By Scott G. Silk, president and CEO of Action Engine

As the head of a company that’s pioneered the mobile application and on-device portal space for the past seven years, I’d like to welcome the Apple iPhone to the party. Sure, it arrived late, but the iPhone arrived in style.

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One look at the mobile data features of the iPhone reveals that Apple took many of its usability cues from the On-Device Portal (ODP) companies that have been optimizing mobile application usability for years. The first thing users see when they turn on an iPhone is an ODP into a handful of widgets, the mobile applications that deliver pre-packaged rich content. Widgets set the iPhone apart, and they will be key to the iPhone user experience.

Let’s first take a look at some of the advantages of Apple’s on-device portal approach:

iPhone Advantages

  • Brand Elevation. The iPhone home page establishes one central on-device portal for accessing all of Apple’s rich content and standalone widgets. By establishing a consistent look-and-feel across all of the iPhone widgets, Apple elevates its brand. No matter which widget they use, users get the same user experience, navigation, and look and feel. The on-device portal approach enables Apple to “own” the end-to-end user experience on the phone.
  • Fewer Keystrokes. By letting users drag-and-drop-and-touch, Apple eliminated as many keystrokes as possible to discover and access rich content. This, I believe, is a smart move, considering a simple music download from a carrier portal can take 18 to 39 clicks to execute. That’s a huge usability hindrance as most people abandon such activities after six clicks.

    To further ease data entry, iPhone widgets also connect with the Personal Information Manager (PIM) software on the phone. This enables users to quickly email or text content to a friend. They can grab addresses from their contacts and use them inside widgets to reduce data entry – a key feature of any on-device portal application.

  • Requests Remembered. The iPhone also remembers recent requests. Search for stocks using the stock widget, and the requests will be stored, eliminating the need to reenter the same information later. Similarly, by offering personalization features in the widgets, Apple prevents repeat data entry.
  • Encourage Action. When the iPhone displays content, an “action bar” at the bottom of the screen provides further options for using the content. (e.g., find an address for a restaurant, then map door-to-door directions to the restaurant, then get current traffic conditions.) Okay, maybe it’s not called an “action bar” – that’s what we call ours – but it’s cool. Nice job Apple!
  • Multimedia Content. iPhone will offer music, streaming video, podcasts, movies, YouTube, and more. Nobody does multimedia better than Apple, and dedicated applications are the best way to deliver these services.

iPhone Mobile Gotcha’s

Despite its engineering and design capabilities, Apple still needs to address a number of key issues:

  • Cellular Internet Trap. Sure, the Safari mobile browser may be the best mobile browser ever. But unless users are near a WiFi hotspot, Safari doesn’t solve the fundamental problem facing Apple – and everyone else – namely, every click is a connection over the cellular Internet. Worse, the iPhone uses AT&T’s slower EDGE network rather than a 3G network. While the slow speeds are not Apple’s fault, they reflect poorly on Apple’s brand – making the quick-click widgets an even more important part of the iPhone experience.
  • Keypad Data Entry. Apple’s gone out of its way to simplify data entry, but users browsing the Web on an iPhone will still wind up tapping in URLs on the touch screen keypad. Related concerns are the screen’s user-friendliness and scratch resistance. Touch screens have, historically, proved to be good in concept but often flawed in execution.
  • Limited Widget Integration. Beyond its PIM integration, widget integration on the iPhone is limited. For example, after looking up a city’s weather in the weather widget, that city should appear for mapping in the map widget. It should, but it doesn’t. Similarly, the widgets could be beefed up with more offline content options, letting consumers narrow down their search criteria offline rather than connecting to the network every step of the way.
  • Third-Party Apathy? Apple may limit third-party developers to building browser-based applications. Why not offer a Software Development Kit, or SDK, and encourage third parties to contribute to the users’ experience? Obviously, Apple has been paying attention to third-party developers to see what was and wasn’t working in mobile. Shutting them out now is clearly a mistake.

iPhone Future

More than a product, the iPhone is an event in the mobile applications industry. In that capacity, the success of the iPhone means success for the market. The industry is holding its collective breath, waiting for feedback from iPhone users who immerse themselves in the Apple-branded experience. When the product reviews come in, expect to see all the major brands looking for ways to replicate Apple’s on-device mobile applications experience. While Apple may be late to the mobile application party, there is no question that they came to the party with a credible offering.

Authored by Scott G. Silk, president and CEO of Action Engine.

About Action Engine

Action Engine, the On-Device Portal (ODP ) Company™, pioneered the technology for creating on-device portals in 2000. Today, the company enables media companies and network operators to build, deploy, and manage highly personalized and intuitive suites of mobile applications that deliver a superior user experience. Action Engine’s best-in-class ODP platform incorporates intelligent mobile advertising, support for mass market handsets and broad management capabilities that increase profitability, lower cost of ownership and drive brand-awareness. As the acknowledged market leader in ODP technology, Action Engine’s award-winning software has been successfully deployed by numerous companies including, TiVo, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, smarTVideo, SingTel, Optus, and Globe Telecom. Additional information is available at +1 (425) 498-1500,