iPhone 3.0 As the Accessory to ...?

Apple’s iPhone 3.0 software announcement is huge and exciting for iPhone users and developers. One area that really caught my attention is iPhone and iPod touch talking to ‘accessories’ by bluetooth and the dock connector. In the press conference Apple talked about a couple of possibilities such as a docked iPhone controlling your stereo or an add on blood pressure measurement device where the iPhone is the UI and tracks your blood pressure over time. Apple said that 3.0 apps will have full access to the dock connector and bluetooth, and developers can even create their own communications protocols. What are the possibilities for integrating an iPhone or iPod touch with any consumer or industrial device? Rather than thinking about adding accessories to the iPhone, what about thinking of the iPhone as an accessory to another device? As an accessory to another device, iPhone & iPod touch with 3.0 will add:

  • Beautiful color multi-touch screen that can playback video & surf the web.
  • Easy to use Cocoa Touch or web user interface.
  • Speaker, microphone, accelerometer (motion sensing), GPS,...
  • Display of info from any additional sensors on the device it’s integrated with.
  • Interface and content can be updated over the net.
  • Embedded micro transaction platform (that doesn’t pass on chargeback fees?)
  • It can send messages over the net, and you can send it messages.

What machines and devices can be made easier and more fun to use, cheaper to manufacture, more powerful, and more connected by adding and off-the-shelf or 'from-your-pocket' iPhone or iPod touch?

Interactive Toys: Clip an iPod touch onto a toy robot and a $20 plastic toy is transformed into a $200 toy that can talk, knows where it is and whether its standing up or flying around, can exchange information with ‘base control,’ and keeps score of how many times my robot battled your robot. The toys can have an online life ala Webkinz, but with iPod, the online content jumps off the desktop and comes right to the toy itself.

Toys with Add-on Content: Clip an iPod touch into the belly of a teddy bear (think Telitubbies or iPulse Bear), and it can read stories to you, showing illustrations and cartoons on its belly. When you want a new story you can buy it right in the ‘bear belly app’ using the in-app purchase micro transactions.

Intelligent Gym Equipment and Work Outs: At the gym every machine can talk to your iPhone. The iPhone tells the machine what resistance settings or workout program to use, it can listen in to your heart rate monitor, and every work out is recorded. If you don’t show up to the gym, push notifications will nag you to go work out. This idea is already a reality in the first ‘iPod is the accessory’ application: Nike+iPod and compatible gym equipment.

Tracking, Inventory, Point of Sale: That ugly handheld that the UPS guy gets you to sign on... stick an iPhone in a rugged case with a bar code scanner and signature pad and you have the same device. Similarly when you buy something in the Apple store without going to the register - just add a credit card reader to an iPhone and you have an Apple replacement for the handheld they currently use. ‘Would you like to receive your receipt by bluetooth sir?’ Right now iPhone and iPods are consumer devices with a consumer device level of failures, which is probably a barrier to using iPods in industrial applications, but hey they are cheap, carry a spare.

Vending Machines: How much do companies that operate vending machines spend on handling all the coins and in credit card fees and chargebacks? Why not bluetooth to iPhones and let Apple process the payment? Oh, and make the vending machines WiFi hotspots too.

Car Diagnostics: Want to know what that check engine light means? Connect your iPhone to your car’s diagnostics connector with a dock port adapter and it will tell you. It never needs to be out of date because the car diagnostics app it can update all the diagnostic codes over the net, tell you about the latest service bulletins, and book you in for service with a local dealer.

Photo Studio Control: Lighting systems for professional photographers are available with remote controls for adjusting the brightness of the lights. Use your iPhone instead- the UI will be slicker, you can customize it, and it can remember setups between shoots.

Programming Your VCR: OK, so no-one is buying VCRs any more and DVRs solved this problem by having a nice big UI on your TV, but programming the VCR is the classic case of some piece of digital equipment that has a user interface thats cheap to manufacture but is horrible to use. Keep the cheap user interface and augment it with bluetooth and a cheap to make iPhone app. Program your coffee maker using your iPhone, use your iPhone as universal remote for your stereo, set your car stereo’s FM stations and change the clock using your iPhone.…

Of course, all of these ideas require an iPhone app, and Apple has the final word about what gets into the app store. The app review process and the ‘iPod compatible’ licensing process will have to come together for these kind of ideas to work, and the economics of that confluence will dictate what is possible and what isn’t. iPod compatible coffee makers - maybe not, but iPod interactive toys - I think so for sure.  What machine would you like to accessorize with your iPhone?