is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
Did you hear that Apple Inc. is planning on releasing a new product that combines the features of an iPod and a mobile telephone in one device? It’s true, and they’re calling it “the iPhone.” Looking at the commercials they created for it, I’m even thinking that I might want to buy one for myself when they’re released at the end of this month. Crazy, right?
We might even see some more news about the iPhone next week when Apple kicks of its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. There’s no telling what announcements if any that the company will make, but if there’s one iPhone-related thing that I can point to as being at the very tippy-top of my list, it would be to improve .Mac.
That product, a collection of Web-based tools and services available to consumers for an annual subscription fee of about US$100, has been long in need of help. In fact, I’ve written about it before, and as many of my friends know, it takes only the barest of conversational provocations to get me to launch into a tirade on my frustrations and disappointments with it. Oh, too late, you got me started!
Signs of Life
Luckily, in recent weeks Steve Jobs has acknowledged .Mac’s uncared for state, and has hinted that his company intends to rectify the situation soon. I’m hoping this is good news for soon-to-be iPhone owners like myself. What’s .Mac got to do with the iPhone, you ask? Right now, nothing that I know of, but my point is that it should have everything to do with it.
When it’s finally released, the iPhone will be Apple’s first device that is carried with consumers virtually everywhere, to more places and in more situations than even the iPod. More than that, it’s going to be a device that’s almost always going to be on the network. As a cellular device, as a Wi-Fi device, it will mark a new phase for Apple; it’s their first device that loses the vast majority of its value when it’s disconnected from the network.
That’s why it should synchronize with my desktop Macintosh through the .Mac service. That’s all I’m saying here.
Right now, with my Palm Treo 650, I’m forced into an awkward and inefficient ritual. Before I leave the office at the end of the day, I have to remember to synchronize my Address Book and iCal information with .Mac so that it’s available to my home computer. (Automatic synchronization has caused me problems in the past, so I do this manually now.) When I get home, I then sync my desktop Macintosh there with .Mac. When that’s done, the data on that machine reflects the data on my work computer. Only then I can then sync my Treo 650 to the home desktop.
That’s the only way I can get data from work to my Treo. Alternatively, I could sync my Treo with my work computer, but it’s impractical to sync a Treo with more than one computer, and I don’t want to lose the ability to sync phone and computer while I’m at home. Essentially, my Treo must be effectively tethered to a single computer in order to benefit from the main store for my information, bound within range of my desktop’s Bluetooth signal.
Why synchronize my phone with a computer at all, though? The iPhone, when it’s released, is going to be very much like a compact computer, if it lives up to the advanced billing. What’s more, with its network connectivity and the fact that it will be almost always online, it can be seen as much more of a peer to my other Macintoshes. My Treo, by contrast, is treated much like a peripheral.
Using this logic, it only makes sense to let the iPhone synchronize over the network instead of using .Mac, cutting out the desktop computer as a middleman. I already sync all of my computer’s information to the .Mac servers, so the iPhone should just be able to reach out through the network, grab that data from .Mac, and perform the synchronization directly. Then I could repeat that process anywhere, at any time, so long as I’ve got three bars on the AT&T cellular network. In a very real sense, it would work just the way it works when I sync my home or work computers with the service.
Wouldn’t that be great? It would almost make my annual, US$100 subscription fee seem like it’s money well-spent.+