The post iPhone world

One fun thing I like asking representatives from Nokia, Microsoft, or Research in Motion is “what does the post iPhone world look like?”

It is my way of sensing whether they’ve done any creative thinking. So far I’ve gotten mostly blank stares.

It’s like Steve Jobs has convinced everyone in the industry that nothing possibly can replace the iPhone on the coolest device shelf.

Me? I’ve seen this play before. Remember Sony’s Walkman?

I like pretending we live in a post iPhone world.

How do we get there?

Well, what would happen if we lived in a Twitter world? One where every light switch, every device, every machine, had a Twitter account?

I asked a Microsoft executive recently why they haven’t released a .NET/Silverlight runtime that Tweets.

His answer surprised me “have you signed our NDA yet?”

That’s code for “we’re working on just that.”

After all, Microsoft probably doesn’t like it that IBM has ruled enterprise marketing with its “Smart Planet” meme.

So, why would Microsoft support a Twitter world? Because if Microsoft helped Twitter build a world where everything has a Twitter API then Microsoft would also get the keys to the post-iPhone world.


Well, let’s assume that Microsoft had .NET runtimes on everything. Right now I’m staring at an IV machine in the hospital room where our next son will be born. Why couldn’t a doctor Tweet that machine? Using a message that looks something like this:

@sequoia_iv_0451 set level to 1 pt per hour

That would change the drip rate on her machine to 1 pint per hour.

That doesn’t seem that important, does it? But now what if EVERY device in the hospital had a runtime like this and could be queried through a Twitter language?

Wouldn’t that open up new application possibilities that don’t exist today? Absolutely!

Wouldn’t that encourage new kinds of devices to be built? Absolutely!

Wouldn’t that mean we’d need a replacement for the iPhone? Absolutely!

Why? Well, let’s put it this way. If you had tons of devices in your world that you wanted to interact with TweetDeck or SimplyTweet just wouldn’t cut it.

Now, what if Microsoft made such a Twitter system more reliable? After all, if a doctor is going to have a device that will talk to all sorts of machines during surgery there can’t be a possibility of a fail whale.

Once Microsoft got .NET runtimes out in enough things they could come in and build a shadow Twitter that’s more reliable than Twitter and that has some cool features.

Then once that’s done Microsoft could ship a post-iPhone world. Why? Because they would be able to build a device that would be optimized for this Twitter world.

Oh, OK, this is all science fiction. After all it’s preposterous to think that the iPhone won’t stay on the coolest device shelf forever.



  1. i love the way u think robert, and i continue to learn so much from you. I am about to launch a restaurant consultancy business in NYC to do social media strategy and the applications you render in this blog have got my mind brimming…

  2. I'd say that in many respects, Microsoft is further along in “getting it” as far as social type technologies go (case in point the xBox) — Google just hasn't been able to get their fingers into the space very effectively yet. They undoubtedly will, but for now the point goes to MS.

  3. What you say makes sense, it is just that I have never seen Microsoft help another company. They compete with anyone and everyone that has anything to do with computers. It would seem to go against their DNA to make a Twitter client. They are probably working on something to compete with Twitter that will only run on Windows, will have the word “Live” in it, and only work on IE8.

    Also, why is Twitter part of a post iPhone world? It's a service. the iPhone is a device.

    The iPhone will be swamped when the price of smart phones gets low enough that every current mobile phone user in Africa, India, Vietnam, etc. gets an Android type phone and this becomes the portal to the internet for most of the population on Earth.

  4. Robert, this is something I've thought a lot about as well. Last year (August of 2008), I wrote a post: “The iPhone Cannot Be The End. So What's Next?”

    The Palm Pre is not what's next. The Android platform may be part of what's next. The Blackberry doesn't look like what's next. It seems they're all waiting for what's next for Apple instead.

  5. Louis, exactly. The current players aren't showing many signs of doing anything truly disruptive (ie disrupt the iPhone) it's going to take much more than an open-source platform, much more than fancy push-email, and much more than multi-touch (although I think multi-touch is here to stay).

  6. The iPhone is currently the “Michael Jordan” of phones (according to Sprint's CEO). However, I suspect that by 2012, its descendants and competitors will be at least as powerful as today's high-end laptops, and likely more so. Even today's iPhone 3Gs can edit/trim video prior to uploading to YouTube, and that's with a single-core 600MHz CPU and 256MB RAM. The 4G handhelds of 2012 will likely be able to shoot (and perhaps even stream) 1080p natively. The new iPod nano can apply special effects in real time to its 640×480 video. So the multimedia chops of future handhelds will be pretty amazing by today's standards. So we're going to be able to carry A LOT of computing power in our pockets. That's assuming the world economy hasn't imploded.

  7. BTW, MS is not a person. They don't have DNA. One of the problems with personifying corporations is that you miss the fact that they're made up of people, really smart people, some of whom have really good ideas, and then you get blindsided when they do something that “goes against their DNA.”

  8. Not science fiction per se, but definitely a plausible piece of speculation (one of my own hardwired habits, BTW). And that's just about Microsoft (and .NET). Add Google and various other Apple competitors, some of which aren't even in existence yet, and things could get really interesting…

  9. Not to mention a secure password and reliable Twitter team to keep the
    account secure. I would never trust it. I could have some serious fun with
    it as a hacker though :-)

  10. I first heard the Twitter as a data feed idea, including machine instructions, from Richard Dale (@venturecyclist) at a Jeff Pulver Social Media Jungle event here in Boston this spring. Basically, Twitter can be used for whatever you want to transmit in 140 character snippets. Why not machine instructions?

    Funny thing is, it has taken me until this past week to discover an application for this with the Tweetworks API. We are now scoping something very cool for the mobile space.

    You lost me a bit on the relationship to a post iPhone world though. Sure, Microsoft could do some coolness but certainly someone will create an iPhone app that communicates with it.

    Where I see Microsoft playing a big role is in Twitter Exchange Server. That's right! Twitter needs to be bullet proof as it scales as you mention. It also needs to reach new places where it currently can't go. Why not treat Twitter as a set of conventions, much like email?

    BTW: I hope everything is going smoothly with the delivery.

    Mike Langford

    CEO, Tweetworks LLC

    Tweet Me: @MikeLangford

  11. Apple will not be able to follow Android into the domain of embedded systems. Android is already built on a very lean multi-process component model while the iPhone was designed to run monolithic apps. Additionally, Apple does not have the resources to compete against such a diverse set of industries. The profit margins are just not going to be sufficient to justify the investments required to go there. Android is free … it's hard to compete with that. Apple will probably get their technology into televisions and do well there but they will soon have to start defending their turf against those that have learned from their success. I wouldn't count Sony out just yet. I read that the next iteration of the Walkman will run on Android.

    Microsoft + Twitter = Blue screen of death + Fail whale. Enough said. I think XMPP (also free and open) will be the common language that devices will be speaking to each other with.

  12. You're being very creative in that waiting room!
    I like Every device with a Twitter account- probably will have a better chance than every device with an IP which we have heard about for such a long time with lame results.
    That damn so called keyboard still annoys me on my iPhone.
    I would place my bets on Microsoft pulling another Bing-like rabbit. They are due for some serious innovation.

  13. Scoble, most of time you really manage to understand the average user (and that's why I really like reading your stuff). But this time it seems that you completely missed it.

    While text interfaces appeal to us geeks (I'm in my terminal window 70% of my time anyway), I don't think this is the case with your doctor. Next time you're at the hospital – ask him whether he would like to control the IV machine with from an iPhone (on any other smart device) with a dedicated interface or by sending text messages to it.

  14. Scoble … love where you're going with this conceptually, but …

    What if Tweeting is a really stupid interface to control machinery with? I assume you're using Twitter as a metaphor … but I'm not sure.

  15. A GUI front end could be made to generate text-based messages. You do realize that Windows itself generates text-based messages when you move your mouse, right? So why couldn't a front end generate and consume text-based Tweets?

  16. I thought that maybe you think of Twitter as the infrastructure, but why add another layer?

    For machines it easier to parse out JSON or XML rather than plain text. Also there are better solutions to deliver data between devices that doesn't involve adding another layer such as Twitter. It's called TCP/IP and it's not from 2010 – it's from 1980 ;)

  17. I believe the point isn't the infrastructure, but the mere fact that all devices are connected, real-time. Having said that, should devices and people be connected through the same infrastructure that may prove an excellent ground for innovation – hence the post iPhone world Scoble was trying to envision.

  18. “Now, what if Microsoft made such a Twitter system more reliable?”

    Ha, ha, ha, ha! Come on Scoble. There are a lot of massive developers of all sorts of software products out there. Some of them actually make decent products. Microsoft is not one well known for “reliable”. They make stuff, but none of it is “reliable”. They make pretty stuff, sometimes, but none of it is “reliable”.

  19. everything *will* talk to everything … the tech for that is in its new-born phase … what is called the “cloud” is only a finger pointing … does nature need to be secure? no, and what is coming will/must be equally ubiquitous as “nature” … in one-system thinking, security is not a question

  20. Hey Scoble, what you’re saying here is: everything should have a url and an api ? To be honest, we’ve heard that before.
    I can’t imagine needing to access everything using structured text, this is too prone to errors.

    It wouldn’t be too hard to make some sort of universal GUI that can construct structured text messages (or json?) though.

  21. … “science fiction”? Nah. Scoble circa. 2013: “I backed FriendFeed. $50 M. I backed Twitter. $1 B valuation. I backed Facebook. $15 B. I backed $MSFT. $1 Trillion. Not too bad.” Dude you have to figure out a way to monitize your Wuffie “backing” these bets or go the other way and turn yourself into a bonafide not-for-profit (with benefactors & sponsors, of course!).

    Another way your twitter like “universal runtime” can potentially play out, all be it with the benefit of a federated – but decentralized – model that should please @davewiner to no end, is the up coming Google Wave.

    In my opinion, this could be a dark horse in this game. But then again, WTF do I know. See these two posts from Jason Kolb ( ) founder of Latigent, acquired by CISCO: On Google Wave Security – & Google Wave Model –

    These are the clearest, plain language, explanations I have come across on the subject of what the hell Google Wave is and its potentially game-changing implications.

    I have a hunch Twitter knows or senses this probability, hence, they are making the smart move to sell the “sizzle” (let potential acquirers fantasize the revenue it can possibly generate) not the “steak” (turn on monetization and be valued on a forward multiple marked to an actual rate of revenue generated) to achieve a $1 B valuation. Not to say that they cannot achieve (and likely exceed) this valuation by turning on rev streams now, but its a great fall back strategy in case they sell themselves in the short term.

    Your “universal runtime” meme also reminds me this beautiful Sunday afternoon in Paris of our beloved “Mr. Digital Cities is the New White” (formerly known as “Mr. Open is the new Black”), @marccanter4real, the original Bad Boy of Open, telling us all about embedding social into devices like refrigerators, TV's and the like which has now come to pass. Shout out to Marc: “Yo, dude – its damn boring without you around to stir up the waters in this here Red Ocean! – Ketiva Ve-Chatima Tovah to you & yours.”

    Robert: Congratulations in advance for your wonderful addition to the Scoble Dynasty.

    Now I am going for a walk by the river.


  22. Ug, I hate your example. Twitter is not anywhere near robust enough to be handling medical messages like that which could actually kill people.

    You're talking a message bus here, and using Twitter because that's the most familiar version of one. But it's not really a message bus, people are just trying to hack it into one. I, for one, would not want my IV drip controlled by public tweets. A lethal fail whale? No thanks.

    To do this stuff for real you'd need something at LEAST as secure and atomic as XMPP to handle this type of traffic. Thankfully I think Google Wave has the potential to mainstream XMPP to the point where the kind of stuff you're talking about is not only feasible but inevitable.

  23. Imagining the post iPhone world – that I get. I don't know what it looks like other than it being an AT&T-less world, but it is certainly a way to move forward. But then you lost me with the Twitter stuff. It isn't that I don't get Twitter its just that a) I can't take it seriously and b) I can't see how it jump starts the post iPhone world since Twitter and the iPhone are a great pair.

    Seems to me maybe you drank a bit of Ballmer's happy juice and then mixed a double espresso on top of it. Besides, you assume that Apple will stand still. Don't.

  24. I would think the post-iPhone world would be a mobile ecosystem where no gate-keeper exist. Where there is no Apple to block app approval, no wireless carrier to limit phone or app functionality, where native app and web-based HTML5/6/7 app will work seamlessly.

  25. I don't think the next great phone is as far-fetched as we've been led to believe. What's great about the iPhone can be narrowed down to the following IMHO – Apps, Design and Performance. Of these, only the Apps bit should feel daunting to competitors and even then, perhaps it shouldn't.

    Any strategy to compete with the iPhone should include an apps platform that is nothing short of revolutionary in terms of ease-of-development and perhaps even more importantly, the ability to easily port iPhone apps to it. The target should be for non-developers to be able to create apps fairly complex apps for this platform. Anything remotely close to that would be enough.

  26. Dude, it's a figure of speech. I'm talking about corporate culture. The Microsoft corporate culture doesn't work well with others. Not every person in a company matters the same when you are talking about culture and policy. Steve Balmer's opinions will trump any underling.

  27. That's the type of expectations that shatter the status quo, fantastic vision Victor! What do you think we can do to aid design, help build, and ultimately take advantage of opportunities available in this ubiquitous portable computing world? I'm hungry for the reality of advanced software design, which I believe we are in greater need of then even the type of amazing hardware options you describe. The cost of programming and software support will decrease only when the ease of use for high level web ready languages improves.

  28. William just think of all the information from ubiquitous real time streams. I don't see Twitter owning it all now that alternative open real time options are gaining popularity. We're going to need much more powerful search and pattern matching tools within media.

  29. Alexander, info rich comment! I will have to read up on Marc Canter, his ideas definitely sound worth Checking out. I appreciated your topic bouncing, resonated with my internal chaos compass. Technology is unleashing our creative potential much like the arrival of paints on ancient rocky walls. Only now the paint will be able to morph over time, and the art will be able to communcate with eachother.

  30. Only if we demand it to be so Clarence, and finances allow for it. I truly hope the future you envision is the one that wins out. I suspect I will have to help fight for it.

  31. Louis you hit it out of the park. Ease of portability and development will unlock greater value for users than the other aspects of the tech. As we embrass new ultra portable computing and Internet extensions into our physical lives, developers may be business experts, athletic stars, and story tellers. The exclusion of the majority of our sum creativity, is about to end with the arrival of incredible high level design languages.

  32. Erm, perhaps I've missed the point but why Twitter-enable the .Net runtime just so that it can receive tweets? Isn't that what an IP address and XML could do, and you could POST directly to the runtime rather than have the runtime poll a service (also IP'd BTW) periodically.

    I still don't quite “get” Twitter, which is why I probably don't quite “get” the benefits it could supposedly bring.

  33. Very cool vision. You're basically envisioning a future where every device is available and accessible by a stripped-down command line. Surely the same would be possible if everything had a linux server inside it (you can get some pretty small ones these days) and you could just SSH into it and issue commands. But I guess that's too techy.

    Also, I can't believe you're blogging from the hospital! That's dedication.

  34. @Mark – based on what the MIT Media Lab already had in-house in the 1990's (technology described in Stewart Brand's book “The Media Lab”), we are still using today very primitive tools by comparison. Why do I still have to manually search for a lot of information? Intelligent software agents should assist me by bringing to my attention things that are relevant and timely based on parameters I have specified. Based on my dining preferences, for example, software/services should recommend nearby restaurants without my asking. With continuous speech recognition, I should not have to learn computer language syntax, but the system should also parse my natural language query into SQL and whatever else it needs to answer my question. Speech recognition is one thing, but I shouldn't also have to dictate SELECT * FROM OPENTABLE_RESULTS WHERE CUISINE EQUALS 'ITALIAN' AND PRICE_RANGE <50 AND AVERAGE_RATING >3

  35. “I asked a Microsoft executive recently why they haven’t released a .NET/Silverlight runtime that Tweets.”

    What does this even mean? Twitter has an HTTP-based set of RESTful APIs. If you have a chunk of networking code that can talk HTTP, you're all set.

  36. “we live in a post iPhone world”
    OK iPhone is old fashioned now. Move over to the next thing.
    The netbook from ASUS has had more impact to the world than the iPhone as an entire industry has followed suite.
    maybe you should ask Microsoft about the netbooks and how they have been fighting to replace Linux from the netbooks.

  37. I disagree, no control would be chaos. Apple blocks a lot more then just apps that affect its own profits. It also blocks thousands of useless, porn ridden, crap ware that are inherit to free domain areas.

  38. Great Post Robert, one that I often think about as we shift to a new place. I think of when my mother said “what is a website and can you make money at that?” in 1994. I guess we all loose the the fact progress comes weather we like it or not. As for me the progress to a new device outside the iPhone will be welcome.

  39. I sure as hell wouldn't want any medicine going into my body controlled by Twitter. There might be a lot of cool things you could do with Twitter and devices, but that is a terrible idea.

  40. What you are talking about is a stadard command and control system for all devices. Why would one build that on Twitter? The security implications alone are mind boggling. I'm all for making devices smarter, but we live in a world where our entertainment systems are not “smart” enough to known when I insert a DVD that I probably want the system to set my perfered movie settings. How about fixing the easy stuff before recommending the ability to send twitter messages to IV delivery systems.

  41. Ah natural language programming, wouldn't it be grand. I forsee a near future where such programming is possible, although it will take some work in getting there.

    Also the relevant search based on your previous parameters (or shared social media) leads to two way contextual search. And that's an area that is going to take web advertising by storm.

  42. … I don't get what your comment is supposed to mean. I am pretty sure social media has over taken the porn industry in both populations and revenue.

    I want a better web, but ripping on Apple's business decisions (Specifically the App store) is unfounded. I think a good start, perhaps the best start, would be to make sure the new windows mobile browser uses web kit…

  43. Any subsection of the web that attempts to control or throttle the free flow of information and ideas will be bypassed and discarded like a vestigial limb. I meant to say that although the Internet has porn and crap sites, it is rich with vibrant information, conflicting discussions (like this one). If Apple has the final say on mobile apps, it will not promote innovation by protecting users from bad stuff. It will limit developers ability to unseat them as sole mobile software information providers.

  44. Arik, I think this follows the saying “If you only have a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.” Twitter being the hammer, every communications problem a nail :)

  45. In the case of the App store, its 'wrong doing' is based in basic business practices… The company MUST do everything it can to ensure maximum share value otherwise the company can be sued by its shareholders. In response to your open ended statement you originally wrote “if we demand it to be so Clarence, and finances allow for it”: finances do not allow it, and is a fundamental issue with our societies business model. The furthering of things can only happen if it is more profitable then the old model, and must be in the very foreseeable future.

    I am also under the impression Apple has given a face to many a developer who otherwise would have never been published, save some freeware demo download site and then forgotten. Authority is a byproduct of organization and structure.

  46. I made a similar statement to my manager a while back. A Twitter-like system is perfect for connecting devices such as messaging remote research devices including feedback. The service makes it easy to control home appliances while away, or doctor monitoring patient stats. Other services already exist, but they are segregated and must be customized for each application. Using Twitter as a study in scalability, imagine extending the service with a common language device communications system.

    We could do some really cool things with this.

  47. “@sequoia_iv_0451 set level to 1 pt per hour”

    Robert, meet Mr. Bill Joy, circa 1999. You are describing Sun's Jini project.

    Your example seems simple, but has lots of difficult problems. Here are a couple:

    How does the doctor know the name of the IV machine? If he is staring at it, why doesn't he just a button. If he is half way around the world, how does he discover it's name? If the machine breaks and is replace it with another one, how is the IV machine directory updated? If the machine is moved to another room, how is the location updated? Lots of discovery, directory, and identity issues.

    How does the IV machine know its the doctor and not some hacker changing the drip rate? Do you want anyone on the planet to be able to change the IV drip? How does the doctor entitle his partner to also set the drip rate in an emergency? Massive authentication, and authorization, and security issues.

    Do all IV machines use the same command to change the drip rate, or will the doctor have to know the manufacture and model of this IV machine to send the command? Does the doctor know the current drip rate? If not, how does he query the IV machine for the current rate? If the doctors message contains a typo that would set a lethal dosage, what will the machine do in response? How does it tell the doctor? Lots of data schema standardization, validation, and retrieval work.

    I assume when the doctor sends the message, you want a 100% guarantee this type of message is received by the IV machine and a status is reported back to the doctor, as well as recorded in some medical record. Other types of messages like turning on your Tivo, probably won't need the same level of guaranteed delivery, status reporting and archiving. So different levels of service and behavior.

    I am sure the Sun's Jini team has a more comprehensive list of issues. Needless to say, Jini didn't reach Mr. Joy's vision. The underlying performance of the hardware and networks has come a long way since 1999, but some of the basic issues are still very hard to solve.

  48. I agree with your point about Apple's authority giving a lowly developer a stage to show off, but seriously, there are more than one kinds of authority. Apple's approach is extremely draconian and totalitarian, which not only costs them huge amounts of time and money to approve all those apps but also weeds out anything that they don't agree with… such as competitors with better ideas.

    Conversely, a more democratic, social-based authority (think Slashdot's moderation system, Google's PageRank, etc), still weeds out the crap but also allows new and competitive ideas to come to the forefront more easily. Not to mention that many of Apple's (and the app developers') resources could be replaced by free labor by the web at large. How's that for shareholder value?

  49. Seriously! My doctor is going to change my IV drip with his iPhone? What if he mistypes on that tiny retarded keyboard and sends me into a coma?

    What happened to those good old things called BUTTONS? It's a mechanical device. When you press it, it performs a single function. There can be no mistake!

    This reminds me of when microwave and car radio designers had the inane inspiration to make everything digital. Instead of controlling your volume with a blind grab-and-twist of a knob, you now have to search for a tiny little button in a sea of buttons, WHILE DRIVING, and try to control your radio that way. How is that better at all? How is it better for a doctor to whip out his iPhone, open the Twitter app, remember what Twitter account my IV is using, and type in some long command to change the drip when he could just reach out and twist the knob on the damn IV!

    I'm glad you are getting all excited about these new messaging protocols and stuff, but seriously, as an interface designer I can tell you that most of these are not really an improvement.

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