Commentary

My iPhone Needs A Gun

This is the eighth summer of the iPhone era, and the eighth year of these columns. What better time to put on a true golden oldie Mobile Insider from the summer of 2007? Longtime readers will recall my then-teen (now college coed) daughter and then-girlfriend (now wife) were prominent players in our mutual discovery of the new smartphone era. Eight years later and I still need my daughter to give me lessons on the proper use of trending apps like Snapchat, and my wife still commands me to "write a column" about "what they really ought to do in these apps."  

Vacationing with the women in my family leaves me with a lot of waiting time -- as they prep for the beach, for outings, for walks, for just about anything. I am not sure which paparazzi will be present at breakfast shooting pictures of them for the cover of The Star, but apparently they need to be ready for them. So I get to spend a lot of time this week catching up on the new iPhone apps companies have been sending me this month.

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One of the marvels of the iPhone is the low barrier to entry for developers. Some very impressive applications have gotten up and running in record time. I have never been a fan of the Web-application approach Apple took with third-party developers, because it just puts that many more clicks between me and an app and relegates everything to a Safari bookmark. Still, the sheer accessibility of the platform for developers reminds the rest of the industry just how technologically convoluted and closed it is. This may be the ongoing role of the iPhone -- not to glom market share so much as to sit on the edges of the industry holding up a standard of interface and usability that shames its peers into innovation.

I also get to spend time with the iPhone now at the beach, because lo and behold, my 15-year-old daughter has evolved into the nightmare of every father -- the cutest thing on the sand. The first time she walked into the water I actually saw teen boys point and move toward her like shards of metal toward a magnet, like puppies toward food, like detestable vermin toward a 5-star kitchen. Last summer I was worried that she would drown; this year I am doing crowd control and background checks. From lifeguard to watchdog in one year.

Luckily, the iPhone has a good camera and loads of memory, so I was able to take snaps of all these little felons just in case we need to run them with the FBI. I dug into the Safari browser in search of online sign-ups for the NRA. No one delivers firearms same day to the north beach of Cape May, I discovered. Damn tree-hugging liberals. My partner (who happens to be a tree-hugging liberal) immediately suggested that perhaps we should break up for a few years because I may be insufferable until 2011.

I tried luring my puppy magnet back from the water's edge with the comics on the iPhone. The excellent Plusmo for iPhone (iphone.plusmo.com) is the best widget portal I have seen so far. Most of the major news and tech info brands are here, as well as comic strips that fill the screen and auto scroll sideways. The iPhone widgets offer a great opportunity for brands to provide real services (movie finders, weather, news feeds) that are wrapped in a brand. Someone built a Starbucks locator widget that Starbucks should have built, with value-adds that distinguishes it from any user-generated alternative.

My daughter (who clearly is not a kid anymore) wasn't buying Peanuts, even on an iPhone, but was more interested in SeeqPod Music (seeqpod.com/iphone), which is a very nice index and front end for the thousands of MP3 tracks that are accessible for streaming directly from the Web. I am not sure about the legality of the rights management here, but the app uses the familiar iPod interface to slip through catalogs of artists and search for tunes that stream well into the Quicktime player. There are no ads here yet, but clearly there could be, and with people declaring their musical tastes so precisely, there should be some very targeted ad possibilities. "Ooh, look, they have Slipknot's 'Do Nothing Bitchslap,'" my sweet young girl said.

You know, when the mail-order gun arrives here at the beach, just shoot me with it.

Isobar's Gene Keenan aimed me over to the new Facebook iPhone version, which is absolutely fantastic. This is a mobile interface the way it was meant to be. The tabbed navigation starts you up with the newsfeed of what all of your friends are doing at the moment, including all of their new additions like photos and friendships. You can drill into any friend's profile and their phone number becomes a call button. You can use the email messaging within the app, but other uploading options are limited. There are no ads visible yet, however. The blog buzz is already pronouncing Facebook for iPhone (iphone.facebook.com) the best app yet for the new device. Agreed, but it also demonstrates some of the limitations of not being able to integrate Web-based apps as easily or seamlessly into things like the camera.

Of course, my daughter was unimpressed, because Facebook is for old farts like me and my colleagues. MySpace is her realm. But the Facebook app and some of the other very good iPhone widgets are following the Apple ethic of simplicity, which is a lesson that mobile developers need to relearn. The Facebook app follows the core uses of the social networking tool, tracking contacts, and in some ways makes the iPhone version more friendly than the increasingly cluttered Web version.

The iPhone itself was a bit of a brave design in that Apple was determined not to do too much. It focused on the core use cases for a data phone and refused to acquiesce to feature creep.

Of course, I could use a Dad version of the iPhone right now, perhaps equipped with a small sniper rifle.

"Dad, that guy who just talked to me is 18 and he thought I was 20," my daughter tells me, as if that is a good thing.

I don't want the gun to hurt them, necessarily. Rubber bullets will be fine -- just enough to graze their testosterone-addled noggins and train them to keep away. The iRifle with some iPellets is all I need right now.

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