IPhoning It In

I told you so.

I was sorely tempted to write this column from my iPhone just to demonstrate how hard it really is to type without tactile feedback for extended periods. Worse, Apple only lets you use the virtual keyboard in portrait mode, which makes each key an even tighter target. But I’ve already had to wait for YouTube, Google Maps and this column to load via the AT&T (rusty) EDGE network. How much pain can an aging critic handle? I only have so much time left on this earth, and I don’t plan to spend much of it typing on my iPhone.

There, I said it. I did in the end buy one, and I spent a couple of days living with its technical wonders and befuddling idiosyncrasies. I will save the details for a full review in an upcoming issue of OMMA. For now, my biggest concern involves how closed a platform this really is. We complain about the walled garden some carriers erected around their decks, but Apple’s is for now the most restrictive deck of all. How are they getting a pass on this? As I started trying to use the iPhone as a media platform in the same way I have Windows Mobile, Verizon’s Brew and the various more open Java-based platforms, I started feeling restricted very quickly.



Two days of iPhoning raise a lot more questions than they answer about what direct role this device and Apple will play in mobile marketing.

To what degree can I customize this thing with generally available off-deck ringtones and wallpapers, for instance? So far, the iTunes store offers nothing for me, since it seems that the ringtone strategy wasn’t  finalized in time for last week’s release. Enterprising Apple-philes discovered some indications in iTunes and in earlier Apple demos of a ringtone tool that will let you turn any song you buy from Apple into a tone. But how third parties push their branded or promotional tones to the phone is a mystery to me.

Virtually all of the off-deck mobile video services I have been talking about in recent weeks, MyCorner, MyWaves, etc. won’t work. Right now I am having trouble getting simple WAP pushes for anything to show up in the SMS messaging service. Google’s push worked and pushed me to their WAP page of services formatted for mobile screens, but I have a lot of SMS messages out there waiting to show up on my iPhone.

Many (and I do mean many) Web pages in this browser show up with big gaping white holes where the Flash marquee and rich media apps/ads are supposed to be. Welcome back to Web 1.5.

What are the opportunities for brand advertisers to offer free applications on a deck that partnered with Google and Yahoo for maps, weather, and stocks -- but no one else? I have tried the Web-based Widgets indexed at the IPhone Application List, but I am absolutely unconvinced that Web apps are a solution at all. The AccuWeather widget is the most mature branded one I have seen. Web-based widgets are not the worst idea, especially if the icon for it could be present at the top level of the iPhone deck. But as it is, these applications simply become bookmarks in the Safari browser -- several levels down from top-of-mind presence.

From a mobile marketing perspective, we have already heard many in the industry wax enthusiastic about what the iPhone represents: an elegant solution to the problem of mobile interfaces and unnecessary complexity; making the mobile data channel more visible to all; energizing the richer platform of the smart phone category. There is no doubt, this is a gorgeous piece of technology, and I can’t wait to see much of it show up in my next iPod, where I think it will matter to more people. All that being said, it is a very different matter to find the mobile marketing entry points into Apple and the iPhone.

If there were a big question mark widget on my iPhone, that would be the query I would most want answered at this point.     

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