Mobile Apps: Breaking Out of the Pocket

By Alex Walker
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Things are getting really interesting in the mobile development field.

Five years ago when you talked about application development you were most likely targeting web browsers, desktop computers, game platforms or very limited phone OS’s. On each of those platforms the vast majority of the input was via the user’s fingertips — text, buttons and joysticks.

Today’s devices obviously offer so much more. Touch, GPS, compasses, accelerometers, and proximity detection to name just a few previously unavailable input modes. This has made possible a raft of new types of applications (and I’m not talking about iFart).

Earlier in the year BunsenTech launched a pretty cool iPhone app aimed at the hardcore revhead called Dynolicious. The app uses iPhone’s hardware to track 0-60 acceleration, lateral G force, braking G’s and horsepower amongst other things.

Nifty stuff.

However, now an electric super bike has taken things a step further.

It’s perhaps impressive enough that the very slick-looking MotoCzysz E1pc runs at +120mph on three electric motors with zero emissions.

MotoCzysz E1pc

However, the real kicker for us developers is it uses an iPhone as it’s standard dashboard instrumentation — a bike with a data plan.

There are all sorts of reasons that I think this is super clever.

  • Building custom high-tech sensors and screens into a bike is expensive and requires years of testing to perfect. Having them already built-in to a phone that many developers already understand intimately should make development simpler and cheaper. This should be reflected on the ticket price, too.
  • The dashboard becomes easily upgradeable and can evolve as MotoCzysz improve and refine it.
  • Inevitably geeks, hackers and fans will hack their own dashboards and often come up with stuff way cooler than the default dashboard. You’ve got the possibility of a whole subculture of dashboard hackers evolving.
  • I assume you clip the phone out when you leave, so it could easily becomes the equivalent of a key/security device for the bike. In fact, why have a key?

MotoCzyszCould we be seeing the beginning of the iPhone (and other advanced mobile devices) becoming part of the default interface/input device for other devices — anything from scooters to ride-on mowers to ski boats to ultralight aircraft?

It sounds like a really interesting niche.

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  • webnician

    I believe you hit the nail on the head with the “default interface/input device for other devices”. This seems like inevitable technical progress — consolidation & modularization. I love this kinda’ stuff, especially when it wasn’t already obvious (to me).

  • That’s a fantastic idea. Mind you, is there any danger of it flying out of the holder when you’re speeding down the motorway or driving over cobblestones??!

  • Just remember. It’s only zero emissions if the electricity has been produced cleanly, and not through the burning of fossil fuels!

    And please pause for a while and consider the implications of everything being iPhone only. Have we not learned that monopolies are bad and open standards are good. Web devs of all people should know this by know.

  • What if te Iphone crashes (as they so often do) wll it take the bike with it?

  • Anonymous

    @ artemis

    “What if te Iphone crashes” — spot on… :-)

  • @itpastorn All the bike maker can do it build a zero emissions bike. Sourcing the power is a separate but solvable issue.

    On the potential for a dangerous monopoly developing — have to say, I agree. It’s going to be up to Blackberry and Android and others to come up with compelling alternatives to avert this situation. Producing different dash moulds for 2 or 3 different devices wouldn’t be ideal, but if the demand was there…

    @artemis It is a potential issue. The software would need a higher than normal level of vetting and testing. I wonder what laws come into play here too?

    Ultimately, this is a feedback device, not a control unit, so complete failure of the iPhone shouldn’t make the bike unusable.

  • Anonymous

    what about when your phone stalls/freezes?

  • @craig I’m not too worried about it popping out — I think some good engineering can manage that.

    Vibration and the elements would be the two things that I’d be most concerned about. It sounds more extreme than the average pocket.

  • @AlexW:

    Actually I think it is more of a matter of standards. Physical interfaces should be according to a standard, also for phones and other portable devices.

    For phones form-factors should probably be allowed to vary, though, but that could easily be solved through an adapter cage.

    General note (from my whole life’s experience, not this thread). Why is it that a lot of people who love standards for communication do no get the need for standards on the web – and vice versa?

  • @itpastorn I think it’s going to be more difficult to set standards for mobile devices, because there will never be any agreement on what it the perfect screen size/form factor.

    Desktop screens have been driven by a ‘biggest you can afford’ mentality. It’s a gradually moving target, but a somewhat predictable one.

    With mobile devices, I’d personally never consider another device with a smaller screen than the iPhone — I want something that I have with me ALL the time, and that does a handy job at everything – surfing/IM/Twitter/email/maps.

    My brother swears he’d never comfortably carry something that big in his pocket, and would prefer a simple motorola, along with a little 3G-enabled netbook for surfing/IM/Twitter/email/maps etc.

    Trying to have a standard interface that works for his both phones is going to compromise both, isn’t it?