Saturday, July 25, 2009

Background iPhone Apps, Push Notification and the iPod Touch

There has been a lot of talk in the past few days about Google launching their Latitude App as a browser app on the iPhone. I have to agree with Marshall Kirkpatrick who said "Google Latitude on the iPhone? It's Terrible, Try Brightkite." Brightkite, even as a web app, is streets ahead of Google's Latitude in terms of usability. Brightkite's iPhone App just takes their service to another level.

The interesting issues that emerge around all this discussion are those of background applications and push notification. Let's bring some threads together here:

  • Push notification is the bare minimum needed to allow applications to be updated with new contextual information. Thankfully the Push capability is in the works from Apple but will require iPhone application vendors to update their applications.
  • Push needs to be coupled with continual updates to location, at the user's choice. So, even if I am not using the BrightKite App I might want to broadcast my location to the BrightKite servers so that they can send me relevant push notifications.
  • The IPod touch is due for a product refresh and is rumored to be gaining a camera and microphone in the next iteration that is expected around September time. hat would tie in with Apple promoting the Touch heavily in their back to school promotions. Are they running down their inventory?
  • Apple is rumored to be unhappy with AT&T - like many of us iPhone users. Their network is performing poorly, things are breaking - like voice mail. We still don't have MMS and Tethering. The AT&T MMS capability for the iPhone is worse than awful. I complained about the stupidity of it over a year ago. As a result AT&T may loose their exclusive deal next year. Alternatively Verizon might pick up the rumored Apple Tablet early next year.
  • Verizon and Sprint have recently released the Novatel Mi-Fi which is a revolutionary personal wi-fi zone that supports up to 5 devices with a 3G backhaul. I wrote recently about how the Mi-Fi is a game changing product.
  • Skype offers an iphone voice calling application that works over Wi-Fi. It works great. I regularly use it to call overseas without being stung by AT&T's outrageous per minute costs on overseas calls. I am not singling out AT&T here. Every cellular company seems to be happy to gouge their customers on international calls from your cell phone.

I still use the original iPhone, complete with cracked screen. With all of these factors playing out at the same time I am considering a scenario where:

  1. Apple releases an upgraded iPod Touch with 64Gb so that it can store most of my music and it has a camera, microphone and speaker making it functionally equivalent to the iPhone
  2. Apple releases a workable Push notification system
  3. Skype, the Gizmo Project or Google Voice deliver an iPhone application that uses push notification to alert you to incoming calls. Gizmo is available on the iPhone via Nimbuzz.

If these three things come together then the iPod Touch could revolutionize cell phone use. People who are currently tied to AT&T in the USA could go to Sprint or Verizon and purchase a Mi-Fi with an unlimited data plan. In 2010 NovaTel might even release a Mi-Fi that uses Verizon's emerging LTE network for even faster backhaul.

UPDATE: Nimbuzz does in fact support push notifications. Since it supports the Gizmo Project and Google Voice supports Gizmo it means (in theory) you can get push notifications on calls to your Google Voice number notified to you via Nimbuzz when a call is re-directed to Gizmo by Google Voice.