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.