The double-edged sword of iPhone ubiquity

I have an iPod Touch, which is sort of like an iPhone without the phone. (Or, to be up-to-the-minute, like a pocketable iPad.) The great advantage is that it can run iPhone apps, and since there are millions of iPhones out there, that's a lot of capability on a cheaper device. But all those iPhone apps take network connectivity for granted - so if my iPod is out of wifi coverage, many of them don't work right.

For an iPhone app developer, the iPod represents a niche market. There are some apps that iPhone users are likely to need on a plane, so there's an incentive to make them work well offline. Byline, the blog feed reader, is a great example. But most developers don't put a lot of effort into it.

The example that got me thinking about this is wine. I keep track of wines I've liked--and disliked--and what I've got in the house. is a great service for this, and there's an iPhone app,, that interfaces with it. gives all kinds of other information, like prices and user reviews, that leverage the power of the cloud. But in the proces of providing that extra functionality, they made it too dependent on the Internet. The app won't even start without a network connection. It doesn't bother to store the contents of your cellar on the device.

I can't complain too much. I'm saving $360 a year not having a data plan. But it's not quite the best of all worlds.


  1. As one of the developers of, I can answer your question as to "why"... :-). There are about 800,000 +/- unique wines in the CT database, and over 1.2 million reviews associated with those wines. Due to the large size of the Db, we can't store it on the phone, and while we actually could, can you imagine the time it would take to update it every time you tried to access/open the app... If that weren't the case (if we included the whole Db in the app), we would have to issue a new version of our app almost daily, as that is how often a new wine is added to the Db.

    We are making some changes in upcoming versions that will hopefully help you access your cellar quicker and some of these improvements will/may include caching. But I hope you understand that it's a trade-off between the freshest data and a network connection. We chose to give you the freshest data and are trying to make that fresh data work no matter, but that's the next version :-).

    If you have any other questions, don't hesitate...


  2. Wow Jeff....Look who you managed to attract. ..Pretty amazing. I'm talking about Jim - not me...Anyhow, I got an iTouch for work so I could play around with apps. The thing still sits in my purse, virtually unused...Ya know why? Several reasons. I'm an info junkie who doesn't want to wait when I want my info...I don't particularly like playing around with gadgets, gizmos and apps. I think I have better things to do...Plus, I like to be able to read stuff on the big screen....

    I have a BB for work...I can access what I need from the 3G network...I can get my emails on my BB faster than I can crank up Outlook on my desktop...

    Speed/usability much more important for a person using these tools for something other than a hobby (IMHO)

  3. Wow, Jim, thanks for stopping by. I hope I've assessed your app fairly, especially since I don't actually use it - I based my comments on posts from your user forum.

    While it would be a neat trick to download the whole Internet onto my iPod, I agree with you that that's not yet practical. What I'd like to have is the 1000 or so bottles I've personally taken notes on. That's a 250kB Excel file. Failing that, I'd settle for a list of the 100-ish I currently have in my cellar, so I don't come home from the wine store with a case of Chardonnay only to discover I already had one.

    Hi Donna! If you already have a blackberry, I have a hard time imagining what you'd need an iPod Touch for, except maybe music. I got mine to carry around my calendar, contacts, text notes, etc - exactly the sort of thing BB does well.

  4. While mowing the lawn today I was reflecting on the term 'Telephone Operator.'* Telephones used to require highly trained personnel to make them function. I'll just leave it at that and let you get from the box on the wall to every wine in the world on your own.
    * Actually I was thinking of a double entendre in a Nick Lowe song and...

  5. Ross, I'm embarrassed to admit I don't know where you're going with that.