Tuesday, June 30, 2009

iPhone: changing the way we think

I'm struck by how the iPhone has changed the way we think about what can be done with software based devices assisting us as beings-in-the-world. I'm doing a Heidegger reference here because the iPhone is more than just ubiquitous computing: a device always at my side that could answer those important questions like:
  • Is there good coffee close by?

  • What's the weather going to be like later?

  • How old was Kennedy when he was elected?

Although it certainly is that, it has become a lot more, changing both the economics of software delivery and what it means for software to be delivered.

It's not just that there are a billion apps (or so it seems) in the app store, but the economics of iPhone software is such that a small gaming company can do a novel game e.g., tying rope around wooden blocks, get traction with it and make money. That didn't sound that amazing until I read an interview with the developers in Gamasutra that reminded me how hard it was to make money in computer games pre-iPhone. Not that it is easy now, but compared to the stories I heard when I attended a few Game Developer conferences earlier in the decade, it is trivial. Let's just say that the economics of doing a platform (XBox, Playstation, wii) or PC based game were daunting, to say the least, and the likelihood of getting paid for your game was minimal, even if the game was successful.

The core of the iPhone's difference is as a platform that is easy to use, location aware and ready-to-hand -- more like a hammer than a computer.

As a platform it is sufficiently distinct that it is also effecting the way we think about delivering healthcare. Looking at this list highlights core features that are "new," not "new" in the sense of being completely unheard of, but new in the sense of being practically available for use by the overwhelming bulk of the user community -- sort of like the difference between having a generator kit/knowing about electricity and having an electric grid that you can plug your device into.

As a user-assistant, the iPhone allows me fully exploit the affordances of my current location. I can see where I am on a map, look at overhead imagery of my current neighborhood to see if there is something that I want to photograph, and, if there is, use a small application to grab the geo coordinates so I can later tag the photos I took with my (non-GPS enabled) camera.

The end result is something that is always with you, knows who you are, knows where you are, has connectivity both up (3G/internet) and down (bluetooth to local devices) while providing a simple effective mechanism to easily add functionality in small increments.

I think this makes it the biggest game changer since the rollout of the internet to the general public. However, I also realize that this means that it is time to code up a small test application for the iPhone.

PS: I don't have any experience with the Google android platform or the Palm Pre; these observations may apply equally as well to them.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Linked Data

Finally, thanks to a discussion with Eric Neumann a few weeks ago, I'm beginning to understand what Linked Data is all about. First a caveat -- although I credit Eric for helping me see how linked data fits into what I'm doing, the following interpretation is strictly my own as are errors of omission, commission or orthogonality, although I think my view is supported by the Design Issues document.

The short story is that linked data provides stable identifiers for stuff (a more abstract form of things). These stable identifiers then allow you to say things about this (particular) stuff without necessarily making a strong ontological commitment.

I like this. It provides for interoperability and integration. It does not provide any inference guarantees which is fine by be, and something that I have been advocating for a while. The Linked data site also has links to a number of datasets which publish stable identifiers for useful stuff. The site also gives examples of how to publish your own data.

Hopefully data.gov will provide its data in this form in the near future.