The missing iPhone apps


So I got the new iPhone 3G, and have upgraded my old one to the 2.0 firmware, and have been pretty impressed with some of the innovative applications that are available online. I was thinking about this to myself while keeping my 6yo son occupied today at a restaurant with a free Pong-clone that I looked up and downloaded while we were sitting there. It's simple and fun, though he discovered soon enough that tilting the phone towards your opponent makes the ball go that much faster, and soon I was afraid we were going to snap it in half trying to tilt in the opposite sides direction.

That said, there's a lot of apps that are just plain missing from the app store - most of them which have been available on much less capable mobile phones for years now. Considering some of the crap that's in the catalog, I wonder if there's just a vacuum of Mac-toting Objective C developers, or if Apple is actively keeping these apps out of the AppStore?

Some stuff that's missing is just plain geeky, I admit. The first things I want to see are an IRC client, Jabber client, an SSH terminal and a Remote Desktop or VNC client [Update: There is a VNC client already! :-)]. Yes, I'm a geek - but so are the people who usually write these sorts of apps, which makes me think there's not really a dearth of these types of apps, but that Apple is only allowing "commercial" types of programs in the App store. [Update 2 (8/24/08): All those types of apps are available as of now, so it was obviously just a lack of apps at first.]

Beyond this stuff, I'd love to see a real VoIP client (Skype, or SIP) - all the advanced Nokia phones have this stuff integrated into them already - so it can't be carrier pressure or anything unless they're being overly cautious. I'd also love to have a camcorder app, or at least a decent camera app that doesn't lack features like the integrated one does (timer, digital zoom, etc.). And what about an Opera or Mozilla browser, maybe with integrated Flash? There doesn't seem to be any real technical reason for them not to be there.

Those are sort of "nice to have's", but an example of an important and popular app that's missing is MobiTV. Live streaming TV has been a staple on American mobile phones since I got my Nokia 6620 EDGE phone years ago. Not being able to have the option to watch live TV on HSUPA 3G networks is a almost a crime. I can't imagine that MobiTV ignored this platform outright, can you? And YouTube and Pandora already do video and/or streaming. Something else must be going on.

Thinking about it I realized the AppStore doesn't have any apps with a subscription model. They're all apps that are buy-once, use forever. Until I realized this, I had simply mentally compared the Apple AppStore to the Qualcomm Brew deck that's been on CDMA phones for years, but now I realize that in fact, it's actually much less capable. (Sorry Apple fans, they are neither the innovator here, nor apparently the most full-featured either.)

The comparison is actually quite accurate in general though. I still think it's shitty that I have to go through the iTunes interface to install apps at all - this is just like how Brew phones work as well. Why can't I just load up an app from any URL? Apps should be thought of as music, and just like I can "sideload" my iPhone with MP3s from my CDs, I should be able to load up apps from independent sites as well. This is exactly like the Qualcomm model. But you know, I remember being at one of the first MobileMondays in San Francisco years ago and Rocket Mobile was presenting, and Marc Canter sitting in the back having an absolute coronary hearing about all the limitations of the Brew app platform and being absolutely aghast that any developer would want to play that game, regardless of the revenue model. It seems however, that he's among the few, and Apple especially seems to able get away with this crud without so-much as a negative peep from the blogging or developer community. Hey, if you don't like it, don't develop for it, right? Sure, that's fine, I honestly just can't believe there's so many developers who decided to accept it.

The sad part about it is most of the stuff I'm missing were available on my Nokia 6600 in 2003. So if that's the case, why do I use an iPhone? Because it's the best damn mobile phone on the freakin' planet, with the biggest screen and nicest UI - that doesn't mean I need to eat Apple's shit and like it though.

All that said, I do have to say that there's apps for the iPhone that I *haven't* seen on any of the other smartphones out there even with years head start, so there's definitely a thriving and innovative community supporting the iPhone, and for that I'm happy and look forward to seeing what comes next. But just imagine how much *more* innovation we would see if these developers were actually using an open platform instead?


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