PC 1.0, iPhone 3.0 and the Woz: Everything Old is New Again

By Mark Sigal
March 30, 2009 | Comments: 7

This is a post on how the iPhone 3.0 is destined to accessorize our mobile future.

But first, a little context is needed.

My old business partner, James Blaisdell (then: CTO/Co-Founder @ Rapid Logic; now: CTO/Co-Founder @ Mocana) lent me a really awesome book of stories about the early days of startups called 'Founders at Work.'

The book, which is essentially a series of interviews, captures the lessons learned and the seminal moments in the birthing and maturation of companies like PayPay (Max Levchin), Hotmail (Sabeer Bhatia), Apple (Steve Wozniak) and a couple dozen others.

Because Jessica Livingston, the author of the book, is one of the founding partners of seed stage venture fund, Y Combinator, the framing and focus of the narrative is much more applied than a typical tell-all book. The nuggets contained within are insightful and actionable, and the reading is immensely enjoyable.

wozniak-dwts.jpgIn any event, last night I was reading Jessica's interview with Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak.

Serendipitously, my wife and I are regular 'Dancing with the Stars' viewers, giving us a chance to see another angle of the man known as the Woz, who is one of the Celebrity Dance Performers this season.

Reading Woz's story, I was transported back. To a time many years ago, when my brother and I were regulars at the Byte Shop in Santa Monica, one of the first personal computer stores; a time when the essence of a PC - smallish form factor, keyboard, monitor, graphics, storage/input mechanism (back then, a cassette recorder) had not yet been fashioned.

trs80pic.jpgWhen I first encountered what was to become the PC (circa 1977), companies like Altair and IMSI were beginning to bring computing to the realm of hobbyists, but frankly, it was an abstraction until I saw the Apple II. (Side note: We ultimately got a TRS-80, affectionately known as the "Trash 80").

The Wozniak interview is a window into a time when the industry was completely and utterly dependent upon hardware innovation; before it became such a commodity at the hardware layer that the software could only be so differentiated.

3G-iphone.jpgThat is, until iPod and iPhone. More on that in a minute.

But first, consider this excerpt, which frames Woz's decision to support 8 hardware expansion slots in the Apple II, a prescient decision, which enabled the advent of the floppy disk, printer and modem connections, graphics support and local area networking expansion:

Wozniak: We had a real argument over slots...I had designed a clever system on the suggestion of a friend--Allen Baum again-- that decoded 8 slots you could plug little computer boards into. Each board had the ability to have its own programs on it running in its own addresses, and it didn't have to have all the normal chips to decide, "Well, if the addresses are such and such, I will respond to them." That was done on the main board...Every computer I'd ever seen, some of its greatest things came because of boards plugged into it...We had to have 8 slots. And it turns out that it was very important; it was very beneficial. Because we came out with a floppy disk. Not only that, other people came out with cards that put 80 columns of text on the screen so you could see more. People came out with extra memory cards, people came out with other languages in cards, people came out with cards that had CPM. People came out with cards to connect all kinds of equipment in the world, to operate your house over your power lines. It was just a world of cards. Many people had their Apple IIs filled up with cards, every single slot.

Read the entire interview with Steve Wozniak HERE, as Woz's thoughts and experiences are beautifully articulated.

iPhone 3.0: Accessorizing our Mobile Future

Flash-forward, if you follow this blog, you know that I have written extensively on the iPhone/iPod touch platforms, most recently separate posts on:

  1. The interplay of the App Store and the underlying developer platform with Apple's ecosystem cultivation play in the success of iPhone/iPod touch (FACTOID: App Store is approaching a $1B run rate business for Apple);
  2. An analysis of the iPhone OS 3.0 Developer Preview a week or so ago.

From my perspective, one thing that may not have gotten enough attention related to the iPhone 3.0 Preview was Apple's opening up of the 30-pin connector at the base of the device for third-party hardware accessories (and applications that take programmatic advantage of the inter-connect).

Why do I say not enough attention? Well, the iPod accessory business itself is already a $2B market, and there has really been no such thing as "software value-add" to the hardware accessory itself.

With iPhone 3.0, this changes.

gauge.jpgSoon, a medical device manufacturer can build a blood pressure gauge accessory and associated software application that plugs into your iPhone or iPod touch and tracks your blood pressure over time, comparing it to a network of people with similar age/body/health types to give you a relative Wellness Score and underlying data in real time.

Could it be fashioned into an enabling engine for a Healthy Living Movement or a National Health Monitoring Service (ANALOG: Nielsen for Health)?

vintage-tv-remote.jpgSimilarly, a universal remote vendor can build a hardware accessory that generates the necessary signals to allow you to control your home entertainment center, home alarm AND interactive programming guide in one.

Biometrics.jpgAnd why couldn't some vendor build police enforcement agencies a handheld fingerprinting and optical scanning device that captures biometric data, cross-comparing the acquired information with a real-time central database?

I am just pulling a few different examples out of the air, but across the medical, sports, automobile, controller, data acquisition, playback, entertainment and finance segments, it sure feels like the accessories play for iPhone OS 3.0 is going to render the $2B iPod accessory number laughably small in comparison.

What is compelling is that this opens the door to all sort of interesting hardware innovations that, oh by the way, have built-in leverage across a large installed base (30M devices) and a potent developer ecosystem (25,000 applications, 800M downloads).

Bringing the Old Back to the New

I want to close by underlining a comment made by Woz that has been a cornerstone of my thinking throughout my entrepreneurial career.

When you solve the "right problem" a whole mess of unexpected advantages and upside surprises fall right into your lap. Amen to that.

Related Posts:

  1. ANALYSIS - iPhone 3.0 Developer Preview: Block the Kick Strategy
  2. iPhones, App Stores, Ecosystems: On Recipes for Successful Developer Platforms
  3. "Right Here Now" services: weaving a real-time web around status
  4. iPhone 2.0: What it Means to be Mobile
  5. What it Means to be a "Social" Media Center: Boxee, Apple TV and Square Connect

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Great post, and great insight.

Generally agree, but device manufacturers would be smart to start with USB or Bluetooth and allow an adapter for Apple devices. Manufacturers will be leaving out the majority of device users untapped if they did otherwise.

@John, I think what you are saying is the fundamental paradox that so far, iPhone has proven false; namely, build a lowest common denominator solution in search of ubiquity or focus on the highest, most optimal solution.

The counter to your argument, especially since the uniqueness here is not solely hardware integration but software as well, is build a fully optimized accessory and application for iPhone/iPod touch, and if you prove demand, offer a USB variant or release a 30-pin to USB adapter.



I think you are spot on. The potential is enormous.

Excellent article. Bringing the old back to the new is a succinct way to frame this. I was only dimly aware of the excitement generated around computers in the 90's when people just started to realize the things that were possible, but it seems like that's cooled off quite a bit ever since the great bursting of the .com bubble.
As a recent engineering grad, I'm beginning to sense tremors of the explosion from the potential of a computer in every pocket. Sad to say, but M$oft has completely dropped the ball on predicting the movements of technology and I have an iphone because it's the only computer I can put in my pocket.

Best Quote
"When you solve the "right problem" a whole mess of unexpected advantages and upside surprises fall right into your lap. Amen to that."

@Raleigh, thanks for the comments. The Microsoft saga is bittersweet, as I simultaneously had a strong disdain for their ruthlessness and a massive respect for their platform focus and relentless marketing, and by NT 4.0, I actually liked their products. The shift from Gates to Ballmer is a cautionary tale in terms of DNA drainage, inasmuch as Ballmer has failed to put his finger prints on the company.

The age of mobile broadband, however, is destined to be every bit the exciting game changer that the PC era was in it's heyday.

Simply put, the web is evolving from text, pictures and links to movies, music and services that flow seamlessly from the palm of your hand to your living room. How cool is that?



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