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.


About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

75 thoughts on “The post iPhone world

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  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. “@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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 :)

  10. 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.

  11. … 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…

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. “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.

  18. “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.

  19. @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

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