SAN DIEGO--At Demo and DemoFall, there are always easily identifiable trends among the dozens of companies chosen to present their products.
In previous iterations of the events that I've attended, those trends have been photo-sharing services, online video hosting, Web 2.0, and the like.
This week, the trend--at least as I've seen it--has been the number of companies here with iPhone applications. Not every one of them is talking prominently about the applications they have, but Demo lead organizer Chris Shipley told me informally that she thinks that there must be at least a couple dozen companies with iPhone applications here out of the 72 total presenters.
I'll be the first to admit that I was slow to understand the value of iPhone apps, and I suppose that's because it took me awhile to buy one of the devices, and even longer after I did before I started trolling the Apple App Store looking for the best and brightest of what was out there.
My major introduction to the applications was a day I spent last month in Seattle, basically letting a series of them control my life for a day. And more recently, I have found myself blown away by some of the most simple applications imaginable. For example, Showtimes determines where you are and then comes up with a list of movie theaters--sorted by proximity to you--and shows the films showing at each and the times for each film.
As I said, it's totally simple, and pure genius.
Ultimately, while other mobile phones have many of the features of the iPhone, I don't think that there will be any others in the near future that combine GPS, a great interface, the power of an operating system like OS X, and a network of developers eager to reach out to an audience of users as devoted to their devices as iPhone owners.
Back here at DemoFall, there is definitely no shortage of companies that have developed applications for the device, and some of them seem very promising to me, even though most have yet to appear in the App Store.
I have my own ideas, as I stated above, why I think iPhone apps are the future of software, but I thought these developers would have opinions even more valuable than mine, since they're building businesses around the platform.
Among the companies incorporating the iPhone into their Demo products are WebDiet, Telnic, SkyData, The Echo Nest, and Rudder.
"Right now, (the iPhone is) the platform with the most immediacy," said Richard Bryce, CEO of Mapflow, a company here with a product centered around an iPhone app. "Especially for the consumer market."
It's easy to see why Bryce would think so.
Mapflow is a very interesting product designed around the idea of helping drivers offset the high costs of gas by finding people who need rides to pay to fill empty seats in their cars.
"Most of our lives are ad hoc," Bryce said. "We're trying to apply the iPhone's smart technology to give that ad hoc, on-demand capability to carpooling."
The Mapflow system works by letting drivers define routes--either one-time, or repeat--they're following and the number of seats they have available to fill. The iPhone makes it simple to do this through lists that can be easily displayed and because the phone's GPS chip quickly determines where the driver is in proximity to anyone looking for a ride.
It might sound weird to pick up strangers in this manner, but Mapflow requires that all users register with their name, a photo, and a credit card, and that means that drivers can feel confident that whomever they pick up is probably going to be safe. And when they arrive to pick up the rider, the iPhone displays the rider's picture so the driver can be sure the person is who he or she is supposed to be.
In addition, drivers and riders alike can choose preferences for the type of person with whom they want to travel. This means, for example, that women can choose to ride only with other women.
Further, the service has a quick and easy rating system--again, enabled by the iPhone's elegant interface--that allows everyone to weigh in on the people with whom they've traveled.
Riders pay about 30 cents a mile to use the system, and Mapflow makes its money from a 15 percent commission on the transactions. Drivers pocket the rest.
Clearly, there are many questions the company must answer before the product becomes profitable--and of course, it must first release the application, which it plans to do in about four weeks. But this seems to me to be a very good use of the device, especially given the growing emphasis on getting people to stop driving one to a car. … Read more