unique and natural interface, quality camera, GPS, tilt controls, and a full developers API and App marketplace, it's no wonder it's quickly approaching to be one of the most widely used phone platforms on the planet. With 3.3 billion people having a cell phone subscription, and cell phone coverage to cover over 90% of the earth by 2010, there's no arguing that we are approaching one of the most powerful platforms known to man.

The Need for a User Profile

I mentioned back in July that Facebook is missing some serious features to make it a serious platform itself, including privacy controls. It's clear that the iPhone has the potential to actually form one of the world's largest Social Networks, with GPS support, a contacts list (which are your real life friends), and applications that can access that data and communicate back and forth. With such a network monetization potential goes through the roof! However, there is one thing missing that I think would complete the mix - profiles.

Turning Customers Into People

Right now, Apple and AT&T know you have a phone. They know your name from your billing information and where you are from GPS information they gather as you talk on your phone. However, that's about all they know - to them, your phone is a phone, and you're just another customer.

What would turn each of their customers into actual people would be to build actual profiles, on the phone, for each person that owns the phone. This could be done either locally on the phone, or perhaps via account settings at either AT&T or Apple that sync with the phone. They could collect such information such as gender, marital status, religion, interests, favorite media, favorite books, education, work, and other information about you to identify who you actually are, in addition to your location. This information would follow the phone and be made available (with Privacy controls, of course) via an API, and then, any service that would like this information about the user could retrieve this information and bring actual people into their services.

The iPhone Could Prove Identity

Imagine the identity implications here. The iPhone follows you, where you go. In essence, it in many ways is a part of you, and your identity. What if Apple were to require identification to authenticate you as a real person, then store that information, encrypted, to share with others to prove who you are. I imagine some better authentication and security would be needed on the iPhone to keep this safe. However, with such identity possibilities, we could very well see our paper licenses and passports and identification be a thing of the past!

As a disclaimer, I've just started serving as the Chief Community Officer for a startup writing a new iPhone Entertainment application (we have a launch coming soon!), but I can tell you, if the iPhone were to already collect this information from the user for us, we'd have quite a useful app on our hands! Having a real identity to associate with each user, where they are at any moment is very powerful. Relationships are important, but before relationship can happen, each part of that relationship must have identity. That's why the iPhone needs to have a Profile.

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.