Sep 27

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

I love my iPhone, but...bah, no Jaiku!

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 Engeström'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:

Contact listPhonebook
Person viewStatus
Latest from you and your contactsConversation

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 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.

tags: web 2.0  | comments: 27   | Sphere It

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In June I gave a short talk at a conference called Essential Web at the London IMAX. The organizers of the conference had recorded an interview with Tim O'Reilly about the future direction of Web 2.0, and they played back Read More

Comments: 27

  Andy Wong [09.27.07 03:58 PM]

What you said is quite obvious, but not to those top executives of telecom service providers and manufacturer. The mindset of those executives is far far away from the concepts of Web2.0 services.

I think Apple and Google are quite aggressive and powerful at kicking the ass of these telecom companies effectively.

  Artur Bergman [09.27.07 05:07 PM]


Both Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Palm let 3rd party developers integrate with the phone. So I believe does RIM/Blackberry.

The real problems are the cheaper phones sold via carriers, but even that is starting to change for the higher end phones. Thus it is sad that a handset provider like Apple reverts to the old handset maker way and giving in to the networks. (Or perhaps Steve Job's need for control.)

  Tim O'Reilly [09.27.07 05:18 PM]

The real key insight, I think, is that in the network era, control ultimately comes from network effects. If you have a database back end that gets better the more people use it, then you get a de facto lock-in. Of course, that isn't really Apple's issue. They are much more concerned with the total user experience, and the fact is, they kick ass there.

But you wonder if they couldn't go out and work selectively with application developers, and with something like the old Mac user interface guidelines, to create compatible apps. There are alternatives besides lockdown and a total free-for-all.

  Duke [09.27.07 08:00 PM]

iPhone is more open than any other device out there. Everyone using iPhone for the first time complains about the lack of 3rd party applications. But what you fail to recognize is that Apple has shipped the most capable web browser on handset device ever. 1000s of applications targeting iPhone specifically have been built since just because iPhone delivered the best open mobile AJAX/browsing environment. Can you point out any other phone that has more applications built than iPhone? I am not talking about wap sites or web sites, but full blown mobile web applications optimized to run on iPhone browser. Developers are making effort to optimize their applications, look and feel for a single device. Small disclaimer, even I have built that has great success so far among iPhone users :) (give it a try if you like books) Web applications can accommodate for most of consumers' needs. Apple will hopefully release API calls to native apps, just like they released to Google Maps native application as you can call it from within web application. Web applications are way to go (with native APIs accessible from within browser).

  Tim O'Reilly [09.27.07 08:14 PM]

Duke (or Ivan) --

Good point about the web browser making lots of open applications possible. But my point was that applications like jaiku that need to do more with the phone than just live on the web are shut out.

The web browser is indeed great on the iphone, but there is more...

  Mark [09.27.07 08:39 PM]

> iPhone is more open than any other device out there

Words fail me.

  Dan [09.28.07 03:51 AM]

You know, Jaiku should do an --official-- Facebook app while they're waiting for the iPhone situation to get easier. That would be nice.

  Manuel [09.28.07 07:48 AM]

That sounds great. I'm hope they will release the iPhone here in Germany soon. Writing emails on my current phone is a pain in the a**.

  Tim O'Reilly [09.28.07 08:00 AM]

Dan --

While it might be good for Jaiku's visibility for them to do a facebook app, it wouldn't solve the problem I'm talking about. Jaiku on the web is just like twitter, with a smaller pool of users. Jaiku on the phone, though, that's a whole other matter! It's the ability to embrace and extend the address book, and show me presence and location for people before I called them, that made Jaiku so useful to me.

Jaiku's great as a twitter-like app, but so is twitter. It's the part of Jaiku that are so much more that the phone providers need to enable.

  coglethorpe [09.28.07 10:52 AM]

I think the problem likes with service providers rather than Apple. I could see an API written to provide all kids of applications, but cell providers do not want to share a single thing. My provider has my cell's browser locked to their home page (which underperforms) and leaves nothing open to outsiders.

  Tero Lehto [09.29.07 05:43 AM]

Question for Duke: if iPhone is so open, how do you do:

- instant messaging (for example XMPP or Windows Live based)?
- set any MP3 file as ring tone,
- GPS navigation?
- Windows Media (DRM) music playback and
- voice recording or
- push email (for example from MS Exchange)

... without hacking your iPhone?

These are just basic features of any Symbian S60 or Windows Mobile smartphone.
I don't understand consumers who accept these kind of terms from operators, but I guess people still don't know how open their device could be.

  Duke [09.29.07 08:48 PM]

Tero, if you need kind of device you describing then you should go for Nokia N95...

There are few web based iPhone IM clients out there.

You forgot to mention that iPhone has the best audio player (ipod is it?) of all phones out there.

Phone shouldn't be action hero tool. Buy Garmin Nuvi if you need navigation for your car. Buy Blackberry if you need push email.

  Searle [09.30.07 10:41 AM]

Duke, thats an opinon I will probably never understand. If I have a OSX-Machine in my pocket, the n of cause I want it to do Navigation and Email-Push.

Why on earth should I want to carry several different devices along with me?

  Duke [09.30.07 04:36 PM]

Searle, again Nokia N95 is device that has most of those features. I had it for couple of months and really didn't like it. It does a lot of things but none of them good. What you guys are describing is imaginary phone that doesn't exist today. There is no phone that has 5 megapixel camera, does GPS navigation like Garmin Nuvi, does push email like Blackberry and music/audiobooks like iPod, has YouTube integration and wi-fi. With current battery technology it is not even possible to have such device today.

I think that iPhone is more than good for demographics it targets. The fact that "older" guys like us bought iPhone and want it to be full enterprise device with GPS capabilities, Jaiku bluetooth etc. doesn't talk about iPhone but about us (who wouldn't like to be young again) :)

So, if no company has built such phone why do you out of sudden expect iPhone to be different?

Give chance to web apps. E.g. try Facebook on iPhone... and yes, try Garmin Nuvi for GPS navigation. It is great.

  Tim O'Reilly [10.01.07 07:28 AM]

Hey Jyri, please pass my apologies to Mika Raento and Teemu Kurppa -- from your blog post (trackback above), it sounds like they were responsible for your brilliant Jaiku address book hack that I so admired. I hesitated before giving you the credit in the blog post, because I didn't know if it really came from you, but I went ahead anyway. Sorry, guys, if I misallocated credit.

Readers -- definitely check out Jyri's blog post. Among other things, he has a realistic sense of how hard it is to open up a phone, from his time at Nokia.

  Jyri Engestr√∂m [10.01.07 09:03 AM]

No worries Tim. Our developer Mika Raento is the original phonebook hacker - see his Symbian hacks at

As food for thought, here are some examples of ways Apple could open up the iPhone to social AJAX apps with Jaiku-like functionality:

  1. Enable users to customize the iPhone's main launch menu and add clickable icons of AJAX apps there
  2. Provide a way to run AJAX apps in offline mode (with limited functionality) and allow them limited access to write to local memory
  3. Give AJAX apps (limited) access to the APIs that are important for creating and sharing social objects on the move. These include location, camera, iPod (playlists/now playing/most played/star ratings/etc.), ring profile, Bluetooth, and voice calling
  4. Introduce a security policy whereby users can grant and revoke API access from AJAX apps. For instance, show dialogues like "App X wants to access the camera, is this ok?"
  5. Enable AJAX apps to run in the background even if other apps are active
  6. Provide a way for AJAX apps to alert the user when they are hidden (for instance so an IM application can alert the user when there is a new incoming message)

  Daniel Appelquist [10.01.07 03:05 PM]

Hi Tim (and Jyri) - I wanted to make you aware of an industry workshop on the topic of "Mobile Ajax" that I just co-chaired last week in Mountain View (see There was a strong call at this workshop for Ajax to become an environment on the phone where developers can have access to device capabilities, such as accessing the phone book or the camera. But I strongly believe this capability needs to be available across browser platforms and device type. If such an environment were available on Series-60, for example, Jaiku wouldn't need to be written as a native app. This kind of capability could really lower the barrier to entry to application developers who want to write great apps on the mobile platform.

One issue that was raised relates to your point 4, Jyri: unlike native or Java apps, however, JavaScript applications are inherently insecure due to their ability to load code. This makes it difficult to implement a strict security or code-signing regime around them.

  Vladislav Chernyshov [10.11.07 12:51 AM]

Guys, have you heard about Openmoko ( I've discovered it recently.

It even more open than iPhone and it running Linux.
Pretty interesting.

  lider security [11.01.07 03:50 AM]

Thing is, they've blown all hope of understanding social networks with .Mac, so don't ever expect anything even remotely inspired coming out of Cupertino.

  Andrew [11.05.07 12:58 PM]

In Poland we can buy it only on Allegro (auction portal) anyway I think that Lg's Prada is not bad at all and maybe even better than IPhone


  Jamie [11.29.07 11:03 PM]

The iToy cannot even create and edit office documents, let alone host a 3rd party integrated library system. It's a fashionable little plaything and nothing more. YouTube integration is testimony to this very fact - videos by cretins for cretins. Period - not to mention that Paris is weilding the thing. The masses who have allowed the hype to cloud their better judgement have perfectly demonstrated consumerist idiocy.

  Joe Fischler [12.25.07 01:16 PM]

The Iphone is not popular in Austria yet, as we can still only get it via Ebay and other platforms. We are also forced to use hacks to be able to use it. Possibly Nokia and other Phone manufacturers will have enough time to produce a competitor before the Iphone reaches our european market.

  FL [03.13.08 11:48 AM]

I also got an E61 before and it was good. But then the iPhone came out: No Discussion, that is the Future. Why? In my kind of view the iPod changed the world of mobile music. The iPhone will be doing the same with the mobile web.

  kamera sistemleri [08.19.08 11:53 PM]

iphone is the best

  kadın [02.13.09 09:34 AM]

Fantastic - And so simple! Now I can get rid of all those unwanted tourists in my pictures… Thanks for sharing!

  beyaz [04.24.09 05:32 AM]

Duke, thats an opinon I will probably never understand. If I have a OSX-Machine in my pocket, the n of cause I want it to do Navigation and Email-Push.

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