Developers, Get To Work: Third-Party Apps We Need For The iPhone - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Mobile // Mobile Devices
Commentary
3/3/2008
01:17 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Developers, Get To Work: Third-Party Apps We Need For The iPhone

The iPhone is a terrific smartphone, but it's got some glaring gaps in what it can do. Many of these gaps are baffling because they're not particularly glamorous -- capabilities that have been available for more than a decade on other PDAs and smartphones are unavailable on the iPhone today. I'm excited about the imminent availability of sanctioned third-party apps on the iPhone in part because I'm looking forward to the iPhone getting some basic capabilities that, frankly, should have been th

The iPhone is a terrific smartphone, but it's got some glaring gaps in what it can do. Many of these gaps are baffling because they're not particularly glamorous -- capabilities that have been available for more than a decade on other PDAs and smartphones are unavailable on the iPhone today. I'm excited about the imminent availability of sanctioned third-party apps on the iPhone in part because I'm looking forward to the iPhone getting some basic capabilities that, frankly, should have been there all along.

Of course, you've been able to add third-party applications to the iPhone for months now, but they required unauthorized "jailbreaking" -- hacking -- of the iPhone, which voided the warranty. Jailbreaking the iPhone is a DIY project and I just haven't seen any of the existing applications as being worth my time to install.

But a sanctioned, third-party software development kit will open a flood of new applications. I used Palm handhelds for more than a decade, and they have a rich foundation of applications to choose from. I look forward to seeing some of the same innovation -- or better -- on the iPhone.

My wish list includes:

  • The ability to sync memos on the iPhone to the desktop. I work in plain text files most of the day. I'd like to have each memo on the iPhone sync automatically to a plain text file on the desktop, with changes on the desktop reflected on the iPhone and vice-versa.

  • An office suite, with word processor, simple spreadsheet, and graphics program, which would sync with Microsoft Office, Apple iWork, NeoOffice/OpenOffice.org, Google Docs, and Zoho Office.

  • A choice of Web browsers. Because why not? I'd love to see tabbed browsing on the iPhone, and I'd love to be able to sync my Firefox bookmarks with the iPhone. I'd love to get an iPhone browser that supports Flash; the iPhone's current browser doesn't.

  • The ability to sync iCal To Do items with the iPhone.

  • A simple checklist program. The program would allow you to make a list of items with a checkbox next to each item, then tick off the checkbox when you're done with each item. When you're done with the list, click a button and the checkboxes are all empty again and your list is ready for re-use. I frequently used HandyShopper on the Treo for quick to-do lists -- I had one list saved for use when packing for a business trip (socks, pants, shirts, toothpaste, business cards, etc.) HandyShopper is a very powerful program designed primarily for power-shoppers -- you can list items by store, by price, by aisle number in a store, and sort by several other criteria. HandyShopper is free, and I'd love to see a version for the iPhone.

  • An e-book reader supporting standard formats such as MobiPocket. I like reading e-books now and then. The fantasy writer Steven Brust recently released a free e-book novel based on the TV series Firefly. I'm waiting to read it until I can read it on my iPhone.

  • OmniFocus: OmniFocus is a personal-productivity application for the Mac that I started using in December, and I've grown dependent on it. I'd like to be able to run OmniFocus on my iPhone, and sync the iPhone version with the desktop version.

  • 1Password: 1Password is a password-management program for the Mac that I've been using since the fall, and I like it a lot. It already has a simple version that runs as a bookmarklet in Mobile Safari; I'd like to see a full-scale version that allows me to add and edit bookmarks on the iPhone, and of course sync those changes to the desktop.

  • Fitaly: Fitaly is an alternative layout for a tap keyboard. It's available for the Pocket PC, Tablet PC, and several Palm devices. Instead of laying out the keys in qwerty order, the keys are laid out in the order of frequency, with most frequent letters in the center and less frequent letters and characters at the edges. I'd like to see Fitaly for the iPhone. More than that, I'd like to see lots of alternative input methods for the iPhone. I think the iPhone's soft keyboard is OK, but I'd like to see lots of experiments in alternative input methods to see if we can do better.

  • Native photo-sharing applications for Flickr and Picasa, to make it easy to upload photos to those image-sharing services, and edit and change captions, keywords, and other metadata.

  • A simple database, such as HanDBase.

  • Full support for Exchange, SAP, Oracle, Lotus Notes, and other enterprise applications.

That last item is just the beginning of what's needed to make the iPhone into an enterprise device. The iPhone also will require management and security tools: Enterprises need the ability to remotely install software and operating systems over the network, they need to be able to encrypt everything on the device, and they need to be able to wipe the device clean remotely in case it is lost or stolen, and more.

Want to read more? My colleague W. David Gardner lists iPhone predictions from analysts and Eric Zeman writes about predictions from analysts at UBS that Apple is readying its 3G iPhone.

What third-party applications do you think the iPhone needs? Leave a message and let us know.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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