I take back my initial reaction to the iPhone’s new configurable interface after digging into a few of the details–and some chastisement from Telephony Senior Editor Rich Karpinski. Said Rich:
“The ‘re-arrangeable’ home screen isn’t all fluff but a nod to the still-to-come iPhone SDK, which will let third parties build applications which now — at the user’s choice — can apparently bump Apple apps to the background. At first glance at least, Apple is moving from a locked-down apps and deck to something fairly user-configurable.”
As Rich points out, Apple seems to be doing more than just rearrange icons. It’s allowing iPhone users to tailor the interfaces of their phones, initially allowing them to turn a bookmarked Web site into a Webclip that can be pasted as an icon on the iPhone home screen. It’s a nifty feature, but as Rich points out, its true potential lies in what the user can do when the SDK comes out and suddenly hundreds of Safari and Mac OS apps become available for the iPhone. Like Mapquest instead of Google Maps? Well, supposedly you can replace the latter with the former on the interface.
The significance of this may not be readily apparent, but anyone who has ever downloaded a third-party app onto a feature phone or smartphone knows how hard it is to find your pet application afterwards. It’s usually buried down in the applications folder among dozens, if not hundreds, of icons. One of the primary reasons the iPhone is so successful is because of its ease-of-use and the sleekness of its interface. The reason it’s so sleek, though, is Apple now controls every application on the deck. Once you start introducing third-party apps (like the ones Google is now offering) the seamlessly organized interface of the iPhone suddenly begins to look like a touch-screen mess. Apple is obviously trying to get ahead of that problem–so much so that it is actually creating the ability to have up to nine home screens which you can flip through with the flick of finger. I assume that means you can have a gaming home screen, a navigation home screen and an e-mail screen, if you like. Whether the average iPhone user takes advantage of all of these new functions is anyone’s guess, but Apple seems to be doing as much as it can to let people bring their own content to the forefront–something the carriers and even the more innovative handset makers like Nokia have really failed to do.
Want the update? Chances are, you already have it. Apple is automatically updating the iPhone software during synchronization to iTunes 7. A Quicktime Demo of the the new configurable interface is available on the Apple iPhone site as is an MPEG-4 or Quicktime video of Jobs’ keynote (why Apple doesn’t webcast it live, I have no idea).
As for the location-based services hoopla, I still stand by my initial assessment. As you may recall, Google introduced this element to mobile versions of Google Maps across the board a few months backs after it grew impatient with the lack of GPS penetration in phones. Jobs demoed the app on the iPhone at MacWorld, but I–and a lot of other people–suspect that Jobs had his coordinates pre-programmed for the network to pinpoint him so quickly in Moscone Center in San Francisco. The network triangulation Google uses is handy, but it’s not exactly the most accurate means of determining location. Don’t get me wrong–it’s an incredibly handy feature–but Jobs might be selling us some false expectations again just like he sold us on the lightening-fast browsing speeds of the iPhone.