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Weblog Entry

iPhone Apps

June 14, 2007

There’s been a lot of talk about the recent WWDC announcement that iPhone applications are going to be entirely run through Safari at this point.

I present one very simple reason why this just isn’t good enough:

Canadian Mobile Data Rates chart

Figure: Chart of Canadian mobile data rates. Credit: Boris Mann

Update: A few people have said in the comments now that it will be possible to store the applications locally and run them without incurring airtime charges. In the WWDC keynote, I saw Safari bookmarks being used as the method for launching an app, but it’s possible I dozed off during the part where this local-access method was explained. Given there won’t be an SDK, I’m also curious how the UI will enable this.

If you can link up somewhere on Apple’s site that explains how this is supposed to work, leave it in the comments. Thanks!


Dave S. says:
June 14, 11h

Note that the exclusive carrier bringing the iPhone to Canada is Rogers (or so I’ve heard), over there on the right.

June 14, 11h

In the US (I know that’s not who you’re targeting here, but still…) the exclusive carrier is AT&T. They’re also my exclusive carrier, and I have an unlimited data package with them for $20 per month, which is not THAT bad. Hopefully Apple will catch on and set their sites a little broader than the US so you folks will be able to use some great 3rd party apps without breaking the bank…

3
AdamA says:
June 14, 11h

Umm… is it even possible to download 1GB in a month on the EDGE network?

I also pay $20 per month for unlimited data through T-Mobile.

Dave S. says:
June 14, 12h

Hopefully you can understand how data rates in other countries affects my opinion not in the least.

June 14, 12h

And therein lies the reason that I don’t currently have a data plan for my phone (Roger’s) and most likely won’t buy an iPhone, even if they do end up in Canada.

I just can’t get over the fact that Canadian carriers _still_ haven’t started providing decent data rates. It makes me sick to think how much some people are spending on their data every month. I mean, we’ve only got two mobile phones in our house, with a family plan (no data) and we’re still paying $60/month.

Bryan says:
June 14, 12h

I guess I took their announcements completely differently. My understanding is that all “apps” will be run via webkit, like widgets are on Tiger, and that means that you install them to the phone and you chose whether your widget accesses web-based data or not.

I don’t think Apple would have made any announcements about 3rd party apps if all they ended up being was another site you browse to in safari, that is just a website. Apple has made clear from the beginning that the iPhone will be able to access the “real internet”.

So, given my understanding (and assuming I am right, just give me the benefit for hypothetical discussion) your “apps” don’t need to use any data transfer unless they rely on external sources of information.

June 14, 12h

I’m with Rogers and for me to move the amount of data associated with the iPhone just isn’t possible. And it is not only Rogers, many other providers in Canada don’t have any plans catered toward data (except for Blackberry).

I really want to start using my mobile device for Internet and email but waiting for the iPhone to come to Canada could take some time.

Also,I don’t know how quickly the Canadian telecom companies will pick it up (hell, they can’t even implement a half decent network), so I opted to get a Sony Ericsson, K550i, because I just couldn’t wait. Focuses towards the web and email - love it.

Dave S. says:
June 14, 12h

@Bryan - the demo web app they used to show how it would work was in fact a bookmark in Safari. Here’s the keynote, the announcement was made near the end:

http://www.apple.com/quicktime/qtv/keynote/

June 14, 12h

Remember that the iPhone also has a Wireless b/g card in it, which I’m led to understand is the backbone of its internet capability. As long as you have an unsecured wireless network nearby to mooch off of, you aren’t paying for bandwidth and (probably) getting more of it.

Of course, that’s little consolation for all the people who live in almost wireless-free third world nations like Canada (Dave) or Vermont (me).

Dave S. says:
June 14, 12h

Right, I’m fully aware of the wifi capabilities and that offsets the pain a little bit. But I find most places where there’s a nearby *open* access point end up being coffeeshops, where I usually have my laptop with me anyway.

But more so, imagine every time you loaded, say, your calendar application (ignoring the fact there’s one built-in, this is just an example here), you have to locate an access point, connect, and then and only then could you start the app. The only way this strategy really pays off is with a 24/7 connection, which wifi just can’t do.

(Canada’s not wireless-free by any means, but most people have figured out how to lock it down by now.)

Bryan says:
June 14, 12h

@Dave - Hmm, well then I guess I fail to see how they can rightly call that a feature as “third party apps.” Seems to me its just another facet of having the “real internet” on the phone as they have been touting all along.

Dave S. says:
June 14, 12h

@Bryan - “Seems to me its just another facet of having the “real internet” on the phone as they have been touting all along.”

That summarizes the developer discontent nicely.

Olly says:
June 14, 13h

That’s just ridiculous! Are you absolutely sure about the figures?

As a comparison, in the UK you can add ‘unlimited’ web browsing access onto your normal contract package with T-Mobile for £7.50 – about $15 Canadian.

http://www.t-mobile.co.uk/services/mobile-internet/on-your-phone/

Mike D. says:
June 14, 13h

Apple’s not stupid. Whatever phone carrier is lucky enough to get the exclusive on this in Canada will most likely be *required* by Apple to offer a plan which doesn’t rape its customers. Strangely in the U.S., I have a feeling the “iPhone plan” will be *more* than our standard $20/month unlimited deals, but for you chumps, you’ll get a nice break.

June 14, 13h

I have a feeling that if the iPhone contract was anything at all to brag about that we’d have some idea of what it is at this point. The iPhone launch may cause lines out the doors of Apple & Cingular stores, but what are customers going to find when they get there?

Apple is an amazingly pro-consumer company, the American cell-phone industry is amazingly anti-consumer. Who’s going to win the match up? I guess we’ll find out in 15 days. They may still be fighting.

Kevin says:
June 14, 13h

I can only pray that Apple will throw down the hammer on Rogers, or whoever gets the iPhone in Canada regarding their data rates. Then hopefully the demand for the iPhone with a reasonable data plan will force other carriers to improve the prices on their data plans and create some actual competition.

June 14, 14h

@Mike D:

“Apple’s not stupid. Whatever phone carrier is lucky enough to get the exclusive on this in Canada will most likely be *required* by Apple to offer a plan which doesn’t rape its customers.”

I think I speak for all Canadian wireless customers when I say that I sincerely hope you’re right.

June 14, 14h

I’ve found a lot of wireless data plans here in the states are trending towards unlimited bandwidth, where the only people paying these kind of exorbitant per-KB/MB bandwidth costs are those without the plan.

The biggest issue I have with iPhone apps isn’t that they’re forced to live on the web (in fact, as a web developer I rather like that idea). My issue is accessibility from the main menu. Clicking on a bookmark in Safari is weak. There’s plenty of clever ways they could do this too. My idea would be to have a linked iPhone icon within the markup like a favicon. If users decided to install the app - the icon would show up on their iPhone menu. It doesn’t make sense why they won’t even make that sort of concession to developers.

June 14, 15h

I’m not sure I fully understand what the big advantage would be for Apple to make all apps web-oriented. Astronomical data plan costs aside, it would also just kill the “responsiveness” of the iPhone’s interface. Heck, non-web apps on mobile devices are notorious for being painfully sluggish to begin with… is introducing a ton of network requests into the mix really going to help things?

The more details that surface about this device, the more I worry that it’s going to be a usability nightmare. It will definitely bring some cool innovations to the table, but IMHO, it also looks like it will be taking a number of step backwards in that department.

20
joel says:
June 14, 15h

OK. I work for ATT Wireless/Cingular Wireless, so I always feel compelled to say a few things when talk of the iPhone comes up.
1) the exclusive carrier in the US for the iPhone is AT&T. This deal is set for at least 2 years.
2) It has been confirmed that Apple will NOT, under any circumstances, give a subsidy unlock code for the iPhone. (Unlock codes are granted with manufacturer’s permission, not carrier’s permission.)

I cannot verify anything about Rogers, but since Rogers and AT&T have had ties in the past. That being said, I have a strong hunch that the Canadian infastructure is just simply not as developed as the US one. I would dare say that the GSM network is either GRPS (40~70kbs) or EDGE (70~100) if you’re lucky. However, the most optimal for the iPhone and its web connectivity is UMTS, which can get 100kbs+, and available in most major US cities…
That being said, as a Canadian, yes, holy crap, we get hosed for EVERYTHING with wireless service.
Caller ID, call forwarding, voicemail, roaming and long distance are all covered in AT&T Wireless plans, standard. We pay for those up here. =(

June 14, 15h

Having gotten stuck into mobile internet on a Nokia N73, with its awful native browser, and better-but-not-integrated-in-any-way Opera Mini, I can see the benefits of basing everything on Safari:

Being able to see web information directly on the ‘active standby’ mode and to launch specific web-pages and functions using shortcut keys is ‘what it’s all about’ when you want to to quickly check something or make a note of something on the net, using your mobile.

Perhaps they’ll incorporate some sort of Google-Gears-esque ‘waiting room for data’ on the phones browser, to address latency issues, and let you use apps when out of signal range?

As for the cost of data plans - I pay £12.50 (on top of my line rental/calls) for 3GB data usage every month (at a nifty 460kbps) on T-Mobile UK, which is ample, as long as you stick to downloading music and videos at home.

Unless there’s a fundamental difference in the business model of Canadian carriers, surely they can expect data plan prices to drop as the mobile internet becomes more popular?

jim olson says:
June 14, 15h

Thanks for the graph! I’ve been trying to figure out how much the different carriers charge for bandwidth - No point in buying an iPhone until Canada gets with it.

Ms. Jen says:
June 14, 18h

Dave,

It might be time to start a mobile teleco in Canada…

;o)

Arcterex says:
June 14, 19h

Maybe this is a silly suggestion, but what are the chances that the iphone webapps will be stored locally? IE: no data charges. You download the app, which is just a bundle that goes in /var/www/apps/appname and then is set as a bookmark somehow and you just go to http://localhost/appname and use it. Of course, data retrieved remotely will still have a data charge cost, but that’d be the same regardless of in what the app was written.

Basically they are replacing a java or coco framework for app dev with AJAX, JS and HTML. Or am I totally missing somethign here…?

June 14, 21h

Before I changed the chart to 1GB and focused only on Canadian carriers, it included worldwide numbers: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomaspurves/452679328/

You can see that the numbers are still terrible for Canada.

But…

…as Arcterex says, Safari is just the dev platform. file:// URLs will work just fine. There are many Dashboard widgets that just work locally.

@joel: “Unlock codes are granted with manufacturer’s permission, not carrier’s permission.”

Um. I’ve bought every single phone direct from manufacturer. It is most certainly the case that phones are unlocked by default from the manufacturer. Once they’ve sold them to the carriers, they could care less.

In all likelihood, a business contract will lock you into AT&T. But ideally, you could eat that cost and put in a SIM card of your choice.

Pelle says:
June 14, 23h

Adobe AIR already runs apps in AJAX on Webkit which is Safari in a way and as far as I know the AJAX-applications in the iPhone can look like usual applications.

So - don’t you think that you often download these widgets and as long as the widgets doesn’t communicate while your out of WIFI - you will have them for free on your iPhone - not counting the small space of storage needed ;)

By the way - those prices are extremely high! 1 GB of data over the mobile here in Sweden costs 23.5 USD - almost a reasonable cost…

27
Nic says:
June 14, 23h

There was another debate (rather passionate I might add), more centered around the actual app vs web app argument over at 37signals: http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/459-iphone-sdk-its-called-safari

June 15, 01h

Even in Australia, you get a better deal. The price of mobile data has dropped in the last six months from USD84 to USD25 for 1GB as long as you are with a certain carrier and use one of six models of mobile phones and they even throw in 1000 minutes of Skype to Skype outside of that bandwidth limit and it is on a 3.5G network so you speed is 400kps to 1.2Mps. Mind you it is restricted to the major cities only.

1GB data plans vary by carrier from USD25 to USD100. The coverage varies depending on carrier, because I live in the outer suburbs I have a choice of two the cheapest and the most expensive. My parents place which is closer to the city but in the hills is only covered by the most expensive and you don’t want to roam at 1.40USD a MB, which is what you can pay without a plan.

29
Ole says:
June 15, 02h

I doubt those prices will stick when the phone gets out cos it will stop people from buying it. I belive they’re just squeezing cash from users now and launching a new fixed price much like Telus seem to have with the iPhone.

June 15, 05h

I’ve heard several “cultural” explanations for the fact that i-mode never took off in The Netherlands like it did in Japan, but I have always thought that *cost* –1,500 euro/GB with a subscription, or 10,000 euro/GB without– may have had something to do with it…

Fortunately, Dutch telcos seem to have learned something from the i-mode flop, and we can now get unlimited GPRS/EDGE traffic for about 20 euro/month, or 3-4 times that for UMTS.

I do hope something similar will happen in Canada, otherwise the iPhone will probably be much less successful there than it could be!

June 15, 11h

Here’s an idea…don’t buy the iphone?

June 15, 12h

Vodafone Spain offers a 25 €/month flat rate. Vodafone would be probable the chosen operator once the iphone comes to Europe. Good luck in Canada!

33
telos says:
June 16, 16h

Has it ever occurred to you that the iPhone will be running Apache and that you will therefore not necessarily be using up bandwidth to use your apps?

June 16, 20h

To people who say the iPhone will run it’s web apps locally:

1. I’ve heard nothing of the sort, and I’m pretty doubtful.
2. Web apps are only the right path for development if, indeed, the app in question *is* making use of web services. In other words, if we’re talking about my grocery list, then why should that have to be a web app? It doesn’t need to connect to the web. On the other hand, if we’re talking about an app that uses web APIs or services to give me contextual information, great. In other words: apps that don’t use the network are useless. According to Dave’s chart, apps that do use the network are expensive. So all iPhone apps are either useless or expensive? Terrific. But maybe not…

To people (including Dave) who say the iPhone will cost to much in network overage charges:

Obviously, any iPhone user will want an unlimited data plan. In the US, it seems that you will, in fact, *have* to get an unlimited data plan in order to get an iPhone. In the US, these plans are $20-$40/mo. This may be expensive in some people’s minds, but it obviously pales in comparison to the chart Dave posted. The chart is interesting, I guess, but a bit misleading, as clearly no iPhone user will ever pay $375/mo for bandwidth, let alone $4000+.

Obviously none of us knows for sure, but I think it’s safe to assume the situation will be simialr in Canada and other countries where the iPhone is sold.

Dave S. says:
June 16, 21h

@Jeff Croft - “clearly no iPhone user will ever pay $375/mo for bandwidth, let alone $4000+”

The graph was created a few months ago to show what 1GB actually costs right now. It has nothing to do with the iPhone, and everything to do with the state of Canadian mobile data.

“I think it’s safe to assume the situation will be simialr in Canada and other countries where the iPhone is sold”

Up here we’re desperately hoping that’s the case, but it’s far from safe to assume anything given the lack of competition between our telcos.

June 16, 22h

Fair enough, Dave. I thought you were suggesting that the iPhone would be ridiculously expensive if its third-party apps were all web apps due to bandwidth charges, but I guess I misunderstood.

“Up here we’re desperately hoping that’s the case, but it’s far from safe to assume anything given the lack of competition between our telcos.”

I’ll take your word for it – I’m sure you know more about the Canadian telcos than me. :)

37
telos says:
June 17, 04h

Dave, I find your post (and many of the ensuing comments) utterly bizarre. Your post seems to argue that web app development for the iPhone “just isn’t good enough” relative to native app development because of the inherent data charges in using web apps. Well: 1) web apps don’t have to use bandwidth and 2) native apps can indeed use bandwidth. I just don’t see why you make this 1-to-1 mapping: web app => bandwidth (expensive! not “good enough”!) and native app => no bandwidth (that’s better!).

You say the graph “has nothing to do with the iPhone, and everything to do with the state of Canadian mobile data”, but you’re obviously making the point that forcing developers to make non-native web apps for the iPhone sucks because of the data charges. Well, that’s a pointless statement to make, given that Apple will quite clearly distribute the phone via a deal that will involve reasonable charges.

@Jeff - why are locally run web apps useless? There’s tons of stuff you can do, particularly given that Apple will provide Javascript classes to access iPhone functionality (e.g. calling).

38
telos says:
June 17, 04h

@Jeff - “I saw Safari bookmarks being used as the method for launching an app, but it’s possible I dozed off during the part where this local-access method was explained”

Why can’t a bookmark link to a local address? Hardly needs explaining, IMHO…..

June 17, 06h

@telos: That wasn’t me that said that, it was Dave.

Dave S. says:
June 17, 11h

@Jeff - “I thought you were suggesting that the iPhone would be ridiculously expensive if its third-party apps were all web apps due to bandwidth charges”

Yep, that’s exactly the point. The graph itself was built for a different purpose, I’m merely linking two data points. I was just responding to your ‘graph is misleading’ comment by pointing out there was no connection originally.


@telos - “Your post seems to argue that web app development for the iPhone “just isn’t good enough” relative to native app development because of the inherent data charges in using web apps.”

Have you seen OneTrip?

http://onetrip.org/

That’s a perfect example. If I had to pay airtime charges everytime I wanted to add something to my grocery list, that adds up. If that were a client-side app, there’d be absolutely no need to pay for bandwidth.

Yes, you’re right in that native apps would sometimes use airtime. But there’d be a ton that wouldn’t. Games, information/finance managers, imaging utilities, need I go on?

ceejayoz says:
June 17, 16h

Given their other close ties to Google with the iPhone, Google Gears - http://gears.google.com/ - integration wouldn’t be surprising.

June 17, 17h

@Dave – gotcha. :)

@telos: Perhaps I shouldn’t have said local apps that don’t use web services are useless. They’re not – but they’re certainly not as interesting to me as the ones that do use the network. In any case, my opinion is that if an app doesn’t need any web connectivity, it’s silly to have to run it in a web browser.

If people are right that the iPhone will allow local web apps (and I really doubt they are), here’s what I really don’t understand: the why won’t Apple let developers build widgets for the iPhone? Let us get this straight: they’ll let us build web apps, using (X)HTML, JavaScript, CSS and other web technologies, store them locally, and run them in Safari (WebKit) as little mini-apps. But they won’t let us build widgets (which are local mini-apps built using web technologies that run in WebKit). Huh?

nerkles says:
June 17, 18h

I think iPhone apps are going to be, in essence, “Enhanced Dashboard Widgets.”

Think about it, widgets have a very simple interface, with no right-clicking, etc… They are able to store data locally without wrecking the place. Most of them would run on the iPhone with little or no modification, and could already be used with a touch screen interface because of their inherent simplicity.

I suspect they’ve been planning this for a long time, and the “iPhone SDK” will be what they are now calling DashCode, with some helpful additions of course.

The people who suspect something like Google Gears or Adobe AIR are part of the picture may also be right. That would be a good way to give these tiny apps a little more power.

That’s my best attempt at reading between the lines…

44
David Robarts says:
June 17, 20h

In the Keynote, Jobs said that deploying an upgrade couldn’t be easier, just change your server - indicating an assumption that the web app would be run from a network server.

June 17, 20h

Good point, David. I’d forgotten about that. I went back and rewatched it, and I think Jobs makes it pretty damn clear that the iPhone web apps he was talking about in the keynote are *not* run locally, but rather over the network.

June 18, 02h

The fine print will really matter when it comes to making usable web apps for iPhone. Single-page applications (where the UI is mostly JavaScript) may be able to run once loaded even when the phone loses its network connection. There may be special facilities like Google Gears for client-side storage. There may be special attention paid to caching of web pages. There may be conventions for installing them locally in some way, but nothing in the Keynote hinted at this. They did mention that features of the iPhone like making calls are addressable from web apps, but we don’t know exactly how yet.

The thing to remember is that using web applications is not the end of the story of third-party development on the iPhone, but the beginning.

47
Ondrej Valek says:
June 18, 08h

In Czech Republic (European Union) you would pay about $2,900 for 1 GB of data over GPRS. With proper data plan you would pay only $33 for up to 3GB. So it depends on how often you would use it.

Average phone bill in Czech Republic with current prices is less than $10, so even for us, it’s not cheap (average monthly salary is $950).

48
Nate Hanna says:
June 18, 21h

This is my belief… since the iPhone is running a full version of OSX you can run local apps through some version of ‘Personal Web Sharing’.

That belief assumes that ‘Web Sharing’ be turned on by default. If it is not, I don’t see how an app can run locally without a network connection.

June 19, 01h

I believe the iPhone works with wifi, so perhaps Apple is assuming that will be everyone’s method of accessing t’Internet. Saves getting your laptop out in Starbucks, I suppose.

50
David Robarts says:
June 19, 19h

I know there isn’t any public details about how an iPhone web app will access phone features, but I didn’t se anything in the demo that couldn’t be done by adding a protocol handler like call:1-555-555-5555. Perhaps there will be more sophisticated integration, but we don’t know.

Michael Z says:
June 20, 08h

The iPhone is aimed at a market with reasonably-priced wireless data. Some possible Canadian scenarios:

1. Canadian telcos resist lowering data costs and improving infrastructure. Apple strikes a deal to start selling the iPhone Nano in Canada, in time for the 2011 holiday season.

2. Canadian telcos refuse to lower data costs. The iPhone becomes popular among techno-fetishist Apple TV owners willing to spend $1,000 plus per month to see the Google map-tacks drop from the sky.

3. Canadian telcos are so desperate to please their customers that they bid down the cost of an unlimited data plan to $20 per month to seal the deal with Apple. A sea-change in the Canadian wireless phone market takes place. Pigs fly.


June 20, 09h

So, to summarize: you’re pissed at Apple because Canadian telcos are a rip-off?

Your claim that the iPhone “just isn’t good enough” obviously seems quite misguided, especially considering reasonable data rates in the US ($20 for unlimited). Obviously what aren’t good enough are Canadian providers, right?

Just trying to understand why you would target Apple as the offender in your post.

June 20, 10h

Apologies – after re-reading my post, it definitely comes across too strong.

I guess a different way of putting it is that data rates in the rest of the world, though expensive, seem much more reasonable. The rates you show for Canada appear to be quite an amazing anomaly. And so, given those numbers, it just seems like the real target of your displeasure should be Canadian telcos, and not Apple, but that’s not the sense that I got from reading your initial post or further comments.

Matthew says:
June 21, 11h

It may have been noted already (couldn’t read it all) but the iPhone will almost certainly require the $40+ data plan not the old $20.. why you ask, simple because the $20 is not for pda phones, but smart phones such as Nokias and such. I recently picked up the data plan before the phone came out and found the price went up this week (i knew it would).. now it is up to $45/month. This (mediocre) phone is easily looking like a monthly investment of $75 - $80 a month.

All of the above is based on ATT but it will probably be the same. From what I know Rogers is to Canada what ATT is to the US.

June 29, 11h

It seems there is still a lot to learn about developing for the iTunes. I heard that there is a special Google Maps API even.

I’ve started a public wiki (http://iphone.wikidot.com/) for iPhone “App” developers. Please come and add to it. I think a SDK needs to include a style-guide with some kinda of collection of interface buttons and common design among documentation on spec and best practices.

mac says:
July 07, 12h

JavaScript/AJAX is a weak development platform compared to something like .NET Compact Framework (and whatever Palm and Symbian use). Furthermore, have you ever tried to use a touchscreen keyboard? They’re pretty unsatisfying to use, regardless of the size of the keyboard. I can type 40wpm on my thumb board, plus I can operate my phone without looking at the screen.

57
Laird Popkin says:
July 08, 13h

You’re right that web apps’ reliance on network usage would be unbearable without flat rate pricing. AT&T sells unlimited data for iPhone buyers for $20/month, on top of a $40/month voice plan (or an existing plan, if you’re already an AT&T customer).

Give that, I’d suggest that Apple will make flat rate unlimited data a requirement for any future deals.

Comparing “AJAX”, .Net, Java, etc., I’d suggest that for the vast majority of apps, it’s better to be web based - development and deployment are both much easier for web-based apps, and the apps and data are server resident rather than phone resident, making it easier to share data, deal with lost phones, etc. These days there are more engineers that can build web apps than desktop apps, and most companies would rather develop web apps than “desktop” apps, so in general I agree with Apple’s adoption of “Web 2.0” for iPhone apps.

That being said, there are some things that have to be done locally on the device, so I’d love to see Apple open up the iPhone for those.

Dave B says:
July 08, 18h

As someone who’s used Rogers in the past and who is now stuck with them for long distance (post Sprint customer) I really don’t trust them to understand the market properly. They need Apple to smash them over the head and tell them what the deal will be. Hopefully they’ll get the message because with the ability to port numbers now they might actually gain some customers from other carriers.

Sidenote-I read that Orange has been picked for the UK by Apple for iPhone introduction.