“Smartphones have historically been oriented towards business users. The iPhone is more of an entertainment platform”, notes John Jersin, CEO of mobile startup zintin. “Its not that there won’t be serious business applications on the iPhone, but the apps will have exposure to a different audience, and developers are very aware of that fact”, he says.
The brainchild of three Stanford computer science graduates, Silicon Valley-based zintin, like hundreds of other new startups, is exploring the new Internet frontier: Mobile. Described as a mix of social networking, media sharing and location awareness, zintin will debut first on the iPhone later this summer, while at the same time the company has already began porting the application to Android, Google’s open-source mobile operating system.
In an email exchange with last100, Jersin talked about the opportunities for developers that both iPhone and Android represent, how the two platforms differ in their approach to openness, and what the mobile landscape may look like in 12-18 months time.
Excerpts from our Q&A edited for space and clarity, follow after the jump…
What’s the main advantage of native mobile phone applications versus those that run in the web browser?
There are a lot of advantages in both directions. Web apps are much simpler to implement, there is no distribution problem, and they can work on many different mobile devices without much porting effort. The advantages of native apps include, access to locations information and access to data on the phone (e.g. contacts, pictures).
Do you have any views on why Apple chose to go down the browser-based apps path first, before finally announcing a public SDK for native applications? Was it a delaying tactic or a U-turn?
Yes, it seems strange if you think their goal has always been to make a great app development platform. However, I think they wanted to add value to the iPhone in a way that would allow them to be the real innovators on the platform, meaning they wanted to let developers help them out, but not let them too close.
I think their SDK was at least partially a response to Android. If Android allowed truly innovative apps, and Apple didn’t, then the iPhone could end up losing out in a big way. I think Apple’s move was aimed at mitigating that risk, both by drawing developers away from the threatening Android platform, and to get some more innovation on their platform so they wouldn’t be left in the dust.
Do you think a lot of iPhone developers will be first time mobile developers? i.e. coming from the Mac community.
Yes a larger portion of the developers will be from the Mac community, partially because of logistics (you must own a Mac and know how to code in Objective-C which is pretty much only used on Macs) and partially because the Mac community is deeply in love with Apple. Two, there will be a lot of first time mobile developers, largely because there are so few existing mobile developers, but also because the iPhone is the first great development platform that will be targeted at non-business users.
What do you say to those who think that Apple is exercising too much control by limiting the APIs and controlling distribution?
I know a lot of developers working on the iPhone that would prefer to be working with Android’s APIs. The iPhone has an advantage as a platform because there are already millions of iPhones in use, Android doesn’t have that. However, that advantage may not last long; Android handsets are due to ship at the end of this year.
Android appears as though it will be incredibly open, and the iPhone right now is relatively closed. For example, the iPhone is half phone, half iPod, so you would think that you could do some interesting things with music in an app, but as far as I know Apple won’t let you touch music files. Android on the other hand has worked hard to allow music playing apps to share content with other apps. The App Store is another example. Apple is expected to hold authority over which apps are allowed in. This may cut some of the poor quality apps, but it may also result in some frustrated developers.
I have heard from people in the know that Apple very much intends to “guide” innovation on the iPhone. As much as they love being disruptive, they actually don’t like market disruptions. When Android comes out and innovation is more strongly encouraged, people may decide that the coolest features they want to build won’t work on Apple’s less open SDK. The big issue is of course that Android needs to sell handsets. If the iPhone remains dominant, then little else matters.
Despite the control Apple is exerting there is still plenty of room for cool apps on the iPhone. The market and timing are also right. There will be a lot of great apps to match the strong demand for them, and we are excited to be a part of the action.
Any further thoughts on Android? Google’s putting a lot of money into encouraging development, and is promoting Android as a more open to alternative to iPhone (even without naming names). How else will the platform compete with iPhone?
I think Google and its hardware partners (HTC will be building the first phone) are up to the challenge of producing an innovative device with a slick design. I worry more about how they will compete on the marketing front. Apple is a marketing machine, and ironically Google does not even advertise. HTC may do the job on its own though as their previous phones have sold well.
There is some concern about whether Android will come out half-baked like many people think Open Social did. This may happen, but so far everything looks like its going very well.
More generally, where do you think Mobile is heading in the next 12-18 months, and possibly further?
There are a few key features of mobile phones which really set them apart from desktops. Chief among them is location data. I would guess that in the first year, the majority of apps will be leveraging location data in fairly basic ways, for example, to tell you what restaurants you are near. As these companies mature, and more and more market segments get addressed, I think you’ll start seeing some classic apps reappear with location awareness. For example, instead of simple timed alerts, your calendar might let you know that you have an appointment in 20 minutes, and you have about 15 minutes of traffic to get through to get there.
Games will also be huge, although its hard to say how much they will leverage the uniqueness of the mobile platform. They may instead flourish only because mobile games are more accessible than games on the desktop or console.
Lastly, tell us a bit more about your startup, and the product you’re working on.
We are building what we call presence aware social networking. The idea is that when you are walking around in the real world, your phone will have an idea about the people and things in your immediate proximity. Its a kind of environmental awareness that hasn’t existed before, and we think it will enable many new types of interactions between people.
A few companies are already tackling the problem of mapping out where things are relative to you. Instead of showing you a map of the world, we want to connect you better to the people right next to you.
Smartphones are both very personal devices, and great media platforms. We combine these two aspects to allow users to broadcast media profiles to the people around them, as well as view and add to other people’s profiles. We want to help people share media better. With our proximity detection technology, we also want to allow our users to have deeper interactions with the people that make up the physical communities that they live and work in.
In short, zintin is a social network centered around location and shared media. We would love for people to sign up for our beta announcement list at zintin.com.
Thanks John for taking the time out to talk to last100