iPhone Development Postmortem

The big day has come and gone and we have many more details regarding the iPhone Development Program. Much of what I discussed in the previous post regarding enterprise support has been adopted by Apple, though only the privileged few that were allowed into the enterprise beta program know the full details (and I am not one of them). It does appear that the iPhone will take its place beside BlackBerry devices and Windows Mobile phones in bathroom stalls across the globe, though Apple still has a long way to go in terms of winning the hearts and minds of corporate finance & architecture committees.

The main problem: there are a large number of applications, ranging from SAP to SalesForce.com that work fine on existing mobile platforms. If they didn’t work well, organizations wouldn’t be using them. While the iPhone may be great for future adoption, the ROI will be a bit difficult to justify if businesses want to bring them in to replace existing solutions, even if vendors create iPhone-specific versions of the programs. Do you really need an iPhone to run that ACME CRM application? I can speak from direct enterprise experience, however, that even non-techies were watching Apple’s announcement since the integration folks at my company received at least five calls immediately afterwards with the same questions: “So, when are we enabling support for my iPhone?”.

Developers Wanted?

Unfortunately, the enterprise features may be the most positive message coming from the announcement, at least initially. While over 100,000 budding iPhone developers took Steve Jobs seriously and gave up their precious personal information to download the SDK, many – including this friendly neighborhood blogger – were ultimately very disappointed to learn that Apple was not interested in our $99.00USD and that they should go read a book…or something. Anything, really except to expect their cool apps to be running on an actual iPhone, rather than an emulator.

I can understand Apple needing to slowly roll out memberships, at least initially, but their “thanks, but not right now” e-mails were taken pretty hard – and justifiably so – by very real and talented developers (as opposed to hobbyists like me). Apple needed to do a much better job communicating the rules of the game before soliciting participation and they should have just tagged their “A-list” candidates separately before pseudo-opening program to all.

I have and can still develop applications for BlackBerry devices, Windows Mobile and even the Sharp Zaurus. I paid nothing for that privilege and spent no money on development kits or membership. I realize Apple makes its own rules and that the iPhone is a vastly different device but why open the floodgates only to let a few drops of water out (or in, as it were)? I doubt this will dissuade budding iPhone coders, but it has definitely stunted the fervor of some of Apple’s more influential indie allies.

No Limits?

If the developer exclusivity is the first shoe to drop, the other is the limitations expressed in the SDK around what you can or cannot do with the device. While other blogs have commented on some specifics, I’m still not comfortable enough with Apple’s legal department when it comes to relating details from documents Apple has expressly forbidden disclosure of. Suffice it to say, certain applications will require a great deal of creativity in order to work the way developers wish (don’t expect SMS-like notifications of chats or tweets).

Developers have also expressed concern regarding the double-edged sword that is iPhone application distribution model. While some are thrilled to have their applications presented via the iTunes store front, others are concerned that there would be no support for try-before-you-buy offerings or allowing of add-on modules post-install (via direct download, either free or purchased). Further more, augmenting applications with small scripts/actions may be forbidden as well.

Hope Lies With 2.0?

Unlike programming for “real” computers (Macs or Windows PCs), coding for mobile platforms with actual limitations on processing speed, memory and storage space requires different ways of thinking. It will be challenging enough making decent applications without Apple’s current restrictive climate. Hopefully, we will start seeing further details about wider-scale participation in the program as we get closer to the magical summer release of iPhone software version 2.0.

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