Back in January, when I expressed my frustration over the lack of a Third Party API for the iPhone, everyone seemed certain that Apple had confirmed this as a fact. Now everyone seems certain that the iPhone runs a full version of OS X and will have a developer API.

Neither of these things make much sense to me. Computerworld said, “Jobs also confirmed that the iPhone is powered by Mac OS X, not a miniaturized version or a completely different operating system, as some had theorized earlier this year.” The fact that Jobs was specific enough to say that the iPhone did not run a “miniaturized” version of the OS is leading people to believe that just like the Apple TV, you’re a small hack and a recompile away from launching desktop apps. I don’t see how this can be true. There just can’t be enough horsepower in a handheld device to run full OS X, nor is there any reason to. Parts of the core OS with some stripped down APIs should be more economical and better meet the requirements.

I think it’s more likely that it runs a stripped down version of OS X but that Jobs either misspoke or was misquoted. Maybe he meant that it runs the full OS X kernel, or maybe he wanted to distance the iPhone OS from a Windows versus Windows CE/Windows Mobile comparison. If it is true, I think the iPhone has a poor chance at success. It’ll be slow, bloated, and will never come down in price.

Then there’s the thing with the API, the reason I claimed I wouldn’t buy one (though obviously I will — we all will. It’s the Jesus Phone). I think this was blown way out of proportion. Jobs said that there will be third party development, and all of a sudden everybody is saying that the main drawback of the iPhone has been removed. I still have my doubts. I didn’t see where he said that any third party could develop, nor did he say that full blown apps could be developed.

Apple’s original concern over third party apps was (supposedly) about security. So either Apple, responding to developer outrage, built, documented, and tested a full security layer for Cocoa (and Carbon?) in a few months, or they’re talking about something else. Most likely, for now “third party apps” is going to mean Dashboard widgets. They’re cool, but DHTML plus JavaScript (and whatever other hooks they provide) are unlikely to encourage developer creativity like full access to the OS would. Widgets won’t be able to integrate the dialer with your Yahoo! contacts, or provide synchronization with Linux. It’s a different class of API.

Anyway, we won’t have to wait long to either find out that either I’m an idiot (in which case, I’ll see you in line at a San Francisco AT&T store) or that Apple has to backpedal and redefine what “API” and “full Mac OS X” actually mean. WWDC starts on Monday. As a hedge, I’ve confirmed that I’m not under contract with Sprint.

1 Comment

  1. Grant

    I always thought the lack of a hardware keyboard was the iPhone’s biggest drawback, but then I’m a full-on Blackberry convert.

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