Hivelogic Podcast + Phone Prediction

January 5th, 2007

Dan Benjamin has a great weblog, and has just taken the plunge into the world of recorded audio broadcasting. Checkout the Hivelogic Podcast (direct feed), whose first episode features a chat with John Gruber of Daring Fireball. The quality of the podcast is already much higher than most first episodes, so I’m looking forward to listening to the series evolve.

The content of the first episode is centered around the rumored Apple cell phone, with John taking the position (and more-or-less convincing Dan) that Apple can’t announce a completed product at Macworld, because the product simply requires too many cooks in the kitchen. He suggests that if and when Apple pulls together all the required resources to build a complete product, there will be so many companies involved that a leak is inevitable.

Maybe.

But I’ve learned to never underestimate Apple’s ability to redefine the rules. There’s just no saying what they could have cooking up their sleeve. And they have a huge, competent workforce that has been mostly slapped into confidential submission. So I’ve got a bold prediction about the mythological Apple Phone (and yes, this is a real prediction, unlike my last phone entry).

To be honest, I don’t know enough about mobile phone technology to be qualified to speculate, but here goes. I know that among the alleged problems for Apple are:

  1. Apple has to make deals with wireless networks ahead of time.
  2. Apple can’t realistically produce a device that supports multiple standards (e.g. CDMA and GSM).

So what’s my totally uneducated, shocking prediction for Macworld? Apple will get around these obstacles by redefining the mobile telephone market. Apple will modularize the “communication component” of mobile phones, by turning the hardware required for connecting to and communicating with any particular network a “snap-in” component: basically an extension of existing SIM cards. For existing SIM-card carriers, a module that adapts the SIM card to the necessary circuitry to communicate with a GSM network, and for other carriers, a module that handles the whole shebang. The whole thing will connect to the Apple Phone via a custom compartment underneath the battery. “Only Apple could have done this.”

You’ll buy one “iPhone,” and as many communications modules as you need for the various networks or vendors you do business with. As I understand it there are at least some vendors who will work with “unlocked” phones. That means roughly that the vendor will work with a “commmodity phone,” such as Apple could develop independently and secretly. But Apple doesn’t want to be limited to these commodity vendors, and they don’t want to confuse customers with a rash of different phones. So next week Apple will come out two mobile phone products:

  1. The Apple Phone. Part iPod, part phone, part magic.
  2. The Apple GSM Module. This will come bundled with the first Apple Phone as the only option, allowing the Apple phone to work with any vendor able to provide a GSM sim card.

At the Macworld keynote, Steve Jobs will hold up the world’s sexiest phone, which will glisten in the rapid-fire of flash photography as he announces instant availability for unlocked GSM networks. And one more thing: Apple is “anxious to work with any wireless network company that wants to develop an Apple Phone communications module for their customers. We’ve designed the a comprehensive hardware spec and we believe that most carriers should be able license and build these modules with a list price of $49.95USD, with a reasonable profit margin built-in.”

Game over.

8 Responses to “Hivelogic Podcast + Phone Prediction”

  1. Ryan Ballantyne Says:

    I’m far too jaded to believe that even Apple could redefine the mobile phone market. It’d be like convincing the studios to give up on DRM – it just can’t be done. The existing players are too selfish and stupid.

  2. Lucien Says:

    Very interesting idea.. like Ryan I think I’m a bit jaded too.. I don’t want to get my hopes up for something that.. well, fantastic.

  3. richard Says:

    i still think this whole discussion about carriers and such is pretty funny. here in this cold part of the world (i.e. not the USA), we’re pretty much used to buying a phone and sim card separately from each other. but oh well, from what i’ve understood, we’re pretty much the exception to the rule.

  4. Rui Carmo Says:

    I think that you’re heavily underestimating the time, effort, resources and regulatory details involved in designing mobile phone hardware, and how bits of the technology fit together. For instance, right now there are standard SIM cards, USIMs (for 3G) and ISIMs (a rather more vague notion depending on who you talk to)…

  5. Scott Stevenson Says:

    Things only seem ridiculous until they happen.

  6. Johnmcl Says:

    Everyone keeps on saying that it’s not possible to make a phone do multiple standards (GSM & CDMA)

    I can assure you with 100% confidence that all of the big ‘chip suppliers’ have been working on this for the last several years so it absolutely is possible. Whether they do it or not I have no idea but there is zero technical reason why it can’t be done.

  7. Ton Says:

    This had me thinking: some of the most popular technical breakthroughs have been in enabling people to commuicate together, such as telephones, faxes, email, mobile phones and SMS.

    (As an aside, there’s the popularity of broadcasting, or one to many communication, such as radio, television, DTP, websites, DVDs, ipods, podcasting and videocasting (under the brand of YouTube).)

    I think the nirvana for one to one communication is video conferencing. There are solutions currently out there, like expensive enterprise hardware, or video mobile phones which haven’t really caught on, but I’m thinking that Apple may be ready to push “video conferencing for Grandma’s” to the mass market. Robert Cringley planted the seed in my head.

    Front Row is just a fullscreen app that calls other programs to do its main work – why not hook iChat into the list of services it provides? The logical extension to this is to have a wifi phone that you can take around with you in your home. But then the logical extension of that is a mobile phone. Which comes back to your idea of a phone with modular add ons. But I think the first add on will be a module to communicate with an iChat server.

    Having said that, I hope Apple doesn’t release a phone just yet. I think they have too much on their plate trying to change the music and movie business. Making enemies of the telecoms companies as well would be suicidal.

  8. Buzz Andersen Says:

    This is actually a very compelling theory–I certainly hope something like it turns out to be true Tuesday :-).

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