The iPhone SDK: insult, or opportunity?

by Giles Turnbull

So it appears that the iPhone SDK has been under our noses all along.

If you can write apps for the web, you can write them for the iPhone. But that’s the point - can you write apps for the web?

Some people aren’t happy. With honey-thick sarcasm, Rogue Amoeba says Web apps are not applications:

We know that making SDKs is not easy, and so it boggles the mind that you were able to create a complete iPhone SDK so quickly! So much access, provided so seamlessly - it is really quite amazing.

Read the comments following that post for a very quick overview of both sides of the argument. Some consider this announcement an insult to application developers; others say it’s the encouragement they need to start making more use of this web thing.

So let’s do a quick rough-and-ready survey, right here and now: how many OS X developers reading this have ever built any kind of web-based application? Raise your hands. What are your thoughts on Steve’s iPhone plans? Are you distressed or delighted about the prospect of building webapps (and perhaps integrating them, somehow, with desktop apps)?


Georg Klein
2007-06-11 15:07:29
Well, I can't say that this was unexpected. I suspected that the limited access that Apple intended to grant third-party developers might be something like dashboard widgets. Still, I'm sad to be right. In fact, this is even worse, since I assume there is no such thing as the system calls Dashboard provides. Although I understand Apple's desire to keep the platform stable, they are limiting its use gravely. I was interested in developing something like a super-remote, including VNC-like capabilities. Well, it's not gonna happen any time soon. However, Apple tv extensions keep popping up all over he place, so let's just see how inventive the community gets once the iPhone is available.

2007-06-11 15:09:49
This is complete BS... my crappy Windows Mobile Pocket PC will run crappy ajax web apps in it's IE browser. He made it sound like AJAX and web apps made having an SDK and lower-level access to the phone unneeded. With that logic, why would I use a Mac? He's contradicting EVERYTHING that the Mac stands for. Bah. I'm trying to etch the pile of steaming doo he tried to foist on us during that five minutes from my mind, so I can think about all the awesome Leopard goodness he showed.
2007-06-11 15:10:52
I assume that by this approach means there will be no access to sections of the OS such as Bluetooth? This, I would think, is a serious limitation. In addition, wouldn't there be a 'lag' as a result of having to repeatedly download the 'application' when needed?
Alasdair Allan
2007-06-11 15:12:41
Insult. If it doesn't show up on the main interface as an icon, it's a web application, not a phone application. No matter how much integration there is into the phone they're offering.
2007-06-11 15:18:13
> "how many OS X developers reading this have ever built any kind of web-based application?"

Um, how many have built a Dashboard widget? Cos that appears to be what you'll be doing for iPhone, just without Coca being available underneath (unless I misunderstand Dashboard widgets, which is quite probable as I've never made one).

I'm not sure how similar this is to writing web apps. The iPhone screen is smaller. There's no traditional keyboard access (e.g. tabbing between fields). Doing web apps for iPhone is a differnt UI beast than normal web apps, and different from the eventual inevitable real iPhone widgets.

2007-06-11 16:00:01
My thought was 'well, how were they ever going to stop people doing Ajax based web apps'? The fact it's running real Safari wasn't news. Having access (via JavaScript) to some of the phone features is.

Personally, I'd be more impressed with Flash 9. Unlike Java, Steve hasn't said 'No' to Flash, but 'we'll see'. Problem there may be the dependency on Adobe to deliver, who are keeping busy themselves (and like, took 12 months after announcement of Intel Macs to deliver an Intel Flash player) - but then it would be a huge coup for Adobe to make Flex / CS3 the main third-party app development tools for the iPhone.

But go check out or kuler and tell me you couldn't do some serious app development. App and framework caching, security sandbox, web services, XML parsing, compositing, local storage - it's all there. As is the ability to drain the battery in 5 minutes through bad programming.

I'm sure Cocoa for iPhone is on the cards too.

As for showing up on the main interface . . . well there's only so many slots. How trivial would it be to develop a 'widget' launch page which appeared to be another iPhone menu page though? And your app should be in the web cache if regularly used. Hope there's local storage in the available APIs though.

2007-06-11 16:20:01
I'm a web developer, so you can take my comment with a grain of salt... but I think its about time desktop application programmers start thinking about utilizing the web for their desktop apps, just like web developers are starting to bring their app's offline (Google Gears, Rails Slingshot, Adobe AIR). I also feel Apple was limited in how much development support they could give out, as they will be using Cingular's network for quite some time.... With that aside, I feel the the iPhone is not a traditional platform, nothing like PalmOS and such... I feel every developer, web or desktop, should be challenged to develop functional and intergrated software for the iPhone.
2007-06-11 16:23:27
It would be good if there the "applications" can be stored locally on the phone. Not sure from the Keynote if they can or not. I guess some developers who are used to C++, objC, etc. are less familiar with XHTML, CSS, Javascript, AJAX, and what they can do. Sure, we're not going to see Photoshop or Final Cut Pro level apps, but there are plenty of cool functional things that can be done. And after all, the iPhone can't be expected to do everything you can do on a more general purpose computer.
Mark Bernsteiun
2007-06-11 17:27:23
> How many OS X developers ... have ever built any kind of Web-based application?

+1. Eastgate. developers of Tinderbox ( Our Web apps our internal, but it's an area of active research -- especially with regard to hybrid application architectures.

2007-06-11 17:57:18
Insult. It's an insult to the intelligence of the Mac community that Steve gave the speech as 'this is all you need' rather than 'this is the temporizing solution'.
C. Lee Smith
2007-06-11 18:00:56
This would be an ideal situation for Adobe AIR apps. I hope Apple considers allowing it.
2007-06-11 18:03:48

There's no real access to iPhone features via JavaScript -- it's all whatever iPhone's Safari variant has built-in (such as recognition of phone numbers in text).

It's bad enough that there were no actual secret features. Don't feed us transparent bullshit, too. I haven't been this pissed at Apple in years. Time to resurrect MacHack just for the 'Bash Apple' night.

Eric Shepherd
2007-06-11 18:08:08
Insult. The #1 type of application I want on my phone is games. You can't do real games without some kind of animation and sound toolkit, and that means that on a phone without Flash, you're kind of hosed. I could care less about LDAP browsers and a million little stock looker-uppers. Lame.
2007-06-11 18:08:21
@C. Lee Smith:

That's all we need, Adobe code running on the platform. Why not just put a copy of Internet Explorer 5 on it?

I think Steve badly needs to reconfigure the Reality Distortion Generator, because the Field is not working anymore.

I'll shut up and go away now.

2007-06-11 19:09:34
I agree with many of the comments below. Sure a web app allows for allot of cool things, but the things i want would come out of a normal sdk, such as statistics about hardware, usage etc.

While i think at the moment this is an insult, i believe we have to wait and see till apples true intentions are seen.

2007-06-11 20:02:08
IPhone application development announced at WWDC 2007 is based on Web 2.0 and open standards. Before you guys go off please review the following web page for exactly what Web 2.0 is all about --

2007-06-11 20:30:59
The problem is not web apps vs. native apps and the developer's skill in building either of these. The problem is the network. Users won't always have access since there are plenty of dead areas in the US; the AT&T data network is slow 2.5G, and data rates are expensive. All of this means users are less likely to rely on a web app from their iPhone than if it were a native app on the device. All the WWDC Safari demos were over wifi (or even ethernet). Those same demos over AT&T's edge network would suck really hard.

Another problem is launching the app. A native app. from an SDK would sit right there on the phone and launch quickly like other apps. To use a web app the user has to launch Safari, then find the bookmark, then wait for the app to load. Bah!

This is a very lame attempt by Apple. It would have been better if they simply said, "We're working on an SDK, these things take a lot of time."

Jeff Huff
2007-06-11 21:07:24
So, I think I get that to create an email from the example corporate LDAP iPhone skinned app, you would just have links with the mailto: scheme. What would the other schemes be for making a call? callto: ? I suppose to message widgets there is something like widget:maps?address=blahblah

Any guesses on how you call iPhone "services" or is it really as simple as mailto: like scheme extensions? It did not look like Apple has released any kind of specs on how to message the iPhone services so I don't know how there are going to be any apps day one that can do what they showed.

David H Dennis
2007-06-11 21:50:21
i realized when the iphone was introduced that web application development might be the most interesting way to proceed, but of course that's partially because I'm already familiar with those standards and so i can just go to work on them.

That being said, it seems obvious that the iPhone will support Flash because Safari supports Flash. I would be truly shocked if there was not some kind of Flash support for the phone too. So it should be possible to write all the Flash games you'd ever want.

The JavaScript components of web applications would be cached by the browser, just as they are in regular Safari. So I don't see that as a big problem either.

The only downside I see in this form of development is that apparently our applications won't appear on the phone's main menu, and it looks like the address bar and Safari UI may use a large amount of the space on top of the phone.


2007-06-11 21:56:55
Viswakarma -- why do you keep posting this fairly irrelevant link about Web 2.0? That has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you can't create 95% of the apps that are currently available for every other smartphone on the market... games? no. A little SSH client? no. Something that uses bluetooth? no. Anything with a halfway decent GUI that isn't a 2nd class citizen running in another app? no. Anything with audio interaction? no. Anything that has to interact with non-HTTP clients? no. Applications that can run when disconnected? no.
Bob Hunter
2007-06-11 22:17:45
This means that key applications on Windows Mobile, such as the gps navigation systems (tomtom, navman) and tailor professional applications, will never run on the iPhone. The market will stick with phones like HTC P3600.
2007-06-12 01:15:41
Just outta curiosity, do you have to be retahded to post here?

"The #1 type of application I want on my phone is games." Just so we're all clear - "I want to spend $500 and buy a ridiculously expensive data contract for 2 years so I can play Warcrack *anywhere*! And Apple won't let me!" Take up smoking. It'll give your fingers something to do.

"He's contradicting EVERYTHING that the Mac stands for." Ah, yes, not just everything, but EVERYTHING. Because what everyone has always known about Macintosh is that it's completely user-configurable, and Apple is incredibly open and welcoming to anyone playing with the guts of the OS. Oh, wait, I guess that's utterly *not* true. There's a shiny penny waiting on the highway for you. Go get it and buy a clue.

"unless I misunderstand Dashboard widgets, which is quite probable as I've never made one." But thanks for your comment anyway. Can you hold your breath for the rest of your life and stop wasting our oxygen, too?

"It's not what I wanted! Waaaah! And there's no widescreen iPod! Or 16 core Mini with terabyte drive for $99! And Adriana Lima still won't go out with me!"

2007-06-12 05:55:14
If the AJAX applications will run only when online, that would be a big downside. One aspect that can't be underestimated is that, from a security point of view, apps that work only when online (even though the work they do could be done offline) are far more vulnerable to attacks.
The iPhone will be unlikely to crash for an external app, sure, but if apps aren't thought with security in mind, could be more dabgerous to the user...
2007-06-12 12:40:04
I suspect that there will be no SDK until the HD gets larger on the i{hone. You know fools would fill up the 8gig flash disk and then moan about not having room for music and video. Remember, this is an iPod too.
2007-06-12 12:40:25
I suspect that there will be no SDK until the HD gets larger on the iPhone. You know fools would fill up the 8gig flash disk and then moan about not having room for music and video. Remember, this is an iPod too.
2007-06-27 11:44:28
lol @ Rich, you can create all those with ajax, read more, talk less.
William Volk
2007-07-04 14:56:02
We have just launched a iPhone game called iWhack.

You can see it at

In iWhack you get to "hammer home" the success of iPhone by whacking Steve Balmer (Microsoft CEO and iPhone critic) every time he pops up on the screen.

We have several card games and even some multiplayer stuff in production.

So yes, you can build applications for the iPhone.

William Volk