We've barely put the first quarter of the year behind us and it's already shaping up to be one that will be noted as an inflection point going forward. We're going to remember 2010 as the year that changed everything. I've talked in the past about the velocity of mobile and the rate and pace of innovation; now we've seen the next step in that process with Apple's news of iPhone OS 4.0.
It was an interesting set of announcements so let's break them down. First, the platform is evolving, which is good news for Apple. In short, nobodies’ platform from last year will be good enough for next year. We've seen Google update Android and Microsoft announce a new mobile platform. Today was Apple's turn. Most of the news was evolutionary not revolutionary. Apple says there are now 1,500 new APIs for developers to take advantage of but (for example the ability to access camera, calendar and other stores that were previously off limits) and support for some basic features such as Bluetooth keyboards and CalDAV invitations, but the real focus was on seven core new features.
I'll list them a little differently than Apple presented them. First are what I consider the stuff that's totally evolutionary, some of which should have been there from day one.
1. Multitasking, Enhanced Mail, Folders – Multitasking was the most anticipated feature and Apple finally delivered. While I've questioned the need for multitasking for most use cases, I think Apple has taken the right approach here with creating core services for developers to tap into that most users want while at the same time keeping and emphasis on battery life and performance. Background music, voice and location are the major cases and for the most that will satisfy most user needs. While some are arguing that Apple's implementation isn't true multitasking, I don't think it matters all that much: users care about getting Skype calls and listening to Pandora, how that magic occurs it irrelevant. Folders and enhanced mail are just long overdue. I'm glad that Apple isn't just adding more pages to the home screen but there still needs to be a better way to organize and manage the number of applications. Likewise, Mail was simply not up to par as a full mobile email client. It was cumbersome to have more than one email account and the lack of threaded conversations made it much harder to work with busy inboxes. Bottom line? Evolution not revolution, but features that will be embraced by iPhone users.
2. iBooks, Enterprise Security, Game Kit – I'd classify all of these as features that will help drive the platform forward and help open new markets as well as challenge competitors. iBooks was a no-brainer and not a surprise but shows Apple is serious about the eBook market and looking (as Amazon and Barnes & Noble have done) to create an eBook platform not tied to a single device. The Enterprise Security features show Apple is serious about the business space and, more importantly, not afraid to take on RIM. Security features are not user oriented but IT oriented. Apple's now taken one more step to get past the CIO checklist. Finally, GameKit takes a pretty serious shot at Nintendo and Sony (and also puts more pressure on Microsoft to deliver on their Xbox Live mobile experience). By integrating social gaming aspects to the iPhone platform, Apple's driving for the next generation of mobile gamers. Without the ties, however, to TV based consoles, Apple is leaving room for Microsoft to make a compelling case for Xbox integration into Windows Phone 7 and offer differentiation. Both Sony and Nintendo are going to face a lot of pressure going forward and are likely to face market share losses.
Apple iAd Nike demo:
3. iAd – Probably the biggest news of today wasn't directed at end users. As it's not overly relevant to this audience, I won't go into great depth. Suffice to say that in the year that changed everything nothing exemplifies that more than Google getting into the business of selling phones and now Apple becoming an advertising platform provider. What's impactful here is that Apple's now made their platform even more attractive to developers who are looking for more ways to monetize their applications (and don't think ads are only going to go in free apps, there's no reason that paid apps won't have ad supported content to boost their profitability) they've also made their platforms even more desirable for brands. As more companies are in the process of figuring out their mobile presence, expect to see Apple as viewed as a primary platform for applications. While Apple upped the game for competitors in a big way today, the biggest shot across the bow was to Google (Jobs went as far as to downplay the importance of search in terms of mobile advertising as a revenue driver). Both Apple and Google are now effectively playing on each other's turf, expect this to escalate.
We're only in the beginning of Q2 and the game just got a lot more interesting. Which tees up next is this coming week's news from Microsoft. Stay tuned.