On the iPhone and no Development

by Erica Sadun

I agree with Bruce that Jobs did a pretty bad job today selling the Web-only development for the iPhone. Since January, we've all been saying "Well, if there's no third party development, we can always get around it with clever Web design." I never thought that the "getting around it" strategy was an appealing solution.

I personally expected that we'd see at least Dashcode today but I hoped for full iPhone third party development. That baby is running OS X under its hood. But if you have to crack or hack to get ssh tunneling going, a la Apple TV, then you haven't created a real solution, even if I'm running Joost on my personal iPhone in a few weeks.

I also think Jobs could have done a lot more showing how the iPhone could or will work with those web pages. We know the iPhone can dial any phone or email any address on a Safari webpage. But if all that the iPhone provides is integration along the lines of a mailto: link, I can't see that as a major step forward.

13 Comments

nicerobot
2007-06-11 21:25:08
I don't understand the backlash. Really, tell me what services you simply must access directly on a PHONE's OS that OSX doesn't already provide through safari? You create an ssh tunnel from your current phone? 99.9% of users won't/don't. Regardless, it can be done with webapps.


It supports 99% of what everyone needs and wants from a phone (well, GPS would have been nice) without 3rd part apps. Please tell me something it doesn't already do, that you can't supply with a webapp and that a significant percentage of users will want. Well, ok, access to all the data on the phone would be nice but it could open security holes.


Personally, I really prefer they err on the side of caution on this. To have a serious security breach or crashes on a product they need to succeed could be catastrophic to perception. But they can always open it up slowly or eventually.

Eddie
2007-06-11 22:15:22
I agree with what nicerobot said. There are so many people who are acting stupid about this because they are control freaks geeks and they think that with an SDK and API they can have some sort of control of their iPhone. That's what I hated about Treo -- these so-called third party apps caused Treos to crash and frustrated "mere mortals" (I know people who literally threw their Treos against the wall in frustration because their Treo's Palm OS would crash during a telephone conversation). Nothing would be worse than allowing developers to hack the iPhone directly. Jobs is doing the right thing by keeping the iPhone users / customers top priority. Lots of great stuff can be done via Safari / "Web 2.0" but the problem is that we have a bunch of developers walking on the planet whose neurons are stuck in the days of "I want an API" etc.

2007-06-12 00:30:50
> "Please tell me something it doesn't already do, that you can't supply with a webapp and that a significant percentage of users will want."


An app that you can use when offline? I haven't yet seen a data plan from a mobile phone company (disclaimer: I live in the UK) that isn't hideously expensive.


Local data storage?


Easily syncing the app with a Mac?


> "Well, ok, access to all the data on the phone would be nice but it could open security holes."


Yeah, but apps on my Mac have access to lots of interesting data there: Address Book, iTunes, etc. I don't see how the data on the phone would require higher security from apps than the data on my Mac.


I'm with Hannibal in that I can understand why Apple haven't done an SDK yet: you'd have to support it for years to come. I'd rather everyone just gets to play with built-in iPhone stuff for a while, rather than have a half-baked SDK that sucks.

pauldwaite
2007-06-12 00:40:18
Whoops, sorry: that last comment was me.


Also: if Apple are going to provide an SDK in the not-too-distant future (and surely they are), then it does kinda suck that for now, we either don't develop for the iPhone, or spend time writing web app code that we might end up throwing out if the SDK is better.

Dogzilla
2007-06-12 03:26:13
"I don't understand the backlash. Really, tell me what services you simply must access directly on a PHONE's OS that OSX doesn't already provide through safari?"


Are you serious? SSH. VPN. VNC. CLI. Windows Remote. (Those five alone are requested by a significant chunk of the iPhone's potential market - all those of us that have to manage Unix boxen.) VLC (for all those video formats QuickTime won't handle). Any kind of Flash.


That's what I came up with in 30 seconds. And that doesn't even include innovative solutions that we can't foresee right now (Here's one: instant in-store web price lookups and reviews using the camera to read barcodes a la Delicious Library).


I had hoped the iPhone would be a replacement for my POS Treo 700w. Doesn't look like it will be. Perhaps eventually the iPhone will evolve into a decent, usable platform, but my guess is it won't (the ipod isn't exactly a healthy development ecosystem). I'm hoping that the iPhone is locked down because Apple wants to avoid cannibalization from some future product that will be more expensive and be actually open. Clearly the stated reasons are pure BS, akin to locking down Macs because a rogue app could "take down the interweb".


2007-06-12 05:32:06
@Dogzilla: Are you serious? SSH. VPN. VNC. CLI. Windows Remote. (Those five alone are requested by a significant chunk of the iPhone's potential market - all those of us that have to manage Unix boxen.) VLC (for all those video formats QuickTime won't handle). Any kind of Flash.


What makes you think those won't be possible? You can do all that stuff through a browser already. It's full-blown Safari, so you should even be able to run Silverlight apps in it.

Jeff
2007-06-12 06:43:54
I'm with you Dogzilla. I don't blame Apple for this. I blame AT&T. I really think Apple would love to allow third party development. I think the security talk is crap. The phone supposedly runs OS X. You don't see Apple preventing developers from writing desktop apps do you? No this is AT&T preventing this. They don't want apps like a Skype client or instant messenging client running on it. How come Apple didn't include those already? Right. AT&T won't allow it. As long as a cellular carrier is calling the shots, the iPhone will merely be a shell of what it could be.
Terry
2007-06-12 07:33:29
Unix box managers or any sort of sysadmin are hardly a target audience for the iPhone or any phone for that matter.
Travis Butler
2007-06-12 08:52:44
@Terry: Exactly. SSH, VNC, CLI/terminal, all of these are tools that are relevant to a tiny fraction of the computer market, let alone a consumer electronics device like the iPhone. VLC/MPlayer is something that fits better with the consumer focus, but they're still pretty geeky applications and not especially the most stable in my experience.


Sure, it'd be cool to have them running on the iPhone, but the O'Reilly audience is going to be heavily pre-selected towards the tech-geek audience (and I count myself among them); what's cool for us is basically irrelevant to 99%+ of the iPhone's target audience. And as the iPod's crushing of many 'geekier' MP3 players demonstrates, simplicity/elegance is the best-selling feature.


There are two basic application types I do want to see, that would fit the consumer market: book readers, and especially games. It seems to me that simple games, at least (the card game/board game variety) could be implemented as Dashboard widgets, which means they'd be theoretically possible to run on the iPhone if it truly does have a full Safari/WebKit implementation. The reports I've seen so far have been confused and contradictory about whether stand-alone WebKit applications a la Dashboard can be run from local storage, or whether they have to be downloaded and run over the network. I'm looking forward to hearing something definitive out of the conference sessions on this.

JustinWR
2007-06-12 10:48:14
Somebody go listen to what Steve Jobs said during his D5 talk with Bill Gates... about apps "in the browser"... and you tell me if yesterday wasn't a total scam or not!!!

2007-06-12 13:58:12
I was initially quite surprised over the lack of SDK. But, the more I think about it, it could be a very positive thing. In late May, Google announced that Gears would be available for WebKit. If integrated with the new version of Safari that makes its way to the iPhone, that could be a powerful combination for developers to release hybrid on/off-line applications.


This could also be an opportunity for either Google or Apple to step in and add a synchronization services conduit for the iPhone so that all of the Gears data stored off-line could be synchronized to the Mac, where (Web-based) applications that could take advantage of the larger screen size could interact with it.


Granted, this is not as "slick" as a full-fledged SDK. However, it leverages open-source and standards-based technologies and may drive additional adoption of Web technologies that benefit iPhone and Mac users.

Calum Shaw-Mackay
2007-06-12 15:30:37
The problem with a phone or indeed any device that manages your personal information is restricting access to that information and the overall phone OS as a whole. I think a full iPhone SDK will happen, but in the 5 months since the unveiling there was going to be no way on earth that Apple could get this thing to market, get a full SDK and a sandboxed environment to run it all in..... If you wanted that perhaps you would have preferred Leopard to be stalled until October 08?


Steve already mentioned that he's not a big fan of Java on phones, and as a Java developer of 8 yrs, I'm afraid I have to agree with him. Many J2ME including some games are teetering o the very edge of mediocrity, and this isn;t just Java's fault - lack of screen resolution, differing models and of course the networks disabling features of the phones and what they allow on their networks in the form of IP sockets, all contribute to the stranglehold that is mobile application development. And it isn;t just Java - the mobile Windows guys suffer the same issues.


By using a web server you can piggy back your application over Wi-Fi and GPRS without having to worry too much about the carrier restrtictions.


Also there has to be some form of SDK for the Safari based app development otherwise we won;t know how to link it into the phone features, and I suspect that when a full Obj-C SDK come out, a primary focus will be in the Safari plugins, hat the web-apps can then integrate with

Ian
2007-06-18 02:25:16
"An app that you can use when offline? I haven't yet seen a data plan from a mobile phone company (disclaimer: I live in the UK) that isn't hideously expensive."


As another UK resident, I agree with this point. I'd love a GTD app on an iPhone. This is the sort of thing which would naturally be written as an offline application, but if it has to be written as an online app, it means I would have to pay every time I want to check my to do list!!