Apple Close to Announce iPhone Third-Party Apps

Several sources tell Glenn Fleishman that Apple is nearing an announcement of some sort regarding third-party development on the iPhone. Here is an excerpt from Glenn’s article on TidBITS.

“The bits and pieces I’ve heard are maddeningly non-specific: I don’t know, for instance, whether a full software developer’s kit (SDK) will be released; what tier of Apple Developer Connection (ADC) program member you need to be (if any); and how much of the innards would be unleashed. I don’t even know whether Apple is announcing that a program is coming, or the program itself.

Those are a lot of unknowns. But what I am hearing from several sources is that the announcement, one that Steve Jobs confirmed without any timetable some weeks ago, will happen soon. Perhaps this week.

What developers want from Apple is the same kind of environment provided for creating software under Mac OS X: Integration with Xcode, the programming environment that the company maintains made it simple to move programs from a PowerPC to Intel architecture because of its flexibility and independence from processor-specific constraints.

If Apple simply inserted an iPhone framework into Xcode, so that developers could work with tools they already had, with the limitations imposed on what the iPhone could do, you’d see applications released in minutes. It’s likely that Apple won’t release a full-fledged environment in the early days, but something more modest that will still allow use of the investment in their programming system.

Related to this, however, is whether Apple and AT&T will require certification of programs before they run – all programs, or perhaps just ones that use certain iPhone features. Research in Motion requires certification for programs that run on the Blackberry, but I’m told that process isn’t that onerous, and it’s part of the environment model that RIM has used to great success in penetrating government and high-security businesses.

The other smartphone platforms – Palm OS, Symbian, and Windows Mobile – generally allow any arbitrary program to be installed, but access to phone features are typically limited, and network access is sometimes restricted to Wi-Fi, when that’s available. This limits a cellular carrier’s exposure to a phone sucking huge amounts of cell network bandwidth due to a third-party application.

Where Apple could pull a neat trick is by allowing programs that want to access Wi-Fi network features only to operate in an unlimited fashion; if EDGE service is desired, then a program needs to be registered and certified, and be a good network customer. (There might even wind up being a revenue requirement or split to make those kinds of applications work in AT&T’s model.)

This is a natural speculation on my part that they could offer this split given that the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store works only over Wi-Fi, as a fer-instance. The same structure that allows that program to limit its data access to a specific network medium might be available as part of a larger controlling structure.

We’ll see if my sources are right. This could assuage many of us who knew that our unsupported applications were, you know, unsupported – read John Gruber’s amusing essay on “The ‘Un’ in ‘Unsupported’” – but still liked to have access to stuff beyond that which Apple provided.”

[Apple Nearing iPhone Third-Party Developer Announcement]

As Glenn states, Apple is pretty close to announcing this. But the real question is when will this happen. People are working on de-updating their iPhone’s but there is no real jail break at the time.

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