iPhone Apps Should Disappear

Lack of Web app integration prevents digital transparency.

iPhone with transparent screen
When I imagine a "digital lifestyle", it is long on "lifestyle" and short on "digital". I picture a level of integration between tech (iPhone, home computer, web applications and services), life (home, family, travel, friends) and the digital tracings of my life (photos, video, music, design, blog/microblog/ tumblelog) that allows me to enjoy what I'm doing without thinking about transferring from real life to digital.  It just happens, at least it does in my mind's eye. The advent of the iPhone had made it seem like the "digital lifestyle" was ready to integrate in this way.  Unfortunately, the actual product and process has fallen short of this mark. Apple's announcement that they are releasing a "real" iPhone SDK for native third-party applications is good news for the iPhone.  Applications so far, whether they were Safari Web apps or hacked native apps, have been restricted to a fairly primitive set of features. The main reason for this: no integration with the features that should make the iPhone a mobile wonder: camera, microphone, speaker, accelerometer on the hardware side, and Address Book, Calculator and Clock on the software side.
A good mobile app should be as transparent as possible while allowing you to complete the intended function.  They should take little energy and attention to operate. Save that for desktop apps - when I'm using my mobile the last thing I want is to be "that guy" who spends the entire time at a social event tapping away at his phone. Here's an example: since I'm always Twittering from my iPhone, I often get people wanting to see pictures of something I'm doing, while it's happening.  So I will post to my tumblelog, or to my flickr account, and then direct them to that location via my iPhone's Twitter client.
It takes 15 button presses to shoot and email one of my photos. FIFTEEN!  I won't be tiresome and list each one, but that's what I came up with.  This could easily be streamlined by an app with access to the iPhone's camera AND the Web.
I can only share the photo's address via a general URL.  Since there is no copy/paste on the iPhone, once I've uploaded my photo and I want to share it, I might Twitter/text/etc. a link to the general location: "Check out my photo on Flickr, I'm colbyworld" or "Photo on my tumblelog at fun.colbypalmer.com".  This doesn't provide a link that people can save or share, once I've uploaded a new set of photos the one I'm trying to share will be buried.  I know there is a remarkable Flickr-to-Twitter service available...but what if I want my photo to go to Facebook or Tumblr? How about all four? Not to mention other sites like Radar, MobyPicture and the rest. There are methods of emailing photos to upload to these services, but no standardized method of tagging/titling/commenting.  This could be handled by an app that stored prefs and login/API information for the different services.
At this point, I'm fussing with the iPhone when I should be doing something fun. If I wasn't doing anything exciting I wouldn't want to share a picture, right? About the time I get to step 8 and I'm fumbling with tags and deleting my signature from the email so it doesn't appear in the Flickr comments, my fiancee is frowning, my baby is squirming, and my Twitterpals still have no picture. A fully integrated app could slim this down to only four steps:
  1. Open the app.
  2. Take picture.
  3. Select options: take more pics, review/tag/edit, upload to (flickr, tumblr, blog, select socnets you want), post to (twitter, jaiku, pownce, tumblr, facebook etc). Most of these will be pre-set as preferences, so no selection would be necessary.
  4. Press "Done".
The app would perform basic enhancements (this is something else conspicuously missing from the iPhone), tag, upload the picture, then post a link to it on your Twitter/Flickr/Tumblr/Facebook/etc. account.  Unfortunately this just isn't possible yet with the tools that Apple has given us.  Cookies aren't stored reliably, there is no place or method for storing local data, and there are NO ways to access the cool features of the iPhone that could transform it from an Internet-capable device to a true multimedia wonder.  This keeps us coming up with workarounds and hacks, and expending more effort than we should have to in order to maintain the "digital lifestyle" that Apple has been selling us.
A primary goal for mobile apps should be TRANSPARENCY.  Hopefully with the release of a proper SDK, iPhone apps can help us slim down the button-pushing and get on with the fun. This is the first part of a series of posts, starting with the present and leading us into the future of the mobile Web. Stay tuned. Next up: Was the failure of the Safari SDK anticipated by Apple?

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