Archive for January, 2010

Why no live traffic on the iPhone?

January 6, 2010

With millions of iPhones in use today, Apple has an opportunity to create a real-time traffic condition reporting system. Current traffic information systems provided by XM and other are notoriously inaccurate, despite charging customers each month for the service.

Between the built-in GPS receiver, triangulation from cell towers, and the built-in accelerometer, Apple could have the iPhone upload its location, speed, and direction to a central server at predefined intervals. This information would be completely anonymized, retaining the phone’s IMEI just long enough to verify it as an actual iPhone, but recording no other personally identifiable information.

From these millions of iPhones, Apple could record traffic patterns 24 hours per day, correlating the traffic history of a given freeway with time of day, the day of the week, and even holidays and weather. After a few years, Apple would be able to predict the percentage chance of encountering a delay along a given route. The driver would enter the starting location and destination into the iPhone, and the route could be presented with both real-time traffic and predicted delays, and could be recalculated as circumstances changed.

What would such a service be worth to Apple’s customers? I’ll bet most would be willing to spend at least $5 per month for such an accurate system.

Why no wireless synchronization in iTunes?

January 4, 2010

iTunes only allows synchronization of music, podcasts, and audiobooks via USB. Conventional wisdom suggests this is due to the sheer volume of data being transferred. This is unfortunate, because it means customers are less likely to synchronize, and so the content on these portable devices doesn’t stay up-to-date without more effort from the customer. There are a few ways Apple could improve this system.

Both the iPhone and iPod Touch have wireless 802.11g radios. Apple could add a scheduling feature to iTunes which would download all recent podcasts at a preset time, and then synchronize with an iPhone or iPod Touch at a preset time. The downloads over wireless are likely to be 10% to 20% as fast as a USB connection, but as long as the initial synchronization of the device is completed over USB, updates could probably be done wirelessly without much trouble (most of the information is going to remain from synchronization to synchronization). Customers could plug their iPhones in the charger at night, and as long as their host computer is on, the iPhone would wake up at the predetermined time and begin the synchronization.

This works well for the iPhone, which stays with the customer and is likely charged nightly. But what about the iPod Touch? It could synchronize just as the iPhone does, unless it’s left in a car. If Apple produced an accessory combining a vehicle adapter with a longer-lasting battery, the iPod Touch could also perform its synchronizations wirelessly, presuming the car is within range of the owner’s wireless network. The accessory would charge the battery by day so it could power the iPod Touch at night, and the owner could install an 802.11n wireless access point (e.g AirPort Extreme) if they required more range to reach the iPod Touch in the car. Such an accessory could even include a small Wi-Fi radio (much like the EyeFi SD card), and could then be connected to any current iPod Apple sells.

Using these approaches, Apple could automatically keep the content on customers’ devices current without any effort on the part of the owner beyond the initial configuration.