IPhone 3G: It's not world peace, but it's close

Apple faithful talk about their dreams, centered around a little smart phone

If you've seen the bumper sticker, "Visualize Whirled Peas," as a play on "Visualize World Peace," it is a reminder of what is happening at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference this week.

About 5,000 developers, the largest assembly ever for WWDC, are meeting here to learn about Apple technology, especially the iPhone 3G, which is coming July 11.

They hope to find out what iPhone 3G can mean to their new applications for gaming or for sharing critical information useful to doctors, engineers or just about anybody.

The whole event is stimulating, some developers said, as they crammed into bathrooms on breaks and lined up for coffee. But primarily it is inspirational, in the way technology can often inspire, and with a lot of wackiness and fun built in.

The developers and IT managers who will be using the iPhone 3G speak in grand terms about how a really good phone, combined with a great computer that runs on a really fast wireless network could, yes, change the world.

"It's not world peace, but it's a start," one developer, who didn't want to give his name, said of iPhone 3G with a smile and glistening eyes. In its early stages, the iPhone 3G, as announced, is, perhaps, more like Whirreled Peas that developers hope to turn into something more tangible.

In several interviews, they talked about how technology as good as the iPhone 3G could influence conventional economic systems, making it a truly distruptive technology. Several developers said it could be as important as a $100 laptop in the hands of a poor child, and with the iPhones priced at US$199, it gets close to that.

It could also be the first phone/computer for people in some regions of countries such as India or China, or even the rural US, where a traditional communications infrastructure, built on wires, never materialized, they said.

The hope of many wireless technologies has long been to leapfrog the wired world, but a smart phone with rich capabilities like the iPhone 3G's can bring that dream closer to reality, they said.

If they sound like dreamers, the Apple developers admit they are, but that is why many said they became developers in the first place.

"Look at how India and China have skipped a generation of infrastructure and have gone to wireless. One of the reasons that I liked iPhone early on was the idea of changing business processes, where you're not tied to the notion of having an office where the old-fashioned command and control approach applies," said Vivek Kundra, the chief technology officer for the District of Columbia.

There, a beta test of iPhone 2.0 is underway, and Kundra envisions hundreds, if not thousands, of workers using iPhone 3Gs to support municipal functions.

With GPS in iPhone 3G, Kundra said the location technology could help emergency response teams see where other team members are located on a street map on the device interface. Other smart-phone equipment providers offer similar capabilities, but the iPhone 3G seems to bring more functions together into one device, he said.

Mike Lee, chief architect for client software at Tapulous, a US-software company that develops social networking applications, said iPhone 3G is the kind of technology that could help one African nation close to his heart develop more intelligently.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld

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