Article Focus:The Apple iPhone is more than just the best- and fastest-selling phone of all time. It has recently become the proving ground for the technologies that are making their way into the rest of the Apple product line...and far, far beyond that. Creative COW's Tim Wilson takes a look at Apple's recent iPhone announcement as he -- and Apple -- look at what the future might hold.
So, the iPhone's had a couple of good weeks, eh? Plenty of things to hear, plenty of things to think about following the Apple town hall announcing the new iPhone roadmap. Here are my own top three points to ponder, in ascending order of complexity.
One: These are the voyages of the iPhone Enterprise
I think of it as a variation of the iPod strategy. "Yes, other folks got there first. Yes, some of those companies them have much larger bank accounts. We're going to win by offering a more elegant solution. It's going to be so cool that people will line up to buy it, even if they've already spent money on a clunker. Or SIX clunkers. This is going to be the one that works, and they're going to know it before they buy it."
The entrance of iPhone into the enterprise is especially interesting to me, because people have been paying for the iPhones out of their own pockets, even after they've been issued a company Blackberry.
It wasn't exactly a stealth strategy – we all heard the hoofbeats of iPhone long before we saw it. Was it even a strategy? Probably, but it was certainly a bottom-up phenomenon. There was no need to compete with RIM or Palm for enterprise accounts when thousands of iPhones magically appeared, and everyone from the loading dock to the corner offices pounded their shoes on the table until corporate IT departments wired them in.
Apple's certainly jumping in with both feet. Microsoft and Apple had been working on iPhone's support for Microsoft's Exchange Server “push” since before the iPhone was announced. not only for email and calendars, but also for alerts for things like meeting times changing – almost impossible to find about when you have to keep checking manually. iPhone would be popular, but never a full member of the enterprise without it.
Independent Mac folks like many of you reading this have NO IDEA what kinds of BAD THINGS can happen if you're even a little late for a meeting. Not showing up? Not an option. Not available for secure network communication 24 hours a day, everywhere you go? Not an option...and impossible without support for Microsoft Active Sync.
Protocols like Cisco's VPN allow secure connections to Exchange networks, and to securely exchange information. Actually, some banks, hospitals and other service providers are concerned that Apple's not all the way there with security. “Enterprise lite” is what one analyst called it, saying Apple's security implementation won't be enough to move the needle in those sectors.
In fairness, those security standards are set by government policy and aren't up for discussion. Still, in the same article another analyst says that this is nonsense. iPhone will become ANY company's standard when the CEO buys one and wants to use it at work.
Easy for an analyst to say, but it's simply not possible for an IT department to configure a pile of phones if they have to do them one at a time. They have to be able to batch process, as it were.
Oh yeah, another critical feature for phones in the enterprise – the ability to wipe them remotely when you lose 'em. iPhone didn't support it before. Does now. Another thing of beauty.
By my math, Mac computers may never take a landscape-shifting bite out of the enterprise. The iPhone already has.
Two: Hack to the future
SDK stands for Software Development Kit. As the name suggests, it's a set of tools needed to build software.
Until now, the only official third-party software add-ons to iPhones have been web apps.
Some of them are cool, some even essential. But kind of like Dashboard widgets, the herd gets pretty thin once you've got Bunny Attack and your random Spike Milligan quote generator loaded up.
The SDK that Apple announced will allow the creation of native, standalone applications that needn't run in a browser. Apple will sign off on all of these to ensure what Steve Jobs said in his presentation, “We're trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once--provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc. This is no easy task.'"
That's for the development of OFFICIAL software applications for the iPhone. There have been Unauthorized iPhone applications from pretty much the first day.
Which brings me to the subject of hackers.
You know those are the guys who break into computers, steal passwords, and all that? Those are CRACKERS.
Hackers are something else altogether. Wherever the word came from, it reached full flower at MIT, where a hacker is “someone who does interesting things at a high intensity level.”
Sound like anyone you know? Probably sounds like EVERYONE you know, including YOU.
When applied to iPhones, CRACKERS are people who tamper with iPhones to, say, allow them to operate on the networks of other vendors. We don't in any way condone this, nor does MIT, whose HACKING pages specifically discuss this.
True hacking is a tradition so venerated that MIT's website features The Gallery of Hacks, frequently involving the clever use of architecture.
Here's the MIT campus Great Dome, in "costume" as R2D2 two days before the 1999 release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
They did this for the first day of spring finals....when they might have been studying...but apparently weren't.
Gotta love this URL for the gallery, too: hacks.mit.edu.
The Jargon Dictionary goes into more detail about the true nature of hackers: “One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.”
That might sound like you too, but it should also remind you of one S. Paul Jobs, apparently quite the highly intense, creative young man, very much interested in overcoming all sorts of technological limitations. In fact, the second of the Sayings from Chairman Jobs is “Better to be a pirate than join the navy."
Here's a picture of him and his pirate band around the time he said that. He's the one in front, wearing....
So just to get our bearings: modifying iPhone to make it work with other cellular networks? Cracking. Getting it to do cool things it doesn't otherwise do? Hacking. Better still, let's call it “unofficial development.”
iPhone hackers are by and large Mac OS X zealots, frustrated by what they see as artificial constraints on the true power of the Mac OS living in that phone. It's no wonder they call this kind of hacking “jailbreaking.”
Lucas Newman was one of the first of the explorers of the COMPUTING possibilities of the iPhone. He took the task seriously enough that he developed an unofficial SDK, development and debugging tools, sample code, and sample applications. It was such a truly remarkable achievement that Apple hired him.
I assume that part of his job is to encourage official development as cool as the unofficial stuff.
Of the jillions of unofficial iPhone apps out there, Telekinesis is one of my very favorites.It lets you stream the music and video from your HOME computer to play on your iPhone. H.264, MPEG-4, AAC-LC, .mp3, .mp4, .mov – you're golden. You can even play protected content you've downloaded through iTunes if your iPhone is authorized to play them. Mighty slick.
Also mighty slick is Touchpad Pro, which turns your iPhone into a really, really slick remote control, not only Macs, but Linux and Windows too. This was released a couple of weeks ago (March 2008) by Jahanzeb Sherwani, a PhD student in computer science at Carnegie Mellon, and I mention Windows because the computer he controls during his demo is running Windows!
I think most Mac users will find this just about right: Apple controlling Windows.
Anyway, it's all here: two-fingered scroll and scale, vertical and horizontal re-orientation, all of it. Anything you can do with any combination of a mouse, a keyboard and an iPhone, you can control remotely with your iPhone. To put it another way, you can use the iPhone as the interface for everything on your desktop computer.
I assume that the music in this movie is uhm, unofficial. We don't condone that, but you really need to see it anyway.
As you can see, it also works dandily as a PowerPoint or Keynote clicker that you won't lose. And if you DO lose it, and your IT staff can't wipe it for you, you can at least run the unofficial “iPhone LoJack” application, which will send you your phone's location through Google Maps.
You really have to see this next one to believe it: VISTA running on an iPhone!
I'll pause for a moment while you insert your own epithets and ironic observations.
Done laughing? Good. Now get ready to start again, because this movie is hilarious. It starts with all of the juicy iPhone navigation goodness you expect – the flip-scrolling looks especially tasty – and I have to tell you, in some ways it's even more striking with Vista because it's so unexpected.
Now, before you provide your next punchline, I'll provide mine: the author shows himself using Vista...on an iPhone...to play Super Mario Brothers! It's part of the whole Game Boy collection that our boy managed to load up. Amazing.
(Note that the video is both fuzzy and shaky. But be creative, Mac users. Insert a new joke about Windows being fuzzy and shaky rather than repeating the one you already used about Vista on an iPhone.)
And actually, it's not so far-fetched to imagine this one eventually coming to pass in some official manner, since every other bootable Mac device can run Windows.
A final note on standalone iPhone software. The dev community is divided on whether Apple's official SDK will let them do the things they really WANT to do after all this time “waiting, jailbreaking, and crying ourselves to sleep mode.”
In the meantime, expect energetic unofficial development for as far down the road as you can see.
I met a guy in Japan who worked for Hitachi. He told me 15 years ago that he was working on gestural computing – using human motion rather than a mechanical keyboard and mouse. He whiteboarded it out for me, waving his arms to show what he was talking about.
He was thinking big, and the whole time I was thinking, wow, pretty slick for a company that also makes rice cookers....
and The Hitachi Magic Wand.
Fast forward to today, with all of those iPhone commercials. If you watch them with this in mind, you'll see how it easy it is to think of iPhone as a shiny vessel for a multi-touch interface... that also happens to play media, make phone calls, do email and such.
I didn't think about this when I chose them, but as I think about now, each of the unofficial apps I mentioned above are less about DOING things than they are about refining an INTERFACE for doing things.
That said, the Cow's Gary Adcock showed that there are plenty of reasons to focus on what the iPhone can DO.
Since he wrote about his experiences the first week of the iPhone's release, there are now thousands of iPhone users in the Cow. I asked a handful of such folks to tell me specifically what they're using iPhone for.
Todd McMullen is a cinematographer, getting to work on the third season of Friday Night Lights. His first camera gig was on Martin Scorcese's Casino, and includes everything from The Green Mile to Infamous. This picture is of his "acting" debut, getting tossed into a dumpster in AmericanWedding. In his free time, he's one of the hosts of the Cow's Cinematography forum.
“Well other than the general life organizing benefits, current production benefits include having sample movies or other reference video available for scouts or location needs, llarger viewer for stills, having pdf files for the script or crew lists and the general gps for current locations and weather, etc.”
(His reply was brief because he sent it via his iPhone while shooting on location.)
Stuart Ferreyra is a colorist with Timecode Multimedia, a high-end film and video production facility in Santa Monica. He's also one of the leaders of the Cow's Apple Color forum. “I need it a mobile way to access the web, email, my music, photos and some QT video demo reels. I got the Macbook Pro and decided not to open the box.
“I got the iPhone the same night that came out and guess what... I returned the laptop the following Monday. Over the weekend I figured that -for my purposes- the iPhone was a much better solution and saved me over a couple thousand dollars. I can have all my business calls, all email (even my business POP accounts), all my music, photos, weather, MAPS with traffic (that one saves my life here in Los Angeles), access to the internet, mobile banking (saved my ass when I run out of gas once) even get and send faxes from the phone.”
Shane Ross is a broadcast and film editor, working on projects for Oliver Stone, The History Channel, Discovery, and many many more. He's also the author of Getting Organized in Final Cut Pro for the Creative Cow Master Series series of DVD training, and a leader in several Cow forums.
“I use it to surf the web and check e-mail when I am waiting in line at the bank. I use the map functions a lot, to get directions from here to there and not waste paper printing...GREAT pocket map for anywhere you go. I use it to take pictures and e-mail those pictures..and to store my iPhoto library to show off my family. I store my demo reels on it (just in case), and a single movie that I might watch while flying or driving somewhere. I use it to chat with friends via AIM (via meebo.com) while waiting for various things. I use it to check the weather for where I might be traveling to. I use it to play music when I forget my iPod
“And I use it as a phone.”
That was the first thing that struck Ron Lindeboom, the publisher of Creative Cow Magazine. “I've had a dozen or more phones, and this is the first one I've ever been able to USE. As a media device, I have more videos on my iPhone than I do on my desktop computer. I tend to use my iPod for MP3s, but I use my iPhone for music videos -- 60s and 70s era prog, Britpop – which is surprising to me.
“I get those videos from YouTube, using Tubesock. It works for both Mac and Windows, in Safari and Firefox, and lets me get videos that I can't even get to on my iPhone. I don't even go to YouTube anymore.”
Have a story to add about how you use your iPhone? Add it in the comments section at the end of this article.
Three: When I think about it, I multi-touch my pad
What you can DO with an iPhone today only hints at what I see as the end game for all this: that is, the end of interaction with computers as we know it, and the dawn of something really truly new, spreading far beyond its initial home.
The first hint we saw was in the previous generation's trackpad for Mac laptops – use two fingers to scroll, tap your middle finger for the right-click.
The next hint was Air, which I continue to believe is the most important computer that Apple has introduced since 1984, maybe ever, especially in the context of enterprise computing that I started this article with. Its much wider trackpad allows for iPhone-y gestures – spreading fingers for zooming, rotating two fingers to rotate images, 3 fingers to swipe, and so on.
The new MacBook and MacBook Pro updates? Yes, a processor bump, but Apple's only stealthy about their intentions BEFORE they release a product. They tell you front and center what else this update was about.
To know where you're going....
...it helps to know where you've been.
In the case of Apple's gestural interfaces, look no further than FingerWorks. It was founded by John Elias, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Delaware, and one of his PhD students, Wayne Westerman.
“The gesturing interface works like this. To open a file, a user rotates a hand as if to open a jar. To close a file requires the opposite rotation. To cut a piece of text, pinch the fingers together, and to paste, flick the fingers outward. To zoom in, expand all five fingers, jazz-hands style. Contract the hand to zoom out.”
Unless they didn't. Maybe Apple just bought the technology and the IP. Maybe John and Wayne are consulting. I'm sure the truth is out there somewhere, but trying to pin this down was a case study of an internet rumor being repeated until it gets reported as the truth.
Those snarky scamps at Engadget said “It really wouldn't be an Apple device if it didn't involve the practical kidnapping of a pair of inventors and secretive technology buyouts, and the iPhone seems to be no exception.”
The closest to an answer I found was in the “FingerFans” online community, when one poster asked Wayne flat out if they'd been bought, and if the company's products would still be around. He replied, “I wish manufacturing had continued or shutdown had gone smoother, but if we all cross our fingers, maybe the basic technology will not disappear forever. :-)” His smilie, not mine.
In any case, there's clearly a connection. Much of the FingerTouch website is still online, so by all means poke around. You'll see XWinder: The Future of Mac Window Management, which shows windows being stretched and moved around by hand!
You'll certainly see that Apple has made FingerTouch's original gestures -- surprise! -- very much more elegant -- two fingers to manipulate windows instead of two hands.
But what jumped out, screaming at me is that some of the most interesting aspects of FingerTouch's technology have yet to appear on iPhone, or any of the other places that Apple is using mult-touch.
"We have worked with customers to develop left-hand application-specific gesture sets for Photoshop, Emacs, Maya, Desktop Switching, and Word (Text Formatting). If you think your favorite application warrants its own gesture set, try out your ideas with the MyGestureEditor."
Oh, and while you're waiting for Apple to add that feature, Will Henderson has written an app that may help ease your pain. “Basically, MultiClutch allows you to assign custom keyboard shortcuts in a given app to a given gesture. Want swipes to change tabs in Safari? Done. The same in iChat? Done. Want zoom-in to open emails in Mail, zoom-out to close windows in every app, and a swipe down to bring up Quicksilver? Done done done.” A lovely, lovely hack, eh?
(You'll note that I tagged him tagging The Divynils for our respective titles here.)
I was also struck by the MacNTouch keyboard. Instead of keys, it was a combination keyboard and mouse on the same flat surface. Type when you need to type, gesture when you need to gesture, on the exact same surface. You could even buy a 15" Titanium PowerBook from Tekserve in New York with the MacNTouch preinstalled! (Here it is shown on a 12" iBook.)
Before you dismiss the value of a touchscreen-style keyboard with a built-in gestural "mouse," check out this detailed -- and very positive -- 2005 review at Ergoblog.com: "I would recommend it for anyone who works everyday with computers, especially programmers."
The reviewer also points out that there are bumps on the home row keys to keep touch typists oriented, but really -- how much typing do you do during your editing and graphics work? Don't forget that you could do everything you needed to do in Maya and Photoshop using existing toolsets.
FingerTouch also offered AN SDK (!!!) so that you could develop a gesture set for other applications.
"This SDK allows developers to design their applications for highly intuitive two-handed manipulations, like panning/zooming a CAD drawing with the left hand while the right hand draws or drags objects over large distances and scales."
You HAVE to think they'd have gotten around to an FCP gesture set eventually...and who's to say that Apple won't eventually get around to it?
All that said, there's plenty of typing that media creation pros do that can still be annoying to stop gesturing to do. What about that? Why, it just happens to be a frequently asked question, and they were only too happy to deliver the answer:
In general, most graphical manipulations will be done by gesture - it's just a lot faster and more efficient.
Okay, so far so good. Still haven't heard anything about text-ish tasks.
Operations like asking questions or non-graphical interaction will be best done by speech.
What?! Are you kidding? Integrating a gesturing keyboard and gestural manipulation interface with SPEECH RECOGNITION?!?!? Well, yeah, actually.
In [the 21st] century, people will seamlessly weave gesture and speech together to form a tight and efficient link between them and their computer.
On one hand, they wrote this IN the 21st century, and they were in fact working on it, so who knows? On the other hand, I was supposed to have my rocket car by now, and I'm still waiting for THAT. And I ain't talking about THIS:
Anyway, the moral of the story is that the software applications developed to run on iPhone are only one part of the platform. As the roots of iPhone's technology at FingerTouch show us, the other part of the platform is the multi-touch itself.
The first place that many of us saw multi-touch technology was in Jeff Han's 2006 demo, a video that rapidly circulated around the world. He notes that, even then, the field was quite crowded, with many more cool things on the way.
His demo is built around a large, customized touch screen. It's built around a wall-sized screen rather than a tiny trackpad, and drawing directly on the screen with your fingers. I'm not coming close to describing how cool this is, so please take a look. You can hear a very large audience gasping collectively, and you will too. It's 9 minutes long and trust me, worth every second.
That presentation was in February 2006. Since then, he started Perceptive Pixel to build a business on this. As cool as that presentation is, you HAVE to see how this technology evolved only a year later: multiple people manipulating staggering amounts of information, together, in real time, interacting with 3D landscapes with data overlays, pulling up keyboards in mid-air to enter text exactly where they need it... Unbeleeeeeeeeeeivable.
That movie, and an info email link, are pretty much all you see at the website, which hasn't been updated for over a year. It doesn't need to be. Rather than incorporate the technology into specific products, he creates custom implementations for large-scale installations. As you think about the sophisticated approach to managing intellectual and artistic resources in the demo, you can imagine that some of Jeff's biggest customers are in the military and intelligence fields. They already know what they need to know about what Jeff's technology can do.
(I don't mean for that to sound quite as sinister as it came out.)
1) You saw in the Perceptive Pixel demo some of the many uses of multi-touch for artistic work, including manipulating mesh warps and 3D objects in 3D space with YOUR HANDS. Jeff was also manipulating huge piles of VIDEO CLIPS, not the still images we see in iPhone/iPod Touch commercials. That's exactly what Finger Touch was talking about in the years before we first met Jeff.
If you look closely at the video clips that Jeff is manipulating in the Perceptive Pixel demo, you'll see that one of them is footage from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
2) In the earlier demo clip, you saw Jeff acknowledge that many others had been working in the multi-touch field before he came on the scene – Apple most definitely among them. Others include Onyx and LG, and plenty more besides.
While they may have had some influence on each other, each is also clearly a unique development, springing from the same forces but adapted for their specific environments around the world.
Kind of like birds.
3) Jeff really likes what Apple is up to. "The iPhone is absolutely gorgeous, and I've always said, if there ever were a company to bring this kind of technology to the consumer market, it's Apple. I just wish it were a bit bigger so I could really use both of my hands."
Time to take another look at the FingerTouch site I think. Two-handed fun galore, so perhaps some ahead for iPhone too.
Show me the logo
Apple and Perceptive Pixel have chose two paths for marketing their use of multi-touch technology. Apple uses it (for now) to expand the points of contact between people, and hardware and software applications.
For now. Anybody who tells you they know what's coming next for Apple is, by definition, wrong. There's no way that anybody who actually KNOWS what's coming will be talking to YOU. Well, maybe to YOU, but certainly not to me.
Perceptive Pixel is customizing points of contact between vast resources of information.
Perhaps the most striking example of selling multi-touch technology is in...selling. And there's no touching.
London's “The Alternative” describes themselves as “a soecialist agency” that believes in "a dynamic and ‘engagement-led’ mentality." Their work includes creating business strategies and go-to-market plans, energizing and focusing sales teams, and that slippery thing called viral marketing.
They designed a shop window display for Orange, the UK's top mobile phone provider. Orange also has a chain of 200 experience-rich retail stores -- "lifestyle" stores -- in high-end shopping areas, including the one you're about to see on Carnabie Street in London.
Now then, here's what a virus looks like.
Gavin Martin, Creative Director of The Alternative, says, “This really is the next generation of the user interface. We wanted to throw out all the traditional ways if interacting with technology and start from scratch. We created this with the needs of humans in mind, not computers." (My emphasis.)
Motion capture, gestural interaction, blah blah blah. This is viral, baby. It's hard to imagine someone seeing this and NOT telling their friends about it, inviting them to come along and try it out themselves. Just as it was on TV solely because it was cool, I'm telling YOU about it for the same reason.
Which is the same reason why you draw a crowd whenever you use your iPhone.
The fact is that we're just beginning. The destination of the road that iPhone points toward is not the creation of a new interface. We'll get there when we get rid of interfaces.
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