For over a year now, we've been inundated with questions (initially), requests (later) and grunts (lately) regarding WorldMate for the iPhone. Initially, it was simply WorldMate's history - we've had WorldMate on Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Symbian UIQ, S60, S80, S90, J2ME, Windows Desktop, BlackBerry... people naturally assumed we'd automatically do iPhone too. Later it was surprise - as it seemed like the iPhone app market is a huge opportunity for developers - how come a long-established and category leading brand like WorldMate isn't there?
On our CEO's blog he explained our rationale. In retrospect, it's interesting to see how the iPhone and our perception of it changed over time. In August 2007 he stated "What the iPhone definitely isn't is a good business tool". In October 2008 he asked users to petition Apple to allow us to do push, background processing etc. to enable the Auto-updating and Alert functionality in WorldMate Live. By then, it was clear to us that the iPhone is here to stay, and that iPhone desire, even crave WorldMate - and that we can't ignore their pleas. The comments we got ranged from enouragement - e.g. "I think worldmate live is a great application and I'd love to see it on iphone" to"I switched from BlackBerry, and not having WM is killing me."
But still we dragged our feet. Why? the reasons above had much to do with it. Our pre-occupation with Windows Mobile, Symbian etc. contributed too. But mostly, we were concerned about the business model. You see, WorldMate Live is a $99/year service. The propsects of selling in a market where the so-called leaders sell $0.99 mini-apps is daunting. In January 2009, when we were examining the iPhone App Store success stories a little closer in the post titled "iPhone, iTunes, iFart..." we asked people what they thought we should do. We were encouraged to hear responses like:
"a high price suggests higher value and differentiation from the low quality apps out there - from seeing who's carrying iphones in the big cities, seems like there'll be enough happy customers for the worldmate live app."
"If people are willing to pay $.99 for crappy apps and odd sounds, imagine what they would pay for an app that is actually useful and works wonderfully like WorldMate Live."
These responses marked the trigger for our iPhone development. But WorldMate Live is a BIG system. We have an 8-person team working on it since January. When it's released, it will arguably be the biggest, richest iPhone app out there.And in the mean time, we still have quite a few dilemmas and debates. Some of which we aired in public in March. At this stage, it seems like the audience wasn't too appreciative anymore, and the comments we got were a little less appreciative...
"What I think is that you are very bitter... Now I have the iphone, as it is in my opinion the better platform I now look forward to getting a product similar to WM from someone else, it will now only be a matter of time..."
Last month, Apple announced iPhone SDK 3.0. It doesn't let us do everything we want to be able to do, but it's a huge step forward. By this summer, it will allow us some limited push functionality, and management of paid subscriptions. For us, this is a coming-of-age of this platform, and we want to be on it - ASAP.
The iPhone has revolutionized the smartphone market in several ways. The most important one is not technological or design-centric - it has to do with the marketing message. Apple is focusing it on the availability of applications - stuff to do with your phone beyond voice / SMS / Email. Everyone in the mobile software business has been pleading with manufacturers and operators for years to do this. These manufacturers built great smartphones, then marketed them as "camera phones", "camcorder phones" (remember the Nokia 6620?) and "communicators". In doing so they've been sending the wrong message to their customers, and delaying the smartphone revolution. In a way you could say that these companies they were not confident in their product. Maybe the engineers and product managers unsderstood apps. The marketers didn't. Nokia was not really sure that the 9300 is good for anything beyond communications. RIM was not sure BlackBerries are really more than e-mail devices.
Apple is confident. And with this confidence they set out to show the public that these devices they've built can do all those "new" things. TV commercials showing apps on the iPhone. Full-page ads showing just an iPhone with apps. Apple retail shop-fronts with displays of hundreds of apps – can the message get any clearer?
2 years ago, if you downloaded an app to your smartphone, you were a geek. Now you're cool.
On top of this – the iPhone is currently the best mobile platform for content consumption. Between the great screen to the elegant and highly usable UI, a great medium was from an ergonomic perspective. Regardless if what you're looking at is your travel itinerary, a news article or a video clip – the iPhone is probably the best mobile platform to consume this content, and competes well even with other media – from paper through television to desktop computers.
So – what we have here is a platform whose users see as a great medium to carry and consume content on. Millions of business professionals have turned it into their preferred tool. Their use of it corresponds closely to our WorldMate vision – they carry their info, access it, look up info they need in real time, and react to it - directly on their iPhones.
Warranted – the lack of some key features still puts it at a disadvantage – if we could push info to you, we'd be able to provide you with the context-sensitive alert capabilities of WorldMate Live. If you had a keyboard, data-entry operations would be easier. And we're still concerned with app pricing, which makes it hard for us to get back the millions of $ we put in the WorldMate Live system. But it's time we move forward – and that is what we're doing. So it's not long now before we'll release WorldMate for the iPhone. In the mean time we invite you to tell us what you want, what you think and what you need. And if you'd like to be notified as soon as it's available – just click here to register for that notification.