No Third Party Apps on iPhone? Cancel My Order!

TUAW reports that Apple has confirmed the iPhone to be a closed system like the iPod — no developer SDK and no third party applications. If true, this is a major bummer; Apple is setting itself up to be the only smart phone vendor that doesn’t allow users to download and install applications, other than severely limited widgets.

I’m not sure if I believe this though. During the keynote, Jobs said that the iPhone was running OS X. Nobody actually believed that it was the same OS X we run on desktop Macs, nor did we think that existing OS X apps would run on the iPhone, but it was clear that the OS had some tie to what we now know as OS X and this was somehow a feature. He also listed OS X technologies that continued to work on iPhone, including Cocoa. Cocoa is only a selling point in the context of third party applications. End users don’t care what framework Apple is using for the applications on a closed system!

Third party apps will make a huge difference on the iPhone and it’s a much bigger deal than the lack of third party apps on the iPod. On the iPod, everything has always been secondary to playing media. The iPod is a media playback device. The iPhone is being pitched as a do-everything communications device — the only thing you need to carry around. To be locked into the set of functionality that Apple provides would be extremely limiting. I couldn’t run a third party tool that syncs my iPhone calendar with my Google Calendar wirelessly. I couldn’t install a simple ssh client. The more I think about the different apps that I’m likely to want and Apple is unlikely to provide, the more convinced I am that there must be a developer SDK that just hasn’t been announced yet.

Hell, even the piece of crap phone I have now, which is 3 years old and gets laughed at when I bring it to the Sprint store can run Java apps. I can replace my web browser and install third party apps that are mostly lame, but contain actual functionality.

This must be more misdirection so that Apple can announce third party apps with great fanfare later on. They’ll probably bring out the ComicLife developers at some Apple event in a few months, who will tell us all how easy it was to port their Cocoa-based app to iPhone. Then we’ll get a flashy demo where ComicLife Mobile pulls photos directly from the iPhone’s camera and sends them to your contacts.

8 Comments

  1. Justin Akehurst
    January 11, 2007

    I concur. I’d even learn Cocoa if I knew I could write apps for this phone. Now I’m asking myself “should I get an expensive phone that actually does less than my Nokia 6682? hardly.” I’ll wait until 3rd party apps can be installed.

  2. January 11, 2007

    Scott, my guess is that they will, but the environment isn’t stable yet, and they don’t have the build environment ready. This would be a perfect announcement for WWDC.

    That is, of course, assuming that the carriers didn’t insist on keeping it a closed environment. I do want Skype on my iPhone as soon as possible. I love the integrated WiFi capability.

  3. klep
    January 12, 2007

    I don’t know, Adam. Supposedly, this comes directly from the VP level at Apple. And I don’t really know what the carriers would insist on it — they already allow installable apps on other SmartPhones and they’re lucky enough to have the iPhone on their network. They don’t have enough leverage to force Apple’s arm on this.

    If there really are no third party apps, it smells like a Steve Jobs decision. I’m still holding out hope that they’re just saving it to announce later, but I can almost hear Jobs saying that to be truly integrated and usable, the iPhone should exclusively run Apple software.

  4. klep
    January 12, 2007

    http://www.tuaw.com/2007/01/11/jobs-confirms-iphone-is-a-closed-platform/

    Now that Jobs has explicitly said that it’s a closed platform, I withdraw my hunch that they’re going to announce an SDK at a later date. What a horribly crippling decision. The good news is that now I can go ahead and buy a new phone without having to wait until June.

  5. January 15, 2007

    I wonder how many Sidekick users download third party apps. I bet it’s very few.

  6. klep
    January 15, 2007

    Maybe. As I recall, the first Sidekick was in fact closed to developers, so it didn’t kill the platform. But I still think that users will expect certain functionality that Apple won’t provide. The first thing that comes to mind are readers, importers, and converters for various online services and file formats. There’s probably much more that users will want and Apple won’t provide.

    I’ve read some conjecture in the last few days that Apple might announce at WWDC that developers will just need to be approved by Apple, obey certain guidelines, and distribute exclusively through iTunes. That’s a step in the right direction, but I still think it’ll stifle the shareware development that makes OS X so great. I don’t think I would’ve written Mac shareware in high school if I had to go through some scary Apple approval process.

  7. Brett
    October 17, 2007

    Looks like you can re-submit your order now.

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/ptech/10/17/apple.iphone.ap/index.html

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