The iPhone’s “Killer App.” (Boy, do I hate that term.)

John Gruber linked to a Paul Thurrott post this morning about the apparently delusional Windows Mobile team (prediction: Microsoft will buy RIM within 24 months). What caught my attention, however, was Thurrott’s assertion that the iPhone App Store is “arguably the biggest innovation of the iPhone.” We saw a similar sentiment expressed earlier in the week at USA Today.

No doubt the App Store is great, but I can’t say that any app I’ve purchased is truly important to me. NetNewsWire comes the closest, but still, the iPhone’s “killer app” (god, do I hate that overused term) is its usability. Nothing else comes close. I don’t know anyone that has purchased an iPhone because of the App Store; I know perhaps a hundred people that have purchased one because of its usability. (With Apple aggressively marketing iPhone games, perhaps this will change in the future; regardless, it hasn’t happened yet.)

The other mis-read of the iPhone’s success comes down in the comments, where several people assert that the iPhone is “consumer-targeted,” with the implication that if the Windows Mobile team had simply trained its sights on that “niche” market, of course they’d have something as usable as the iPhone. There are exactly two things wrong with that assertion.

The first is that the Windows Mobile team would know how to develop a consumer product. Here’s something people don’t get: developing consumer software is harder than developing enterprise software. If you’re developing enterprise software, you make money every time the customer calls you with a question. If you’re developing consumer software, you lose money when they call you. That simple fact turns the product development equation on its head: you have to make a product that completely explains itself to people who don’t want to read a manual or take a training class. That Apple developed a smart phone that my mother can use is something that the Windows Mobile team could not have pulled off.

The second is that the iPhone is, in fact, “consumer-targeted.” It’s not: it’s “user-targeted.” Not the same thing. The Windows Mobile team will likely never admit this to itself because it’s easier to accept their fate if they think that they and Apple are aiming at different targets. But iPhone 1.0 wasn’t a product unsuitable for the enterprise by design; iPhone 1.0 was unsuitable for the enterprise simply because a couple of features were left out. That those features have now been added (and that another feature–a keyboard–I suspect will be added in the future) betray the idea that the iPhone is merely “consumer-targeted,” something that will be abundantly clear when iPhone beats Windows Mobile–and probably RIM, too–in that market.

iPhone Apps: the First Non-HTML Web App Standard?

App Store icon

For years, Java Web Start, Adobe AIR, several Microsoft initiatives, and who knows how many failed startups, have all tried to answer the question: does it make any sense to take all of that “traditional app”-development expertise that’s floating around in the world, and use it to try to write web applications that are based around something other than HTML? (Or, to characterize these companies motives more accurately: how can we own that thing that dares to compete with HTML?)

With iPhone apps, we may have the answer, and it’s due to the App Store and its highly compelling business model. What will make developers buy a Mac to write code on, learn Objective C, write to APIs they’d previously never heard of, and finally, pay (an admittedly scrawny) $99 for the privilege? Money. And the App Store provides an incredibly compelling way to make it.

I’ll now launch into an awkward analogy, but I’ll go with it, because it shows how far Apple has come over the past ten years: with the iPhone App Store, we have a bit of the promise of OpenDoc–small bits of code, sold quickly and easily for low prices, tying into larger ones floating around on the network–but wired to a business model that makes so much sense, it just slaps you in the face and dares you not to make sense of it.

We had to practically blackmail developers to write to OpenDoc. I’m not even sure there needs to be an evangelist for the iPhone App Store.

iPhone Apps: More Exciting than Facebook?

App Store

With iPhone apps, we have a technology that might just be able to deliver the viral addictiveness of Facebook apps, but combined with a monetization plan, something Facebook app developers figure they can get around to some day, but for reasons they share with no one, haven’t decided to.

iPhone Apps have the same persistent user identity model that makes it so much easier to sign up for Facebook apps than traditional web apps (where each demands its own userid and password.) iPhone’s App Store also shares Facebook’s one-click installation model. Combine that with the fact that your iPhone knows your credit card number, and there’s something really going on here. (It does lack Facebook’s “social graph” aspect…or does it? How long before we see iPhone apps that try to spam your Contacts? I mean, Apple developers probably won’t be as crass as that, but no doubt they’ll figure out some way to do this tastefully and non-intrusively.)

I posed my headline as a question, but can there be any doubt?