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2008: Year of the iThings?

It is always dicey to predict the future, but while we're waiting for the iPhone, businesses might want to take a look at the iPod Touch


January 1, 2008  


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Happy New Year everyone and a belated welcome to 2008. How are things so far? It is always dicey to predict the future, but once again I’ll put my neck on the line and throw out some ideas about what might happen this year.

First, what is up with the iPhone? Here is one of the slickest wireless devices yet produced and here in Canada — one of the slickest wireless markets in the world — we cannot get one. At least, not officially.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the iPhone was launched in the United States in late June and in the United Kingdom, Germany and France in November.

In each case, Apple offered exclusive agreements to carriers — AT&T in America, O2 in the UK, T-Mobile in Germany, and Orange in France. And by all accounts, the device kicks serious wireless butt — from the touch-screen user interface, to the applications, to the fun stuff you can download, to the excellent online support guide, to the sheer cool factor that is a credit to Apple’s design team.

iUnlocked

It isn’t too hard to find an iPhone, I’ll admit. Within three blocks of my downtown Toronto home there is a mobile phone/PDA shop and an iPod repair kiosk that both advertise unlocked iPhones — devices that, in theory, will work on any network the device supports.

But I’m betting that unlocking them voids a warranty, and there are probably some features on the iPhone that are not supported by Canadian networks. So as of this writing, we’re still waiting for the iPhone. Will we see it this year?

Well, that depends. Apple is currently embroiled in a trademark dispute with Toronto-based Comwave Telecom Inc., which has been using the iPhone name for a suite of Internet-driven telecom services. Comwave argues it has prior rights to the name. Before we see the iPhone in Canada, Apple will need to do two things:

First, hammer out a deal with a carrier. For “carrier,”read “Rogers Wireless,” since the iPhone runs on GSM networks and Rogers is the only Canadian operator that operates GSM.

Second, settle the Comwave dispute. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office will decide the case and if it rules in favour of Comwave then Apple will likely be forced to walk away from the Canadian iPhone market, or buy the name. One’s a financial cost; the other, a blow to its goodwill with customers. I wonder which will cost more?

The Wi-Fi alternative

While the iPhone stakeholders get their ducks in a row, we will probably see more iPod Touch models sold to business users. The iPod Touch has all the same slick characteristics as the iPhone, but instead of having a wireless network option, it connects via Wi-Fi.

That is significant because although many industry-watchers have dismissed Wi-Fi because of some high-profile failures to launch citywide networks in the United States, Wi-Fi is out there. Canadian cities are deploying new networks or expanding existing ones. Airports, hotels, conference centres, sporting venues and other public spaces are either operating their own Wi-Fi networks or are contracting with wireless network operators to do so on their behalf. And businesses are finding that these networks are not just good things to offer to the public, but are also useful for their own operations.

For example, an airport might offer Wi-Fi Internet access for travelers to check e-mail or surf the web while waiting for a flight — but also use the same network for tracking baggage or connecting workers on the apron to the administration’s corporate Intranet.

What does this mean for IT departments? I would say if you did not get a new iPod Touch over the recent holiday season, ask for one for your birthday and then figure out how to use it — not to play music (it does that too) — but for browsing, accessing web-based-applications, personal information management, data back-up, and the other business-appropriate functions that this device supports.

Then think about rolling the device out in your company. Employees will be more productive and look cooler doing it, and you’ll be a hero. What’s not to love about that?

Trevor Marshall is a Toronto-based reporter, writer and observer of the Canadian wireless industry. He can be reached (on his mobile) at 416-878-7730 or trevor@words-tm.com.