iPhone, you'll be a computer, soon
In an inevitable move, Jobs revealed the plan for third-party iPhone applications on Wednesday. Come February, budding iPhone developers will be able to obtain a software development kit that will give them the tools and the know-how to create safe and reliable applications for the iPhone without having to depend on "jailbreak" programs. That means iPhone users will be able to add applications they can trust without voiding their warranties.
The only thing unexpected about this development is the timing. Some thought an SDK would arrive as early as this month, while others (including yours truly) didn't expect Apple to provide an opening into the iPhone until next year's Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
The reason it's taking so long, according to Apple, was that the company wanted to find a way to be as "open" as possible to third-party development while still keeping a lid on viruses and malware that could kill the iPhone before it gets off the ground. The iPhone runs OS X, which is essentially a derivative of Mac OS X with all the parts you don't need on a phone stripped out to make the software smaller and easier on your battery. There are tested and proven Unix fundamentals at the core of OS X, but Apple apparently felt it couldn't guarantee a reliable experience on the iPhone until it made sure that no security holes had been created in the development of the mobile operating system.
Apparently, that fear will be settled by February, when Apple will either ship OS X 2.0, borrow technology from Leopard to make the iPhone more stable, or both. Jobs hinted that developers will probably have to adhere to some sort of digital-signature architecture, similar to one Nokia has in place, to create working applications for the iPhone. We'll have to see if that passes muster with the development community, although some developers seemed happy with the compromise between developer-signed applications and a locked iPhone. However, as we've followed, some people simply couldn't wait to get started.
Some software developers didn't wait for Jobs, starting almost immediately to make programs such as Sudoku games and voice-mail management tools that users found online and added to their iPhones.
Others created programs to unhook the iPhone from its wireless carrier, AT&T.
But Apple fought back. Last month the Cupertino, Calif., company issued a software update for the iPhone that knocked out many programs, antagonizing developers and iPhone users. It also damaged some phones that had been unhooked from AT&T.
Wall Street has paid close attention to the power struggle among Apple, its users and software developers, said Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves.
"If the device is locked down, there is only so much Apple can do with it," Hargreaves said. "You could look out in two years and say this is going to stagnate. Now you can look out and say, yes, this device will achieve more than it already has."