An iPhone Without a Screen

After using Siri for a while, I wonder whether a future version could enable an iPhone with either no screen, like the iPod Shuffle:

IPod Shuffle

or a very small screen (like the iPod Nano):

IPod Nano

Benefits

Obviously, this wouldn’t be for everyone, but I think such a phone could be great for many people and offer some benefits over a traditional iPhone with a 3.5 inch screen:

  • Cheaper – according to iSuppli, the display and touchscreen combined are the costliest components in the iPhone 4S at $37. Their estimated cost of the display and touchscreen for the iPod Nano is $14.40. The camera is estimated at $17.60. Presumably, a cheaper processor could be used as well.

  • Longer Battery Life – a couple of factors could lead to a much lower battery usage profile: smaller or no display, more efficient processor and video processing chip, and less processes running. Obviously, the battery would be much smaller as well, though the phone could be larger than the iPod Nano or Shuffle, with most of the extra space being filled with battery.

  • Smaller and Lighter – the size of the traditional iPhone is mainly a factor of the size of the screen (and the size of the battery required to drive among other things, that large display). A smaller screen would allow for the same battery life with a much smaller battery.

What Can’t it Do?

This hypothetical iPhone would be missing a number of features of the current iPhone:

  • Web Browsing

  • Games (at least games with a visual interface)

  • Maps

What Can it Do?

However, this phone would not just be a typical “feature phone”. It could have the following capabilities (primarily accessed via Siri voice control):

  • phone calls

  • iPod

  • Reminders

  • Calendar

  • Clock

  • Messages

  • Weather

  • Calculator

  • Notes

  • Mail (assuming Siri gains the ability to send and read e-mails)

  • Twitter (assuming Siri gains the ability to send Tweets and potentially read tweets)

  • Compass (assuming a compass can fit into the smaller device and Siri gains the ability to access the compass. Today, Siri responds to “Am I facing North” with “I can’t really say”)

  • Address Book

  • Voice Memos (assuming Siri gains this capability)

  • Wolfram Alpha (assuming Siri gains the ability to read responses rather than just display images)

Those are just features that Apple could provide out of the box. Opening it up for third party developers could lead to further innovative features. Limitations such as the lack of a screen (or a very small screen) provide great opportunities for innovation.

When Could This Happen?

Given enough priority and focus, I think Apple could build this hardware today. There is some work to do on the software side. There would need to be a further stripping down of iOS and Siri would need more functionality.

Development of a device like this would distract Apple from iPhone, iPad and iOS development (much like iPhone and iOS development distracted Apple from OS X development). If Apple wanted to, I think they could deliver this in late 2012.

One More Thing

What if, in addition to the features listed above, Apple sold this “phone” without a mobile phone contract. Perhaps it could be sold for $149 or $199 and have either a data-only contract or a month-to-month data plan with no contract. The carriers would obviously have to agree to this, but perhaps data usage on this phone would be light (no streaming video, for example) so data plans would be profitable.

Instead of a voice plan, the phone could make calls using VOIP (think FaceTime with just the audio). This would either require integration with something like Skype (now Microsoft) or a new service provided by Apple. It could be a stepping stone for a future traditional iPhone without a voice contract.