This is it. We're in the home stretch. Golden goal, all or nothing, and Steve Jobs kicking it high and to the side. In 2 days we find out if Apple gets the world cup, the two-peat for smartphone (even gadget) championship, or if they send it flying over the post with their mostly evolutionary, not so much revolutionary, next generation handset.
Saturday we mentioned one big change: the fast 3G data chip. Sunday it was GPS. Monday we tackled the 2.0 Firmware update. Tuesday we detailed the rebirth of .Mac: MobileMe. Today we're looking at the mother load, App Store.
Why should you want Apps? Of course you want Apps, read on to find out just how much!
One of the biggest complaints about the original iPhone was its lack of 3rd party applications. Some iphoneblog editors who shall not be named went so far as to say that, absent 3rd party apps, "it's not a smartphone!" In fact, people wanted 3rd party apps so badly that even without any sanction or support from Apple, they jailbroke (hacked) the iPhone and developed them themselves.
Fast forward 8 months and Steve Jobs announces the iPhone SDK -- a way for official developers to officially develop. At the iPhone SDK Roadmap Event in March, Apple showed the SDK was complete with Xcode, Cocoa Touch, and emulator, and a highly polished set of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) making it, in the opinion of many, one of the fastest and easiest platforms to develop for. And they even sweetened the pot by getting venture capitalists to chip in $100,000,000 in iFund incentives, and creating a one-stop App Store shop with an overhead-free 70/30 developer/Apple split, and free hosting for free apps.
But that's all geeky coder inside-baseball stuff. Bottom-line for users, Apple did for 3rd party apps what they'd done for music and media: made them easy. Bye bye barrier of entry!
Like the purple iTunes WiFi Music Store before (and now next to) it, the bondi-bluer App Store icon sits right on the home screen of every iPhone in every supported country. Tap it and you're immediately whisked away to an iTunes-like interface where you can search for apps -- free and at a price. Under 10MB, you can download them directly over the 3G network. Over 10MB and you can download them via WiFi, or to iTunes and sync them over.
But that's the how. We're much more interested in the what!
First, some iPhone apps will be free, some will have a price tag. Some may have free "lite" or "demo" versions and for-pay "pro" or "full" versions. It's up to the developer. Big companies like AOL or Ebay may give away apps that help them make money in other ways (as loss leaders). Smaller developers will want to pay their bills and feed their children, so will charge a reasonable fee for their hard work and effort (most of us don't work for free, do we?). I expect to get some free apps I like, but will also pay for, and support, really good apps that appeal to me as well. Like what?
Games. That's right. With power that rivals the Sony PSP and innovative control mechanics akin to the Nintendo DS' touchscreen and the Wii's motion sensitivity, and 3G/WiFi networking and GPS all its own, the iPhone is poised to revolutionized mobile gaming. Super Monkey Ball, as drool-inducing-ly demoed at the iPhone SDK Event is only the beginning. Racing games are in the works, and we've all seen demos of physics-based puzzle games, 3D polygon action games, and Tap Tap Revenge! (Most of these seem priced at $9.99 for now.)
But to afford all these games, we're going to have to work. And the iPhone is catering directly to the enterprise crowd with support for private, company-only app development (where employees download from a restricted site, rather than the public App Store). SalesForce already demonstrated their mobile app, as did several medical/pharmaceutical focused companies. Paradigm shift-worthy stuff, much of it.
Educational institutions, in addition to getting a dream mobile, multi-touch reference platform, will be able to take advantage of Ad-Hoc distribution of up to 100 copies of any app. Got your course outline ready?
And for those who just want to communicate, get ready for more instant messengers and microblogging apps than you can shake your own immanent Twitter client at. The App Store has all the big development houses psyched (even Microsoft, Adobe, Sun, and RIM, according to rumor!), not to mention the usual suspects from your favorite former smartphone devices. (Office Apps a'plenty soon?)
Sure, App Store has a few drawbacks. Instead of full on multitasking, to protect the integrity of the device (and I say this as someone whose Treo's crashed multiple times a day, and who got rapidly sick of task-managing WinMob), Apple will be providing a Notification Service that will collect and "push" out alerts (visual badges, sounds, etc.) when a non-running app wants to get your attention (e.g., Instant Message has just arrived). Single point of potential failure -- so we'll have to see how reliable the server proves to be -- but an interesting compromise for now.
Second, no plugins (sorry Flash), no code-interpreters (sorry Java), no turn-by-turn GPS (sorry TomTom), no pr0n (sorry ginormous interweb empire, you're stuck with WebApps), no VoIP for EDGE/3G (sorry Skype), no unlocking (sorry Ryan Block), no iPod access (sorry Real -- no, wait, good!), no dock port access (there's a separate dock partner program for that), and no nebulous category of anything Apple deems bad (sorry... who knows who?). So, basically, that animated JVM social stripper network finder app that will run on any Euro-network using music volume to indicate proximity and direction while spitting out singles is a non-starter, b'okay?
Lastly, just like iTunes video (and still some music -- thanks for nothing, recording industry), Apple's FairPlay DRM will wrap all App Store content and lock it to your iTunes account. This might create some problems for people who try to sell their iPhones with apps on them, as new owners would require the sellers iTunes account login to authenticate the apps. (As happened to some with the January iPod Touch upgrade). We'll have to see how that plays out for now.
All in all, however, the App Store seems like a game changer. I can't wait. What App(s) do you want most?