Apple (finally) discusses iPhone / iPod Touch Software Development Kit

A little late (Apple had promised this for "February"), Apple unveiled a beta version of its promised Software Development Kit (SDK) for the iPhone and iPod Touch product line (iPhone) that will allow third-party developers to develop application and utility programs for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

While I was looking forward to this announcement to see to what degree Apple will "open" the iPhone, I wasn't expecting that Apple would use the beta release of the iPhone SDK to directly target / attract Enterprise applications. In fact, judging by what Apple posted on about the SDK, the enterprise thrust for the iPhone SDK is the primary message that Apple wants to impart. Apple couldn't get more blatant than this headline (possible transient link):

iPhone Enterprise Beta Program iPhone in Enterprise. Now accepting applications.

Announcing the iPhone Enterprise Beta Program: a unique opportunity for IT departments to try iPhone 2.0 software before general release. If your company is selected to participate, you’ll test new iPhone enterprise features within your corporate environment, then provide Apple with valuable feedback. Interested? Click below to apply

I'm astonished... or perhaps a better phrase would be "in awe" that despite Apple's combative attitude towards Microsoft (and Microsoft's eager reciprocation), that one of the apparent cornerstones of the iPhone SDK is "Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support", promising full, and apparently direct interoperability between iPhone users and enterprise Exchange Server email / calendaring / contacts. This contrasts with (how I understand it) BlackBerry devices interoperate with enterprise email systems only via RIM servers.

Another keystone of the iPhone SDK is "Enterprise-grade networking", and again, I'm "in awe" that Microsoft would work so closely with a competitor, in this case, Cisco. But, apparently Apple is very serious about making the iPhone attractive for enterprises, so this move makes sense too: iPhone 2.0 software supports Cisco IPsec VPN to ensure the highest level of IP-based encryption for transmission of sensitive company information. Employees will be able to authenticate via password, two-factor token, or digital certificate. iPhone will also support WPA2 Enterprise with 802.1x authentication — the standard for Wi-Fi network protection. These features help provide safe access to sensitive company information on iPhone.

But there's a lot more about the release of the iPhone SDK beta than just the Enterprise outreach, but such details had to be gleaned from the press release, including:

  • The distribution method for iPhone applications will be the "App Store"; apparently an iPhone-specific derivative of the iTunes Store. The App Store will apparently be the only Apple-sanctioned way to obtain third-party applications for the iPhone.
  • Apple will exercise considerable "editorial control" as to what applications will be allowed to be distributed via the App Store. If Apple doesn't like it, it won't be made available to iPhone users on the App Store - at all.
  • All of the internal "cool stuff" on the iPhone is accessible via the SDK - even the accelerometer and the "location" (faux GPS) subsystem
  • Delivery and billing for third-party developers are "simple"; Apple handles it all via the App Store in return for "retaining 70% of all sales revenues". If the application is free, well, 70% of free is... free. Apparently Apple won't impose a minimum revenue to itself on applications that are made available for free by their developers. That's pretty enlightened!
  • The non-beta release of the SDK is planned for "end of June"

Apparently independent of formal involvement with Apple (KPCB's announcement states Apple will provide KPCB with market insight and support), but coordinated with, and announced in conjunction with Apple's announcement of the Beta SDK, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) announced "iFund", a US$100M pool of investment capital to invest in companies that develop software or services for the iPhone.

All in all, this is pretty exciting news, and to me, it bodes very well for the overall prospects of the iPhone. Apple answered one major issue with the iPhone when it released new models last month - a 16 GB iPhone (previously 4 GB / 8 GB, the former which didn't sell), and a 32 GB iPod Touch (previously 8 GB / 16 GB). The memory upgrade for the iPhone would have been needed for heavy / "Power" users to be able to keep all of their email on-device and readily accessible.

The new capabilities made possible by the SDK are especially compelling when considering the stated (but by AT&T's CEO, not Apple - yet) plans for a "3G" version of the iPhone in 2008 that will use the much faster HSPA (High Speed Packet Access, over Global System for Mobile - GSM) data networks, especially AT&T's HSPA network in the US.

Good early summaries:

Now if Apple would only fix some nagging, fundamental issues with the iPhone platform (mostly poor choices of what Apple will allow), like not being able to use an (Apple!) Bluetooth external keyboard with an iPhone; a good way to transfer and store files like documents and PDFs on the iPhone without emailing them and storing them as email; and being able to "local-sync" (the SDK partially fixes the lack of "global-sync") the iPhone with .Mac and one or more Mac desktops / laptops via the iPhone's wireless connectivity.