If you'd prefer to skip the explanation of what Installer.app is and just start using it, just click here.
Unless Apple owns up to the fact that for many smartphone purposes web apps won't cut it, Installer.app is the main method that you'll be using to install 3rd party applications on your iPhone. Native apps have significant advantages to other programming platforms like favelets, data URL bookmarks, and web apps. Native apps can produce sound, superior graphics, are usable in flight mode (sometimes referred to here as boonies mode), and best yet, the best native applications are free. But first, what exactly is Installer.app?
Installer.app is a program manager. It keeps track of what third party programs you've installed on an iPhone, what programs are available for the iPhone, and can notify you if you need to update programs. You can also remove programs if you no longer use them, or if you just need to free up space. Many of the programs in Installer.app have web pages to explain the program's function, and sometimes you can tell what those functions are just by looking at them or reading their short description.
In terms of keeping applications up to date, it's a lot like 'Software Update' on a Macintosh. For PC users, it's a lot like Windows Update service. The big way that Installer.app is different from Software Update or Windows Update is that Installer.app works for all of your installed applications.
For having no support from Apple, Installer.app is quite a robust application. I've never had any issues with bricking any iPhones, and I've installed Installer.app many times. Application development has been quite fast on it, and Installer.app has been brought to a level of polish that some applications (*cough* iFuntastic *cough*) might never see. The user interface is simple, straightforward, easy to understand, and easy to use. It's worth noting that Installer.app is also built on open source, which means that it would be very hard for someone to hide something malicious inside the software. With so many eyes looking at how Installer.app is built, you can be very confident that the software that makes up Installer.app is robust and safe to use.
As always, you'll probably want to make backups before you install the application, in the rare event that anything does go wrong. The actual installation process is very easy. We have easy installation instructions available for both Macintoshes and Windows computers.
First, notice the four tabs across the top: Install, Update, Uninstall, and Sources.
Now, at the bottom of the page, there are two buttons as well as a 'space remaining' section:
In the middle section, Installer.app shows you how much space is left on your iPhone for Programs. The iPhone reserves a certain amount of disk space for the operating system and the like; Installer.app installs most of its content in this disk space. If your iPhone is giving you trouble, it might be worth it to verify that there is still space remaining on the iPhone.
Here is a list of all the sections, and the programs that are bundled as of this writing (10 September 2007). Your application database will include many other sections and applications that are available if 'Community Sources' has been installed, but here's what Installer.app comes with out-of-the-box:
Now, I'd like to guide you quickly through installing your first app. I'll start with Community Sources, since the rest of our guides will assume that you have it installed.
figure 1: Click the 'home screen' button to go to the home screen. Then, click on 'Installer.app'.
figure 2: Installer.app will update every time that you start the application; let it update itself. When it's done updating, your screen will probably look something like this. Feel free to scroll up and down the screen. If you select a package by mistake, you can click the 'Packages' button in the top left to go back to the main screen.
figure 3: Click on the 'Update' tab, which is 2nd from left along the very top. It should be blank. Once you have a lot of packages (or if Installer.app needs an update), it's worth your time to check in every once in a while to see if newer versions of your programs are available so you get new features and bug fixes.
figure 4: Since we don't have any of the community sources installed, we're missing out on the best apps. Click on the 'Sources' tab, on the far top-right. Your screen should look something like this, showing 'Nullriver' as the only source.
figure 5: Go back to the 'Install' tab in the top left. Community Sources should be the very first application package listed. If it's not, scroll up. Click on 'Community Sources' and then click 'install' in the top right.
figure 6: Installer.app will prompt you, to see if you really want to install the application. Click 'Yes'.
figure 7: Once it's done installing (it shouldn't take long at all, perhaps a few seconds), it will show you this screen. Click 'OK' to dismiss it. That's essentially all it takes to install a package.
figure 8: Once you have a few programs installed, you might find that uninstallation uses the exact same concepts as installation. If you know how to install a package with installer.app, you know how to uninstall.
figure 9: If you ever decide that you don't trust one of the community sources, you can remove them on the 'Sources' tab in the top right. Of course, you can always just look around and see who is providing all of these packages.