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What the iPhone should do

It should allow full streaming access to movies and music stored on your computer

Every blog and major media outlet has reported in recent days about the imminent arrival of a cell phone made by Apple Computer.

Most of the reports have scant evidence and are being written by outlets with dubious track records when it comes to predicting what Steve Jobs & Company are up to. (For the record, CNET quoted a source in September of '05 as saying "we know that they are going to build a smart phone--it's only a matter of time." And who was the source? Ed Zander, CEO of cell phone kingpin Motorola.)

Apple logo

Whether Apple will or will not ever sell a phone, however, is not the point to this post. Rather, I'd like to speculate on what I think an Apple iPhone should do.

Namely, I would like to see an iPhone that connects to the owner's computer, allowing full streaming access to movies and music stored on the Mac (or PC). Call it iTunes to Go.

Why would Apple consider such a thing? Because it would separate iPhones from the billions of cell phones already on the market, and it fits with the concept of keeping the computer as the hub of your digital lifestyle. The upcoming iTV (or whatever the final name is), for example, will stream from the Mac.

It also fits with Jobs' contention that people want to own, not rent, music. What could be a better fit than allowing you to buy a song or movie on Apple's online store, keeping it on your computer and allowing you to stream it to your TV or your cell phone?

Samsung BlackJack
CNET Networks

A bigger question is whether it's doable. The answer is not only yes, but in a way it's already possible.

I've been streaming music to my new BlackJack cell phone for several days, and with a few tweaks it's easy to see how Apple could build similar functionality.

Here's how it works: I hooked up a Slingbox A/V to my Dish Network VIP 622 HD DVR. Installing SlingPlayer Mobile on the BlackJack was simple, as was accessing the Dish box.

If you're not familiar with the SlingBox, it essentially connects your home TV to the Internet, making your favorite programs available anywhere in the world you can access the Net, including via a mobile phone. If you have a TiVo, for example, a virtual remote control allows you complete access to recorded shows, scheduling, live playback, etc. Remember how blown away you were when you first hooked up your TiVo? The Slingbox delivers the same feeling.

Three new Slingboxes

But back to the iPhone. With the BlackJack connected to the SlingBox connected to the Dish box, you get an added benefit: satellite radio for free. Dish Network includes 60 channels of Sirius satellite radio with most programming packages. That means you can tap into Sirius radio via your cell phone and listen to live streams of "Mirror in the Bathroom" by the English Beat via Sirius' First Wave channel 6022, if that's what you're into. Plug some headphones into your cell phone and you are, as Taco Bell would say, good to go.

It works flawlessly and shows the potential opportunity that Apple could seize by making the process even easier. As a matter of fact, I'd propose that Apple go the extra step and acquire SlingBox so it could easily add the TV element (which it is seriously late on delivering) and capture some of the obviously sharp minds at Sling Media. From the design of the hardware to the packaging to the ease of use, it's clear there is some mindshare already going on between the two companies. (For example, hooking up the Slingbox box to the Net does not typically require a person to deal with an IP address. How's that for simple?)

You might ask why any carriers would want to support an iPhone that is capable of streaming music and video from a PC. After all, many are starting to sell music and video content. But the iPhone would practically require owners to sign up for an all-you-can-eat data plan at, say, $30 to $50 a month on top of the regular cell bill. Someone's gotta see the appeal in that.

I do.