My friend Steve Gillmor is known for his very occasional cryptic and sometimes prescient posts that attempt to connect the dots and unpack the logic between seemingly unrelated events.
This week he focused his attention on the iPhone, which he suggests is new center of computing gravity, and iPhonomics, which has something to do with the calculus of battery life and multi-device computing, connected to Google Gears (offline access for Web apps), Apple TV and the data sources in your life.
In part, Steve is outlining Steve Jobs' vision and agenda for the post-PC era. During his stage appearance with Bill Gates at the D conference, Jobs said the "radical rethinking [of computing] will happen in post-PC devices," such as the iPod and its successor iPhone. Motorola, Nokia, Palm, Microsoft, RIM, HTC, Samsung and many others have the same vision. Jobs has said that the iPhone software is five years ahead of competitors, and on June 29 we see how that claim holds up.
Over the next several years, continually enhanced by Moore's Law, the smarter, memory-laden, high-bandwidth phone, Web browser, video and audio player--more consisely, the handheld mobile device or mobile companion--will become the primary computer for billions of people on the planet.
The problem with that scenario--the smartphone as primary device for voice, music, video, Web browsing, email, calendar, social networking, bluetoothing, etc--is battery life. Steve proposes a salvation scenario for battery-life challenged mobile devices:
In a world post-iPhone where everything changes, battery life becomes the arbiter of usage. iPhonomics becomes the process of reducing battery usage to acceptable fill-ups at power oases throughout the daily lifecycle of the device. Let’s say the phone gets 20% of usage during the day and evening if out and about. That leaves 30% for Web and the rest for iPod, of which 40% might be audio and 60% video.
Plane usage tips toward iPod. Here’s where Gears comes in, as Google Apps suck up most of the airtime and you can charge the iPhone while you browse offline. At home, Apple TV shifts away from iPhone video in a similar complementary fashion. Soon it’s bedtime, and tomorrow the cycle begins anew.
In his final Google/Apple-centric coda, Steve proclaimed: "The secret of the iPhone is that [Google] Gears and Dish [Network] and Google Reader, Docs, and Gmail and AppleTV are all peripherals for the iPhone. iPhone therefore I am." Note that Google CEO Eric Schmidt is on the Apple board of directors, so it's not too much of a stretch to count on tighter integration between the two companies over time. The same iPhonomic scenario could be applied, less elegantly, to a Windows-based solutions.
But no matter how you calculate the iPhonomics, you end up having to manage your usage across several different activities, so you don't end up draining the battery watching YouTube videos or listening in on endless conference calls while in transit. Having extra charged batteries doesn't help, because the iPhone, like the iPod, is welded shut.
Airports are extremely stingy about providing electrical outlets, and most airplanes don't have in-seat charging facilities. The U.S. doesn't have cell phone charging stations on every corner, like Starbucks. Actually, it's a good idea for Starbucks. With every purchase of a double latte with soy milk you get access to a charging station.
The other issue is carrying around a laptop as part of the online/offline battery life triage. It's practical for the current smartphone crowd, but not for billions of users in the future who can't afford multiple devices. Perhaps Apple will come out with an under $500 iPhone/Macbook combo, in part subsidized by a service contract. If, Apple doesn't someone else will on the non-Apple platform. Or maybe the battery breakthrough will occur sooner than later. We can only hope...