Reports: Apple Near To Opening iPhone To Third-Party Apps - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Mobile // Mobile Devices
Commentary
10/11/2007
12:43 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
Commentary
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Reports: Apple Near To Opening iPhone To Third-Party Apps

Apple is near release of a toolset that would allow third-party developers to develop native applications for the iPhone, according to reports on Apple blogs. However, PC and Mac users accustomed to downloading any ol' app they can find on the Internet will be in for an unpleasant surprise with their iPhones -- they'll only be able to download and run apps that are sanctioned by Apple, and only through iTunes.

Apple is near release of a toolset that would allow third-party developers to develop native applications for the iPhone, according to reports on Apple blogs. However, PC and Mac users accustomed to downloading any ol' app they can find on the Internet will be in for an unpleasant surprise with their iPhones -- they'll only be able to download and run apps that are sanctioned by Apple, and only through iTunes.

Currently, the iPhone only runs the standard application set that Apple puts on it at manufacture. Hackers developed workarounds to allow users to install third-party applications. Apple doesn't like those workarounds, and has shut them down with later version of the iPhone software, resulting in the usual game of hacker-vendor leapfrog.

But Apple has been "furiously working" with partners on games and apps for the iPod and iPhone, the Apple news site 9 to 5 Mac reported. For example, EA is porting its line of iPod games to the OS X-based iPhone and new generation of OS X-based iPods. "Other big developers with strict confidentiality agreements are also working with Apple," 9 to 5 Mac said.

Apple is copying T-Mobile's application development and distribution model for the SideKick, 9 to 5 Mac reported. Sidekick developers need to prove themselves by submitting a working application to T-Mobile, and the Sidekick team responds by giving the developers a key to open their Sidekick to further testing. Once the developers believe they have a stable app, the Sidekick team tests the app for compatibility. If the app passes muster, T-Mobile makes it available for download and installation, with the cost added to a customer's monthly bill. And the Danger team works with developers to ensure compatibility and stability, 9 to 5 Mac said.

And that explains why Apple has been so aggressive in shutting down hackers opening the third-party applications to development, 9 to 5 Mac says: Apple will get a cut of third-party app developers' revenues -- up to two-thirds of the take.

Apple also is working on beefing up its tools to allow developers to build iPhone-optimized Web apps that work in the iPhone's built-in Safari browser, Ars Technica reports. Apple is working on tools to allow developers to build Web apps that work when the iPhone is offline. "Apple may offer more local JavaScript access to useful iPhone functionalities, and developers might eventually also be able to create home screen icons that will point to their (presumably) offline Web apps. Apple is currently aiming for an unspecified 'January' deadline on these updates, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it will likely be announced at Macworld 2008." Ars Technica contradicts 9 to 5 Mac and says that Apple has no plans to offer a SDK for native Mac apps.

9 to 5 Mac concludes its analysis by making a questionable connection between iPhone hacks and music, movie, and software piracy:

Apple, learning about the devastating effects of pirating from its first-hand experience in the music and film industry and their own OS/applications, does not want this to happen. Therefore, one shouldn't expect Apple to release a way for non-developers to freely install applications on their iPods and iPhones.

But the two aren't equivalent. If I download a TV show, movie, music, or software from a file-sharing site without paying for it, that's morally wrong. It's stealing. But modifying my legally-purchased iPhone is my moral right, and it should be a legal right, too. My colleague Tom Smith explores this issue further.

I don't see much difference to the consumer in the short term whether Apple provides an open SDK for third-party applications, or goes with a tightly controlled Sidekick approach. Either way, the consumer gets third-party apps for the iPhone. And if Apple keeps developers on a short leash, consumers get the services of Apple to watch out to be sure that third-party applications don't crash the iPhone, or make it unstable or insecure.

But further out, Apple is only hurting itself -- as well as consumers -- by keeping third-party developers on a short leash. Open APIs have been essential to the blossoming of the PC, Mac, and other successful platforms over the past three decades of personal computing. Open APIs lead to greater choice of applications for consumers and businesses, and the benefits of those outweigh the risks of greater instability and insecurity for the iPhone.

All things being equal, developers will write for the platform where they don't have to ask "Mother, may I."

What do you think? Should Apple open iPhone APIs, or keep a tight control on who gets to write third-party apps.

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