How Many iPhones Does It Take To Circle The Earth?

So asked my 11-year-old daughter this morning. You may remember Sophie. She’s the one whose 3rd-grade teacher took her to the Apple store in Burlington, MA, for a field trip. They actually learned how to make movies and stuff, so I guess it wasn’t all for fun.

To answer the question in the title, iPhones are 4 1/2 inches long and the equator is 24,901.5 miles long. So that means it will take 350,613,120 iPhones laid end to end to circle the earth. Apple’s sold 183 million iPhones so far, so they have a ways to go. Can they get there? Read on.

Sophie’s world view is surrounded by, informed by, inundated by Apple’s presence. So she thinks about crazy stuff like iPhones lined up around the world. It was a funny image – iPhones marching down Route 2 to Boston Harbor and out across the Atlantic. Funny, but poignant, too. Poignant because Sophie’s digital world is so dramatically different from my own. [Stay with me. This is going somewhere. I promise.]

I remember buying my first PC – an IBM PC XT with a 5 megabyte hard drive – to manage my band’s mailing list. It cost $4,800 -- more than my car. I wrote the contact management and label printer software myself. Bart the drummer called me geek. But he liked it well enough when we no longer had to use a typewriter and White-Out to manage thousands of mailing labels.

So I remember a world without computers. But Sophie doesn't. Her world began with a computer in her pocket that she can use for just about everything in her 11-year-old life. (Or will do when she finally gets one.) And her expectations are miles higher than mine. She expects an amazing experience. She expects to be served on a whim, wherever she is.

We in the tech industry (and Sophie) have gotten a little jaded by the success of touchscreen phones. We expect amazing things from them. But our experience is not universal. What is universal is that most of the world – including most of your customers and your employees – either don’t have a smartphone or aren't getting all they could from it.

While mobile apps for an 11-year-old are pretty engaging, real apps for the rest of us are still pretty crappy. [Now you see where I'm going.]

We may have built a mobile app – typically a tiny website or a screen-scraped legacy application. But we haven’t yet done what Sophie expects. We haven’t yet created a mobile experience that engages Sophie in her moments of decision and action. An experience that integrates with her web and offline channels. One that knows who she is and what social networks she trusts. One that analyzes her needs before she knows she has them. One that offers help based on her location and context. One that understands the building block tasks of her day. One that puts the right task app in front of her before she even knows she needs it. One that delivers service rather than encourages self-service.

Our customers and employees have given us permission to be in their pockets. So what are we going to do with that honor? Simple. We are going to build mobile apps that are the new face of engagement. As you'll see, that means a complete overhaul in our approach to mobile apps: tasks, not scenarios; one-click-to-result, not better use of screen space; service in my moment of need, not a self-service portal; embodying my full context, not an isolated app.

Mobile. Social. Big data. Cloud. Smart product APIs. Systems of record. They all come together in a system of engagement (thanks, Geoff Moore, for planting that idea on the planet) that empowers customers, partners, and employees with context-rich apps and smart products to help them decide and act immediately in their moments of need. Contact me for a free executive summary of this report.

Okay, so when will iPhones circle the earth? There will be a billion touchscreen phones in the hands of consumers by 2016. At least a third will be iPhones. You do the math.