I’ve made the argument that the first generation iPhone wasn’t really a smartphone. It was just a really, really nice feature phone. As the lines between the two continue to blur–and some manufacturers ship the same handset with a smartphone OS under one name and an embedded OS under another–I think it’s worth pointing out what the difference really is. Smartphones are expandable, using third party software to do significantly more than they could fresh out of the box. With feature phones, you might get a lot of capability out of the box, but that’s also all you get. You can’t add new features later. Basically, smartphones have a native SDK.
The iPhone didn’t become a smartphone until the second generation. It wasn’t wasn’t the 3G radio that made it a smartphone, or indeed any of the capabilities it shipped with. What made it a smartphone was the App Store. The ability to easily add software to make the iPhone do different things, things Apple didn’t provide. The App Store is probably the single most important feature in the iPhone and iPod Touch, making iPhone a smartphone instead of a mere media phone, and the iPod Touch a PDA rather than just a media player.
This is a fundamental advantage over previous platforms, and a big part of the reason why the other platforms have been scrambling to catch up. Having the ability to search for, browse and buy applications directly on the device makes it so much more likely people will actually use third party software. I saw statistics back in the day saying that while people who used third party apps on the Palm typically installed dozens of them, over 70% of Palm users never installed even one application that didn’t come with the phone. A lot of them didn’t even know they could. The shiny blue App Store icon on the iPhone removes that limitation.
But there’s something else here that makes the iPhone and iPod Touch special. Not only are apps much easier to add to the iPhone than other smartphones, but the apps themselves tend to be of an average higher quality than those on other platforms. I know there’s a lot of fluff on the App Store, and I should point out that I haven’t purchased a single one of the myriad choices for providing artificial flatulence, but the apps I have purchased have all been more polished and stable than most (but not all) of the Windows Mobile apps I’ve used. On the whole, the average iPhone app is a more satisfying user experience than the average Windows Mobile app.
In the next few days, I’m going to spotlight some of what I think makes the iPhone stand out, and compare those apps to counterparts on other platforms. So far, here’s what I have in mind:
- Tweetie in the iPhone vs PockeTwit on the Touch Pro
- Birdhouse (a unique and excellent idea)
- eReader, Stanza and Kindle, oh my!
- What to do: Toodledo vs Life Balance vs Ultimate ToDos
- Evernote on the iPhone vs Evernote on Windows Mobile
If you have any other ideas or suggestions for iPhone software you’d like to see me cover, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.