~Was Steve Jobs Right with iPhone 1.0

I’ll start with my conclusion first. I believe Steve Jobs and Apple were spot on with iPhone 1.0. I was one of those in line and first into the store during the original iPhone release, and again this year for the release of the 3G 2nd generation iPhone. And though there were a couple hundred people in line in front of me this time, I still managed to come home with a 16gb black 3G on the first day of its release.

I still remember the complaints from everywhere when the original iPhone was released, especially from folks that didn’t have an iPhone. The most common complaints were no 3g speed, no GPS, no native apps, other than what Apple delivered with the phone. Activation only through iTunes and of course the two-year ATT contract and the cost of the iPhone. And then came the price reduction and you’d have thought the world was coming to an end.

Apple answered some of those complaints explaining that GPS and 3G would use too much battery power, native apps would crash the iPhone and iTunes activation, though a bit shaky the first weekend, proved to be a quick and easy way to purchase the iPhone. Apple then dropped the price of the phone and quickly conceded to the heat of the early adopters, offering them a $100 voucher.

Fast forward to July 2008. Apple concedes again and delivers the 2nd generation iPhone with GPS and 3G and what do we hear from users? The battery is draining too fast. Does that sound familiar? And Apple delivers the App Store after providing developers with an SDK and five months to develop native apps. Users say, but the apps are crashing the iPhone. You don’t say! And this year, no more activation through iTunes, do it in the store just like every other mobile phone sale. What? I thought you said you didn’t want iTunes activation. Oh, and then there is the price. Half the price for the original purchase with a two year contract, and the monthly fee is increased by $10 plus a text messaging plan if you want it. You should have heard the screams – but of course this is in line with every other smart phone fee for equivalent service. Just ask a Blackberry user what they pay.

Now I will be first to agree, it was not all a bed of roses with the simultaneous releases of iPhone 3G, App Store, 2.0 upgrade (for original iPhone users), the in-store activation disaster and MobileMe debacle. But come on, you have to admit we are a fickle bunch at times. Steve Jobs would have plenty to say “I told you so” about, if he weren’t so busy fighting Apple’s self initiated fires.

The bad news – (I’ll get to some good news, but please let me vent a bit here first) I have installed and used over two dozen 2.0 native apps and many are nothing to write home about. Yes, I admit it, most of what I have installed are freebie apps, but I’m not about to spend money on unproven applications, especially after reading the mostly dismal reviews. I have been using many Web 2.0 Ajax applications developed for the original iPhone for months and most of them provide more features and work much better than their native counter parts. And they don’t crash the iPhone.

The worst example, and I hate to say it, is 1Password. Yes, that’s the same application you’ve seen in my blogroll for months. This is a perfect example of a great working web app, that loses functionality as a native app. With the web app, I just use any of the icons on my home page to go to the website desired, and when the authentication page is displayed click my 1password bookmarklet and enter my simple password. I’m in without remembering or typing complicated userid and strong password. But with the native app, I am forced to use the 1Password app. Can’t use Safari, can’t use Safari bookmarks that are synched with my desktop, can’t use home page icons. Instead, I have to create separate bookmarks in the 1Password app and only use those? This is a step forward? This is crazy. I remember Steve Jobs explaining how powerful Ajax applications could be with some developer creativity, and people mocked him. Neither Steve, or the developers that he motivated to create the first iPhone web apps, let us down.

And the worst news of all from the developers of 1Password? Oh by the way, since we have provided the native app, we’re removing the web app. Huh? Why would you force us to use something that is vastly inferior to the original. I just don’t get it.

Another example is the new Google app versus Google for iPhone webapp. Take a close look at both of these.

Initial search screen in native app provides not links to search type or other services.

Note the links to gmail, calendar and reader at the top of the web app on the left. And the links to search for images, local and news, etc. Note that all of these “features” are missing from the home page of the new native app on the right.

After you finish the search you can find these things, but you have to dig deep, click, zoom the screen, etc. – in other words, work hard to get to them.

Take a look at the first page of results rendered on the web app on the left vs the native app on the right – which would you prefer.

I tried to use the native app, wanting it to be better, but there is just no comparison. The native app will find contacts (why not just use the great new Contacts app), and commonly requested websites, as you type and this is a neat feature. But to me, its not worth losing the results rendering or the convenient links provided by the web app. And yes, I know it provides location services, but so does Google Maps. Sorry, that just doesn’t cut it guys. At least Google has maintained the web app that I will continue to use.

There are other examples like the native WeatherBug app without radar animation. I’ll keep the web app – weather radar just isn’t useful if you don’t know the direction the storm is moving in. I guess I could recheck every few minutes – not.

The good news – I told you I would get to it. There are some excellent native apps that are definitely worth the price of admission to the app store – even the freebies. But I’ll have to leave those for the next post. Thanks for reading, John.

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