In his speech about the next 5,000 days of the web, Kevin Kelly made the observation that “what’s amazing, is that we are not amazed” (with the web). Well having owned an iPhone since the first day of release, what amazes me most about it is that more than a year later it still continues to amaze me more and more.
One thing I’ve noticed since the release of the 2.0 software and 3rd party apps, is that my iPhone seems to be making other products that I own redundant.
Chromatic Guitar Tuner
I first noticed this with my Guitar Tuner
. I have a circa 10-year old analogue tuner that is reliable, but only works for the basic six notes. I was about to buy a new digital tuner, but instead found and downloaded “Guitar Toolkit
” from the iPhone app store.
This uses the iPhone’s microphone to listen to the guitar, automatically senses all standard, flat and sharp notes and gives a visual readout that is surprisingly accurate. Not only do I now not need my old tuner, I can now finally do the wierd tuning needed to play Radiohead’s “Jigsaw falling into place” without needing to buy a new tuner.
Of course, the “basic” apps that come pre-installed on the iPhone create quite a bit of redunancy themselves. Who needs a calculator when the iPhone finally brings a decent calculator interface to a phone.
Redundancy too for bigger, more expensive products like GPS/Sat Nav. I don’t drive at the moment, but as a passenger the other day I was easily able to navigate our way to a wedding in a remote location in the English countryside using iPhone’s Maps software.
Until yesterday, my favourite app has been Apple’s iRemote which is making my bedroom and living room stereos – and all my CDs redundant. Now, with both stereos plugged into Apple AirPort Express hubs, I can stream music to either room from the iTunes library on my big PC downstairs. Impressive enough, but with iRemote I can now call up all 85-odd gigs of music from downstairs on my phone, and select to play it out through the speakers in my lounge or bedroom. Perfect for waking up in the morning!
This makes me grin with glee everytime I use it and marvel at the ability to have control over so much music in the palm of my hand, with an easily usable interface too. But yesterday I discovered Simplify Media, which gives me all that – but outside of my house too!
The core functionality is already something that I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover. It means that when at work, I can call up the entire 85GB of music on my home PC and browse and play it through iTunes on my laptop. The whole library appears as a shared library in iTunes, exactly as it does when you are on the same network. Today’s test reveals that that streaming performance is pretty good, but I guess some people will be at the mercy of their broadband provider on this one.
Simplify Media Screenshot
But the best bit of all, is that Simplify Media also offers an iPhone app, which means that I can access the entire month’s worth of music on my home PC, from my phone, from anywhere I can get a signal. That includes when walking down the street, waiting at a train station, or plugging into the stereo at a mate’s house. And it even scrobbles everything to last.fm !!!
This practically makes me cry with joy. But I’m wondering if it is also now going to make my old iPod redundant? I previously still carried that around with me as well, because even 16GB of music on the iPhone is not enough to keep me content, I want the full 60GB of choice my old model offers. I’m not about to freecycle it just yet though – let’s see what happens to my electricity bill when I start leaving my home PC permanently on!
Digital and product convergence
The iPhone must surely be the most preeminent example of the convergence of product design and digital design that our industry has long predicted. I wonder how far such leading “converged” products can go in further commoditising and making redundant other less holistic products? I certainly don’t believe that there is much room in consumer’s lives/budgets for multiple super-products that do everything. Perhaps therefore, it is the first product within key categories to acheive this status that will rule the roost for some time thereafter.
Thinking back 8-10 years to when I was a Product Design student in Southampton, I remember that we were not allowed to design “black boxes that did stuff”, we had to design and show how the physical product would perform a function, not just assume that some wizardry would happen on circuit boards within. But what the web has taught us in those last 8-10 years is that by harnessing the wisdom of crowds and encouraging collaboration and contribution from 3rd parties, so much more can be acheived. Who ever’s job it is at Apple to review and approve all these 3rd party apps must be rubbing their hands with glee as they see so many companies and individuals produce work that just makes their product better and better.
What I think the product designers of the iPhone did excellently well was to design key controls – like the microphone, or touchscreen, or accelerometer – that can be accessed by 3rd party apps and used for new purposes. I doubt that the original designers were even completely sure what to do with the accelerometer when they created it, but it doesn’t matter, because they just need to unleash the box of tricks and let everyone else find new and innovative ways to make us smile.