I recently switched from a Nokia E61 to an iPhone. The difference was night and day: out of the box, everything on the iPhone just worked. I spent weeks trying to configure my E61 for internet access via T-mobile, and never got big parts of the internet functionality to work. Apple’s insistence on controlling the user experience really does pay off, versus the fragmented, siloed experience of most phone applications — with the phone manufacturer, the carrier, and the app developer all hobbled by the business firewalls of the carrier’s making.
But I also keenly feel the downside of the iPhone. The fact that there are no third party applications means no jaiku, Jyri Engestr√∂m’s brilliant hack to add presence to the phone address book. On the surface, jaiku looks a lot like twitter — a broadcast messaging platform to a social network (although it predates twitter), but it’s far more than that. I’m not that interested in seeing trivia updates from my contacts, or sharing mine, as a generalized news stream, but I love seeing this kind of information right before I call them.
In addition to showing someone’s latest Jaiku, the smart address book also tells me where people are (with location picked up from the nearest cell tower, and crowdsourcing used to name the towers and tie to recognizable locations), and shows their phone’s status. Pictures below from the jaikido blog:
I love the idea of knowing where people are before I call them, as well as other details of a phone’s status. And that’s where Jaiku shines. How often have you woken someone up in the middle of the night because they were in Europe instead of Silicon Valley?
This is the way a phone address book ought to work. I continue to think that the address book is one of the great untapped Web 2.0 opportunities, and that the phone, even more than email and IM, and certainly more than an outside-in, invitation-driven “social networking application” represents my real social network. On the series 60 phone, Jaiku was able to embrace and extend the address book. That’s just not possible on the iPhone. I emailed Jyri with my lament, and he replied:
The mobile site at http://m.jaiku.com is probably the best way to access Jaiku from the iPhone at the moment. It’s still a bit tricky to make a native iPhone app, and even though it’s possible to hack something together, distributing it would be hard.
And that’s sad. Maybe Apple will copy Jaiku’s Live Contact List, but how much faster would they improve their services if it were possible to build a real third party application developer ecosystem for the phone?
Returning to my theme of the smart address book, it strikes me that this is the single biggest Web 2.0 opportunity on the phone. When I talk to companies about Web 2.0, I always ask them what their data assets are, and in particular, do they have any databases that grow and get better the more people use the service. This should be the foundation of their Web 2.0 effort. (See my posts What Would Google Do? and Social Network Fatigue and the Web 2.0 Address Book for a bit more on this topic.)
Building a Web 2.0 address book solves a huge business problem for the phone companies. Think about all the user-hostile things they do to keep people from switching. Long contracts, pernicious switching fees, etc. Meanwhile, all they would need to to to keep users committed would be to create user-facing services backed by their call history databases. How silly is it that my phone remembers only my last ten calls, when my phone company remembers all of them? How hard would it be to use heuristics to figure out whose calls I return, and whose I don’t, who I call frequently, and who I never call, and build dynamic lookups that would make it easy for me to manage my real social network? Add in features like Jaiku’s live contact list, and you’d have a killer phone.
Apple might get there yet with the iPhone. But it would be much sweeter if they worked with companies like Jaiku to get there rather than doing it all themselves.