Mike Daconta | What the iPhone can teach government

Reality Check | Commentary: Government organizations can learn a lot from the iPhone

Mike Daconta

The debut of Apple Computer's iPhone has probably gotten more press than any technology product to hit the market in recent memory. So does the device that Apple's Steve Jobs introduced as the 'reinvention of the phone' live up to its hype? And should a government information technology professional care? Yes on both counts ' and here are three reasons why.

1. The iPhone is disruptive technology, and that's a good thing. If you have not seen the iPhone, borrow one from a friend or visit an Apple store. You may be shocked, as I was, by its innovative features:
  • The screen resolution is amazing, and the Google YouTube video integration really showcases it.
  • The virtual physics of finger motions ' such as the pincer motion for zooming in and out of a photo or the finger flick to browse through album cover art ' is highly intuitive and a breakthrough user interface design.
  • The integration of an accelerometer and a light and proximity sensor is at the vanguard of human-centered computing ' similar to the Wii's new game controller ' where devices accommodate and augment human activities and not the other way around.

Many millions of people will buy this device, and Apple will only continue to improve it. The iPhone certainly is not perfect. Its lack of provisions for corporate e-mail, a difficult virtual keyboard, especially for thumb-typing, and lack of Flash support are the top drawbacks. But most of these problems can be solved with a software update.

2. The iPhone is a new IT platform. At Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference in June, the company released its Safari Web Browser for Windows, available at www.apple.com/safari/, and said the iPhone contains a full version of the browser. So the way to develop for the iPhone is to develop Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language applications and test them on Safari. If they will run on the Safari browser for PC or Mac, they will run on the iPhone.

Safari on iPhone does not now support Flash or Java, but that could change soon.
Additionally, Safari is based on an open-source project called WebKit, available at webkit.org/, so if you don't like the iPhone browser, you can help make it better.

The magnitude of this for cell phones cannot be overstated. The iPhone does an impressive job of displaying complete Web pages, not watered-down mobile Web pages. This may well signal the beginning of the end for a separate mobile Web. One Web is better. AJAX and Open Web application program interfaces should be at the top of developers' priority queue.

3. The iPhone is an important lesson. How did Apple pull this off? They redesigned a mediocre experience by making device convergence work ' phone plus iPod plus Web plus what's-next? ' by innovating and by challenging worn-out assumptions such as visual voice mail and call merging. This is a lesson every organization should take to heart.

So get a good look at an iPhone, and you may get inspired. Then, when you hear a worn-out assumption such as 'good enough for government,' you might see some mediocrity in need of a redesign.

Michael Daconta, former metadata program manager at the Homeland Security Department, is chief of enterprise data management at Oberon Associates.

About the Author

Michael C. Daconta (mdaconta@incadencecorp.com) is the Vice President of Advanced Technology at InCadence Strategic Solutions and the former Metadata Program Manager for the Homeland Security Department. His new book is entitled, The Great Cloud Migration: Your Roadmap to Cloud Computing, Big Data and Linked Data.

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