Sunday, March 2, 2008

Apple iPhone SDK Revealed on Thursday

Next Thursday (March 6th) in Cupertino, Apple will be revealing much more information about the long awaited Apple iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK). Companies who write software for Macs and handheld devices have been watching anxiously with the hopes of jumping into a market of millions or iPhone users with huge expectations for applications to improve their mobile computing capabilities.

What is in store?

With all of the efforts of Apple to slap heavy penalties on the underground developers who have unlocked and pirated the iPhone away from the corporate contract restrictions Apple and AT&T have placed on iPhone users, there is a great deal of interest in how Apple will now allow developers to meet the pent-up demands of iPhone and iPod Touch users.

For many, the potential to go to the Apple iTunes store and easily purchase and download programs to expand their mobile capabilities is an exciting prospect. These increased expectations extend to business computing, were enterprise software and specific tools designed for financial and business management functions can make inroads for Apple in those arenas of the computer market.

In the past Apple refused to recognize and allow software to be added to the iPhone to increase its capabilities. They even went so far as to release iPhone system upgrades that "bricked" the iPhone itself and disabling the cell phone for any user who unlocked or jailbroke their iPhone or iPod Touch. This move by Apple shocked many in the computing industry, probably most some of the faithful followers of Apple who have always been opposed the the tactics of corporate giants.

However, Apple's heavy-handed approach to restricting application development might not end with their opening up of the iPhone to third-party software companies. According to CNET's Tom Krazit, "The company would retain veto power over the number and types of applications that could be installed on an iPhone, meaning no application could be officially released without a thumbs-up from an Apple committee or executive."

It is highly expected that Apple will restrict the ability of iPhone owners to obtaining and purchasing third-party software to buys from the Apple iTunes store. Perhaps more surprisingly, it is speculated that Apple will not allow developers access to the iPhone and iPod Touch dock. This means that developers will not be allowed the freedom to write programs and hardware devices to improve upon wifi or bluetooth capabilities for printing directly without going through a Mac operating system, add third party peripherals like keyboards and audio enhancements. iPhone and iPod Touch enthusiasts wait with baited breath to see if they will have Bluetooth functionality or Skype calling capabilities added to their palm devices. A few would like video recording software to use with their iPhone camera.

And certainly, Apple will probably restrict software development that gets the user around the AT&T exclusive contract or allow them to make internet calls without a provider contract. In the first six months of the sale of iPhone, near one quarter of all the handheld devices sold, it is estimated, were to break the lock and open them up to use without an AT&T contract. The question developers will be asking come Thursday is what limit Apple will place on applications such as Twitter that give iPhone low cost alternatives to SMS and other communications channels?

In the last few days leading up to the SDK announcements, Jobs has been attacking Adobe for its Flash mobile development. Since the iPhone was first announced, its users have been clamoring for Flash and Java capabilities on their phone. Is Job's critique and big no to Flash Light on the iPhone just a harbinger of Apple's harsh treatment to come for software developers wanting to release the applications on the iPhone platform?

Generally speaking, with the success of iPhone and it implications for Apple at AT&T, we will be waiting to see how restrictive Apple is becoming in the application-developmnt spectrum and if instead of empowering the end user, how they will control software to empower their corporate contracts. Being an final arbitrator or a gatekeeper of the software being loaded onto the iPhone would establish a new precedent in the industry.

Writing in the New York Times, Saul Hansell notes, "This level of control would be most unusual for the software industry. Apple doesn’t control the distribution of programs that run on the Mac, for example. And other mobile platforms, like Windows Mobile and Palm Treo, do not make these requests."

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