Cell phones are getting more and more sophisticated and along with the changing technologies, mobile usage patterns are starting to shift. According to a just released report from Pew Internet about 75% of American adults own a cell phone. 58% have used their device for non-voice applications (email, texting, and Internet) and 41% have logged into a mobile Internet connection.
Apple and Research in Motion are among the phone makers leading the push to the future but like giant ships passing in the night, they have so far approached the markets from opposite shores; one focused on consumers, the other the needs of corporate business users. Now that is changing. In an increasingly spirited competition both companies are expanding their ambition. Instead of targeting just a segment (corporate/consumer) now they’re both aiming for the entire smart phone market. It’s shaping up to be an interesting battle.
In the fall, RIM fired the first shot across Apple’s bow with a deal to incorporate Facebook related functionality into their platform. Wednesday, RIM again took the headlines with the announcement of a mobile music partnership with social networking site Dip Dive. Promoting the deal, RIM’s CEO James Balsillie made it a point to emphasize the platform’s features saying, "The multimedia capability of the BlackBerry is growing, and the adoption is growing very, very fast." He also said “the two hottest trends in wireless are social networking …[and] multimedia, which is principally portable music."
Thursday was Apple’s day. At a press conference this morning, Apple revealed what had largely been anticipated: iPhone support for enterprise email services and a broad software development plan for the iPhone. Now, like RIM’s Blackberry, the iPhone will receive pushed (e.g. auto updated) email and calendaring data from corporate servers running Microsoft Exchange. These are just the kind of corporate services that had previously differentiated the companies’ two competing platforms.
Apple’s new service which works with Microsoft’s Exchange ActiveSync mail software will almost immediate synchronize emails. Mix that with Apple’s visual voicemail, impressive internet applications and wow factor (even absent the tactile comfort of a traditional rather than virtual keypad) and the iPhone is a now a corporate device.
Addressing other business oriented concerns, the new software will also allow business users to toggle contacts, email and calendaring functions on and off at their discretion. From a security standpoint, the software updates, according to Apple’s Philip Schiller, addresses corporate issues as well. Now, corporate IT departments will be able to remotely wipe the phone in case it is lost. There won’t be need to fear misplaced corporate data.
Looking to the future, things are sure to get interesting even more interesting as competition between the two companies accelerates. Already, Apple has pledged to sell 10 million iPhones this year. They also claim nearly 70% of mobile Internet traffic is flowing through the iPhone. RIM fires back with their own optimistic projections. Their data points out nearly two-thirds of their 12 million BlackBerry subscribers (as of December) are classified as government or corporate customers. That’s a significant advantage in the enterprise market. This is a battle that could get nasty. (And it’s already heated. Overall, Apple has taken approximately 28 percent of the U.S. Smart Phone market in less than one year. RIM’s Blackberry has 41%. (Palm has about 9% (via Canalys)).
In other related news, Apple used the Thursday morning show to introduce the much anticipated software development kit for the iPhone. The new package will give developers access to much of the iPhone’s underlying hardware configuration including the accelerometer sensor that gauges motion. It will also provide them with sophisticated testing, debugging and simulation tools. The breadth of this access is intended to encourage the creation of a wide swath of application territory; programs from games to work related utilities.
To showcase the ease of using these tools Apple previously gave third party developers two weeks to see what they could create. Apple’s pitch: development is easy and you’ll prove it. Examples of these two week coding adventures were revealed at the press event. One example was a motion controlled game called Touch Fighter. Built around flying a Star Wars X Fighter spaceship, a player controls the vehicle by tilting the iPhone similar to the way they might use a Nintendo Wii controller. Another gaming example was a mobile version of EA’s upcoming Spore game title. A photo manipulation program called Touch FX showcased a different set of functionality. Using simple touch/gesture controls it turned the iPhone into what amounted to a sophisticated etch-a-sketch. Track a finger across the screen one way and you will morph the picture like an carnival’s house of mirrors. Don’t like it? With a shake of the phone, the picture returns to normal.
Applications built with the new SDK tools are expected to be approved and released by June.