During his keynote speech at Apple’s World Wide Developer (WWDC) conference held earlier this month, CEO Steve Jobs dropped a “one more thing” bombshell. The company would provide a way for third-party developers to create applications for the iPhone — not by giving access to the device’s operating system, but instead through the web. Since the iPhone runs a full web browser, Jobs said that developers would be able to build web-based applications that, with Apple’s help, would look and feel just like regular apps. This was met with disappointment among the audience gathered at the Moscone center and developers around the globe.
However, ten days later, and we’ve already seen plenty of developer activity, with a number of prototype web apps being built which are designed specifically to fit the iPhone’s screen, and utilize (as much as possible) the device’s multi-touch interface. I’m calling these applications prototypes because most people have yet to get their hands on an iPhone, and only those developers who paid the entrance fee to WWDC have been privy to guidelines on what is and what isn’t possible.
“We’re in a ‘wait and see’ mode at this point”, web developer David Cann, told me via email. “We don’t know much about how we can interact with the browser.” For example, how will web pages interpret a user’s finger being dragged across the screen? Will they be able to detect when a user “pinch zooms” or get access to the phone’s local hard drive in order to upload files? The answer to these questions, says Cann, could seriously hinder the possibilities of third-party iPhone applications.
“If there were to be an SDK for the iPhone, apps could integrate with built in data services (contacts, photos, and music) and store data locally for fast offline access. It’s the same challenges that we face in desktop vs. browser app development.”
It’s unlikely it will be possible for third-party apps to access the iPhone’s camera and microphone, so voice and video chatting won’t be possible.
“The only real advantage to web apps is there is nothing to install or update, so news and social apps will work well, while local apps such as Remote Desktop, FTP, and organizers will suffer.”
Digg.com for the iPhone / iPhone Chat
Two applications developed by David Cann to show what might be possible: an optimized version of the social news site, Digg.com, which utilizes the site’s API, and a web-based version of AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM) which also works with Apple’s iChat.
A very simple iPhone-friendly version of the BBC news, which presumably just pulls in the site’s RSS feed and re-skins it for the iPhone’s screen size.
Gas.app (top-right image)
An application that enables you to look up gass prices by zip code. Currently links to the Google Maps website, but once details emerge, the developer intends to add support for iPhone’s rich version of Google Maps.
iPhone Feed Reader
A web-based RSS reader optimized for the iPhone’s interface. It works pretty nicely, though I’m guessing that the iPhone’s version of the Safari web browser will have a built in RSS reader.
For more iPhone apps, check out this directory.