Apple CEO Steve Jobs unlocked the iPhone’s true capabilities. Apple put out a beta version of an iPhone SDK, or software development kit, which allows third-party programmers to create applications for the iPhone.
The program will go live for the public in June, when Apple releases version 2.0 of the iPhone’s system software. The new capabilities will go out to all iPhones for free.
That is, in a few months’ time, everyone’s iPhone will be able to run programs made by a software developers across the world, not just those in Cupertino. Firefox for the iPhone — not to mention Quicken for the iPhone, 3-D games for iPhone, maybe even Skype for the iPhone — is no longer a dream. It’s a reality.
I have to admit, I’ve been skeptical that Apple would do the right thing here. Last year, it didn’t treat third-party apps — created without Apple’s approval — very kindly when it issued an iPhone software update.
Jobs, in defending keeping other people’s programs off the iPhone, often suggested that security was the problem — if just anyone could create programs for the iPhone, he said, AT&T’s cellular network would be made vulnerable to iPhone viruses.
This claim seemed specious: Surely Apple could find a way to keep malware off the phone while allowing useful apps an entry? So what was the real reason for the lock? Was it money? Was it Jobs being a control-freak — did he want to personally approve everything that got on to the phone?
There was also the worry that Apple would allow third-party apps, but would demand a huge licensing fee from anyone who wanted to create iPhone programs. This would limit developer interest: If they have to pay Apple to make software for the iPhone, the best developers were likely to choose a more hospitable mobile platform. Like, say, Google’s Android phone.
Though he didn’t mention the competition during his announcement at Apple’s headquarters today, it seems reasonable to guess that Google’s entry into the phone market helped prompt Jobs’ change of tune. Today’s announcement goes far in cementing the iPhone as the leading mobile platform — Apple’s SDK looks so powerful, and its licensing terms are so reasonable, that mobile developers would be crazy not to adopt the iPhone as their main focus.
Under the new system, Apple has created something called the iPhone App Store. The store, which you access through the phone itself, lets you browse through all third-party applications available for the phone. You can buy and start using them instantly. Developers will be able to choose the sales price; they’ll keep 70 percent of the revenues, and Apple will get 30 percent (which is similar to the the sharing model Apple uses for music sales on iTunes).
But here’s the best part: If you want to “sell” your program for free, Apple will charge no fee to developers. This is an obvious boon to free software projects like Firefox.
You can expect many big software companies to get into the iPhone applications business. At the presentation today, EA Games, Sega, Salesforce.com, AOL, and others showed off some great iPhone sample programs they’d created in just a few weeks’ time.
Apple says that the SDK is the very same system that its own developers use to make iPhone programs, meaning that third-party developers will be able to do everything that Apple’s programs do. (There are some exceptions: Voice-over IP programs like Skype will only work on the iPhone’s Wi-Fi network, not its AT&T cellular network. Presumably, this limitation is an AT&T demand.)
But not only big companies will make iPhone programs. Today Kleiner Perkins, the huge Silicon Valley venture capital firm, announced a $100-million fund to invest in new companies looking to create programs for the iPhone.
At the Apple event, Kleiner partner John Doerr hailed Steve Jobs as the “world’s greatest entrepreneur.”
In making the iPhone accessible to other entrepreneurs — software developers everywhere with with bright, useful ideas — Jobs may have proven Doerr right. The iPhone, now that it’s open, could really be huge.
iPhone SDK exceeds developer expectations
Apple SDK should please three core constituencies: Developers, enterprise IT and consumers.
Here are few major things which goes towards happy devloper base:
Developers get a solid database and a familiar API tool set
What pleased developers was a set of functionality that will let them write native iPhone applications through access to the iPhone APIs.
In addition, Apple hit the right note by offering SQL Lite as the built-in database layer. SQL Lite, an open-source database, is widely used by the mobile developer community and runs well on small devices. “It will make it easy to store data”.
Cocoa Touch, the built-in set of APIs that re-creates the Cocoa tool set used to handle the user-interface-generated events in Mac OS X is targeted at the iPhone’s and iPod Touch’s unique touchscreen as well as their gesture-based UI. “It’s an elegant way to deal with the interface paradigm”.
IT gets better, more secure connections
Also garnering praise from mobile industry watchers is the planned inclusion of Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, the technology required to synchronize mail, calendar, and other data directly with Microsoft Exchange rather than use third-party gateways or synchronization services. Apple licensed the technology from Microsoft and will include it in the iPhone 2.0 software planned for release this June. (All the additional features described here will be released with that software update, Apple said.)
The iPhone also will gain remote wipe and lock and on-device data encryption, two features that caused much IT criticism. Plus, Apple will enhance the VPN capabilities it added to the iPhone in late 2007, adding support for Cisco IPsec and two-factor authentication, certificates, and identities. Information Builders’ Kotorov said he was particularly enthusiastic about iPhone’s deepened support for VPNs. Apple will also provide a way for IT to enforce security policies on the iPhone, though the mechanism was not described at the Apple press conference.
Users get push messaging and desktop equivalency
The licensing of ActiveSync benefits not just IT but users in Microsoft Exchange-based environments. They not only can access the same calendar, contacts, e-mail, and other data as they can from their desktop, but they also gain push e-mail. In push e-mail, the iPhone gets a new message almost as soon as it is sent — a feature beloved by users of the BlackBerry, which pioneered the concept. Previously, the iPhone had to poll the server periodically, typically at 15-minute intervals, so unless users manually polled the server, an urgent message might not be seen for some time.
Still, IT won’t be completely happy
As welcome as the SDK and enhanced business-oriented features are, people still have more they want Apple to offer.
A common request is availability from more than one carrier. Currently, the iPhone only works on the AT&T network. “Companies don’t want a single carrier for voice and data” according to Forrester’s Yates.
Second, the iPhone isn’t supported by management tools like LanDesk and lacks a consistent set of management tools like those from Credant Technologies and LanDesk, which support BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Palm OS devices. This means that IT has to manage the iPhone separately from other devices as well as separately from PCs. “What [Apple] needs to do is natively integrate into management tools that companies already use for their other mobile devices,” Yates said.
Perhaps worse, the iPhone requires IT and developers to push applications to users through the Apple iPhone store. Apple says it is doing so in a way that will be IT-friendly, though it did not specify any details: “We’re working on a model for enterprises for them to distribute applications to their end-users, specifically with a program for them to target their end-users. We have a model we’re building for that,” said Phil Schiller, a product marketing exec at Apple.