Twenty-two years ago, in fact. I’d just finished shipping HyperCard, and was taking a three-month sabbatical to rethink things after a crazy two years. What hit me during the HyperCard development phase was the inevitability of the collision of personal computers, networks, and media, and that copyright was the nexus at which they all would meet. (Remember, this was before the CD-ROM, before AOL, before the MP3 format.)
So I started my own company, called Digital Goods. I read a lot of economics and copyright law. I subscribed to Variety. And I wrote two issues of a newsletter, the text of which is amazingly lost to the mists of time.
But I remember one central theory that thrilled me, and why I didn’t consider it an understatement to claim that the digital media emergence was a “revolution.” Put simply, with digital goods, the control of the means of production shifts to the hands of the consumer.
Marx and Engels made it pretty clear that it is revolutionary to change the control of the means of production, from the feudal class to the capitalists to the State. Economists and philosophers have yet to grasp what kind of revolution comes from everybody carrying a factory in their pocket.
I’ve been busy since last October, when I was ushered into a small, windowless room, asked to sign a piece of paper, then told that I’d be creating the IDE for iPhone applications. Our team has been working quite hard the past nine months to release the first Beta in March and the final version of Xcode 3.1 last week, and were rewarded by seeing literally hundreds of new applications appear, overnight, for a platform that just didn’t exist as recently as February.
So I spent much of last weekend downloading apps (and I’ve now purchased much more from the App Store than I ever have from the music store). This is the absolute infancy of iPhone apps. The apps we see today are the MacLion and the Multiplan and the Alice Through the Looking Glass of the iPhone; stunning achievements for a brand-new platform, but will look fondly antique in a couple of years.
But already the set of apps has caused me to start looking for a battery-life extender, as I’m spending even more time with the iPhone powered on and cranking. Here are my favorites for the first week:
- Shazam. Pure magic. I know this has existed for other phones, but the simple operation, the WiFi speed, and the beautiful execution are just special. Shazam listens to the built-in mic, samples 10-12 seconds of whatever song is playing, and tells you what it is and who’s singing it.
- MLB.com At Bat. Schedule and scores, box score of games in progress, check. But video clips of highlights of games in progress, within minutes? Awesome.
- AOL Radio. Really, it makes the decision to not put FM hardware into the iPod look wise. Why limit yourself to what you can pull out of the air when you can listen to thousands of radio stations worldwide?
- Remote. We can finally use that server in the closet connected to the stereo, without having to walk to the office to change albums or volume.
- OmniFocus. The GTD manager I’ve dreamed of since I got a Newton. The best thing about this (other than usual OmniGroup design and interface quality) is the model it sets for over-the-air synching of information using the iDisk. Simple and seamless.
- Mocha VNC. It’s simply amazing to pull out my phone, touch it a couple of times, and see the screen of the Mac in my office. I can check to see if that long build finished!
There are of course duds and disappointments. The NYT application is well-organized, but slower than the website. The PayPal app is far too superficial. The hundreds of eBooks still don’t have as transparent and fluent a reader’s interface as the Kindle does. And as nice as Twitteriffic is, Hahlo is still a more facile and readable Twitter interface for me.
What am I still waiting for? A group-chat Jabber client. An ssh client to remote machines. A real Bonjour-based proximity-chat app (I see a couple new ones have gone up which I will check out.) Of course, a WordPress blog entry poster so I can make updates more frequently. I’d love a pocket client for DEVON Think Pro, my home organization solution.
But again, these will come, and more amazing ones we can’t even think of. This is 1985 and this is the Mac 512Ke. There’s a whole franchise to build.
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