Months ago Apple made a promise to developers, committing to one day release an SDK and open the iPhone for platform development. Today it made good on its promise, and reaffirmed that old adage "good things come to those who wait".
Steve Jobs, along with corporate cohorts Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall, presented a public unveiling of the company's product roadmap for iPhone at its Cupertino headquarters. What Jobs paraded to his audience was so spectacular it puts Apple at least a decade ahead of any competing mobile platform. For starters, the company is making a major play for the enterprise with a slew of corporate messaging tools and technologies that will put iPhone on par (and beyond) with other business-savvy devices like the Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices.
iPhone will offer full support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, and with it comes the same Push email, contacts, and calendar that Windows Mobile users have come to enjoy. About the only thing that Windows Mobile users enjoy, come to think of it. In addition to smarter messaging acumen, support of advanced wireless security protocols and remote data implosion will be integrated into OSX, making iPhone one of the most secure mobile devices in the industry. If someone steal's your company issued iPhone, one quick line of code gives it a long distance lobotomy. Gone forever. There are other impressively boring features for the cubicle world, but I won't delve into that since it is of little interest to you folks, unless you work in IT.
The show stopper for today's event was the final unveiling of the iPhone SDK. Apple must be given the highest praise for going above and beyond expectations in both opening its platform, and exposing iPhones underlying plumbing to developers. There had been much concern that Apple would hide a great deal of OSX's inner workings, and keep many doors locked to developers; not so. Nope, Apple has gone full monty and provided code monkeys the world over with powerful tools to build applications that take full advantage of iPhone's core technologies.
Scott Forstall demoed the SDK and exhibited the iPhone's core architecture, which until now have remained somewhat shrouded in mystery. One fascinating facet to OSX is a technology Apple calls Core Touch, an environment native to iPhone and iPod Touch. It's a sophisticated interactive overlay that integrates with other organs within the OS like Core Image and OpenGL, allowing for innovative and weird application concepts. Scott demonstrated a breathtaking space shooter game developed in-house for demonstration. Using the built-in accelerometer and touch screen, the iPhone's orientation is used to control pitch and yaw, in place of traditional button controls. The graphics were stunning, and comparable to a console. The iPhone is about to become a revolutionary gaming platform. Apple just gave Nintendo and Sony the business.
The possibilities are endless for rich applications. I expect lots of innovation from developers on a scale unprecedented in mobile platforms. And speaking of innovation, the best was yet to come. Forstall introduced a number of well known developers and publishers on stage, partnering with Apple, to bring first string applications to iPhone. First on deck was Electronic Arts with a dome of Spore, yes that Spore. Again, the graphics were simply stunning and touch screen capabilities enable even more imaginative possibilities in game design.
Salesforce.com gave a first look of its upcoming iPhone native app to empower sales agents. Great stuff, if you enjoy watching damp smudges solidify on your iPhone's screen. Next!
AOL showed off its new AIM client for iPhone. This one had me puzzled because I half expected Apple to be first out of the gate with a native instant messaging client, in the form of iChat. Still, AIM for iPhone looks fantastic and offers everything you'd expect in a chat client. Be prepared to receive lots of messages from your friends once this app goes live... "OMG I'M TXTING FRM MY IPHONE! LOL!" Can't wait for that.
Last but not least, medical reference giant Epocrates demoed its mobile prescription database app, which unfortunately didn't include a prescription for drowsiness to overcome the effects of boredom form their presentation. What a snoozer. Still, it's yet another great app coming down the pike, so that something to get excited about I guess.
After the dog and pony show concluded, Steve returned on stage to outline Apple's model for application distribution, and drop the other shoe on our toes.
The bad news: As expected, iTunes will be the orifice for iPhone apps, exclusively. Apple will provide a special tool for enterprise customers, enabling custom corporate apps to be directly loaded onto iPhone, orphaned from iTunes. For the masses (meaning you moi), however, it's going to be iTunes or nothing. Like it or lump it.
The good news: That's actually not a big deal. In fact it may be a good deal better. Apple will include an app on the iPhone called App Store built in the same vein as its mobile iTunes WiFi store. You tap the icon and presented with an interface similar to the music store that shows featured apps as well as listed categories. You pick what you want... tap on a button called buy or free (if you're lucky), the app downloads wirelessly to your phone, and voila! Better still, the App Store notifies you when applications you've purchased or downloaded have been updated. Very slick.
Best of all, Apple isn't screwing developers in the way so many other mobile software stores have with nefarious contracts that favor the distributor or the developer. The terms laid out by Apple are fairly competitive, giving a 70/30 split in revenues, with the former going straight to developers. The remaining 30% lines Apple's pockets to cover its overhead as well as net some profit. It's not a perfect arrangement, but I call it fair.
Now for the badder bad news. The truly terrible "go sit in a chair and cry in your hanky. Mother will bring you a nice hot bowl of soup" kind of terrible. Apple will be releasing a major firmware update, now elevated to version 2.0, that delivers everything I've just covered, including Exchange messaging support and third party applications... but it won't be arriving until late June. Yeah, I know. J-U-FREAKING-N-E. The agony. The torment. The inhumanity of it all.
But hey, it wasn't so long ago that very same month drew us together, as we waited for the arrival of iPhone. Consider this an anniversary present from Apple. Many happy returns.
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