iPhone

The truth about the iPhone's lack of SDK


iPhoneYou must have heard about the uproar over the iPhone by now. If you have not, the official word straight from Apple in its news release goes like this: “Third-party applications created using Web 2.0 standards can extend iPhone’s capabilities without compromising its reliability or security.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read between the lines and realize what it meant is that third-party developers will not be able to write the native iPhone applications that they have been salivating over.

News.com sums the sentiments of iPhone developers best in its report on Apple opens iPhone to developers – kind of

… at the D: All Things Digital conference in May, Jobs appeared to signal that he was amenable to third-party application support, which has been an important factor in the success of other mobile devices. This had developers eager to get their hands on a software development kit.

As it is, the only way to “program” an iPhone now appears to be via Web applications. Web 2.0 is supported via the browser, no doubt, but just a Web application nevertheless. I leave it to the other wonderful tech sites to explain why non-native apps alone just doesn’t cut it.

Instead, let us examine the bottom-line instead: Why did it happen this way? What went wrong? I present to you two possibilities.

The first is that there never was an intention to allow the iPhone to run third-party applications. Honestly, Steve Jobs never did promise that either. However, he never did outright deny the possibility. Was it all just part of a grand strategy to generate additional hype for the iPhone?

The other and altogether more intriguing possibility is that the difficulties encountered in creating Apple’s first smartphone device proved to be harder than anticipated. Check out my earlier posting on Why Apple won't sell 10 million iPhones in 2008. In it, I referenced Microsoft's de facto spokesman in the UK of all things PocketPC, Jason Langridge. He spoke of just how difficult it is to bring a mobile phone to market, much less a modern smartphone.

After all, we do know for sure that software engineers, as well as the QA team for Leopard, were reassigned to the iPhone in order to get it out on time. This resulted in Leopard being pushed backwards: Apple delaying Leopard until October.

Now, this second possibility could have resulted in work on the SDK to be re-prioritized and launched at a later date. After all, getting up a SDK is no small feat, considering the documentation and testing involved.

In such a scenario, there might just be a slim chance that an SDK could be released towards the end of the year. Note that this is just purely speculation on my part.

What do you think of this likelihood? Join the discussion.

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About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

16 comments
pcubbage1934
pcubbage1934

Maybe the iPhone is the Newton of the 21st Century; an excellent design with some fatal flaws/marketing hype. It sounds like the code is force fitted (kludged). If so, than an SDK will only lead to support nightmares later when it's re-written and the calls changed. More likely, it's one added thing they couldn't get done. I doubt that Apple doesn't want 3rd party apps as those would sell the hardware, the core of their business model. Put another way, I don't see any business advantage in not having an SDK.

Gast?n Nusimovich
Gast?n Nusimovich

Being myself a long time follower of Jobs' saga, and a former Mac 512 / Mac Plus user, I just wonder if all this is just Steve Jobs being Steve Jobs. When the original Mac came out in 1984, there was just one single vendor of all things Mac: Apple. Was that the result of a need to rush to market, that did not allow for the complex coordination with other vendors? Don't think so. It might just as well be Jobs being Jobs. He has always been a perfectionist way beyond scale, and this looks very much the same type of game plan all over again: it happened with the Mac, it happened with the iPod, and so it seems like it will happen (again!) with the iPhone. Please, do not mistake the participation of AT&T into the iPhone deal as a break of the game plan. AT&T is just like Adobe into the LaserWriter game plan: after all, you need a carrier for the cell phone.

nappy_d
nappy_d

Once again, another article re-enforcing why Apple might NEVER make it into the corporate world. Way to go!! Stevie boy can keep his elitist ways.

gbb
gbb

1) I don't want a corp phone... I really really want a Web 2.0 phone, because then I don't have to have massive sync/integration between disparate apps... give me google or give me death! Driving to a common data platform with fundementally the same integration point is a massive for me. Waiting for features delayed for a mac/windoze/Symbian/Palm/crackberry and Iphone is something I don't want... I'm hoping/praying that this will provide a common development bus that app developers can provide tailored ajax for a set of browsers, and features can deliver at the same time with zero touch upgrade the problem I have is that iPhone's UI is different? will safariPhone seamlessly make the transition from a mouse-bound paradigm to a multi-touch paradigm for things like google mail, maps, etc? e*trade? ebay? Or will the Web Apps become so cluttered with branch code for each unique browser (FF, Safari, SafariPhone, IE6, IE7, Windowzmobile, and all the smart phones, that we've now put an amazing burden on the core dev team, and we'll be back to the bad old daze of "we deliver based on our consumer population (IE, and begrudgingly FF). Hence the reason why Safari on PC basically becomes a 3rd party candidate... It may impact IE more than FF, and if FF and IE reach parity (40% FF, 40%IE, 20%Safari) then consumers have a fighting chance that InternetWeb developers will have to make their truly sites browser agnostic. Finally, I think the OSX underpinnings has to be exploited... Like iTunes/iPod, a 'insertKillerAppHere'/iPhone has to have a best of breed Mac affinity, and then provide a 'reasonable' PC platform to give the unwashed a taste of the manna... Any SDK will have to be based/fully integrated into a Mac dev environment, and at this point, I'm hoping that by Leopard Release, you'll see that come either as a 10.5.1 release or as a beta SDK that ships with 10.5 So, That's the plan I see...

paulmah
paulmah

Do you have any other speculation as to what the real reason would be?

Grammy_kid
Grammy_kid

I think Apple means good to its supporters, but the developers really should take some time out to do the thing properly. Truth be told being a microsoft user myself i can say quite alot of us are into Mac so Apple we anticipate only good from you. So just do your thing do it right and we will buy. Atleast one will sell, I will buy it.

raisch
raisch

Anyone with any experience developing cell phone apps will tell you the biggest spanner in the works is the cell carrier's paranoia that someone will deploy an app on their poorly-designed, "only the data we choose to give you" network that chews up all available bandwidth. Jobs knew (because it's been mercilessly pounded into his head more times than he can count) he couldn't get any carrier to support the iPhone if it had the barest possibility of becoming an "open platform" for uncontrolled applications. (If you have any doubts, just ask Hiptop about their "partnership" with T-Mobile. I'm sure they'd cry buckets in their beer for you, if you could get them to talk candidly.) The current design of most cellular communication networks is the real problem. You won't see me shed a single tear the day the last cellular carrier (pirate/predator/extortionist) floats to the surface and rots in the sun.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...that where there is no cell signal, there are no apps? The beauty of my Treo is that even when the phone is off (like when in an airplane), it's still a fully functional PDA with applications that are not dependant on the phone being on a live network. A useless-with-no-signal PDA is going to be useless in the business world. That pretty much limits its appear to the kids-n-hipsters.

vmaatta
vmaatta

I'm disappointed that Apple didn't give a 3rd party SDK. At least for now. But running something in Safari and be it "Web 2.0" or not.. IT DOES NOT require a connection to the network. Web 2.0 is nothing more than a fancy word for combining a lot of different techniques when coding pages. And yes, usually this means better UI for pages that have the backed on the server and it's used through the browser. But the data can also reside locally, without connection to the network, and be used through a browser. We just don't know yet what exactly there's gonna be on the iPhone and what not. But a browser app can be just as well local as it can be an AJAX app with a server database backend.

paulmah
paulmah

Since Web 2.0 places additional emphasis on connectivity to the server back-end, not having a cell reception would definitely throw a spanner into the works!

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...and the lack of 3G even more a handicap. Plus, it just gives me the feeling that this is all designed to make users even more dependant upon someone else's back-end. No thanks.

dgr814vr
dgr814vr

1.The Question Mark about Battery Life? The Battery Life of the iPhone is Suspect and it is not interchangeable. Any extra free to run applications and battery life issues will become glaringly obvious 2.Macs are Secure. One of the reasons a lot of Mac critics say the Macs are secure is that Macs dont offer a viable target. Could free development on a device that may need to be synced with windows and mac (and linux) machines bring down the security fortress that is a Mac. 3.Macs are not meant for gaming. An open SDK may mean gaming on the iPhone. Come-on you cannot game on the mac.... (Sorry I just had to put that one in) 4.Third party developers may turn it into... A better product My experience with almost all smartphones has been that vendor provided solutions are lacking in some areas of their applications which third party applications usually achieve. Apple has actually rushed the iPhone and I dont know how true this is for them... But it may be a move to block any criticisms of the iPhone at this stage. 5.Apple doesnt want too many people to make money of the iPhone. well except Apple and AT&T that is. Most smartphone third party apllications get sold for good hard money $25-30 dollars on Average for a Windows or Symbian Smartphone

Izzmo
Izzmo

You point out some very good points here, and I agree with all of them.

theMusicMan12
theMusicMan12

Macs are not for gaming? There are games for the Mac. There are not as many as for the Windows box, but probably not that many if you do not count all of the $5.00 Game Packs with piece of crap games in them that you can find everywhere. Not to mention that EA and ID just announced renewed efforts to port games to the Mac platform. The battery issue sucks but name a perfect device. It is not that big off surprise to see the whole web app route. Besides show me another mobile phone that can fully take advantage of Web 2.0 features and functions. I am sure we will be seeing more partnering between Apple and Google so maybe a version of Google Gears for the iPhone to deal with the lack of office productivity. I applaud Apple for not over promising and then having to strip functionality or delay the release of their product for say 5 years. It think you will see a gradual improvement of the capabilities of the iPhone over the next couple of years.

vmaatta
vmaatta

I have to ask.. Have you actually USED a mac ? "Secure and good gaming on the Mac are YEARS away from what the Windows system has accomplished." What do you mean by that.. There's not a lot of titles available for mac and it's regrettable but secure and good.. yes. The system is more secure and in my experience a very good platform for games. No.. there's no Direct3D and other MS libraries but they're not the only way to develops games. And being without them does not mean being without advanced 3D etc.OS X in itself is a very good platform to put software on, including games. Reason for the lack of them is the fact that there's not enough potential buyers for those games. There's no technical reason you couldn't develop a 3d-visual-fireworks game on it. "Now, the Mac and it's crashing is another story..." Well... obviously you don't use a Mac much. I've heard OS X was quite unstable when it was released. But these days it's VERY stable. I don't have my head in the clouds when I say that it's a better platform for games (and other software) than Windows is. I'm serious. Stability, use of resources etc.

Izzmo
Izzmo

Okay, so companies are going to try and release more games for the Mac.. okay, so what? Does that mean it will get better, no? Secure and good gaming on the Mac are YEARS away from what the Windows system has accomplished. Now, am I saying that Mac will never beat out Windows for gaming? No, it could very well do that. But for right now, gaming is no where to be seen on a Mac, except for simple arcade games and the few exceptional 3D games. Now, the Mac and it's crashing is another story...

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