Apple to open iPhone to third-party developers. Why did it take so long?

engadet iphone apps smallerI had to rub my eyes when I saw this: Apple is opening up the iPhone to third party developers.

“Let me just say it: We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK (software developers kit) in developers’ hands in February,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote in a noted (signed “Steve”) on the Hot News page.

Really? Huh. Just two weeks ago, Apple announced the opening of an iPhone Web Apps Directory on its site. The directory move was seen as Apple reinforcing its commitment to the Web-based apps approach.

Those who hoped for third-party applications on the iPhone sighed, shook their collective heads, and wondered why. Why is it taking Apple so long to deliver third-party apps?

Jobs explained, “It will take until February to release an SDK because we’re trying to do two things diametrically opposed things at once — provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc.

“This is no easy task. Some claim that viruses and malware are not a problem on mobile phones—this is simply not true. There have been serious viruses on other mobile phones already, including some that silently spread from phone to phone over the cell network. As our phones become more powerful, these malicious programs will become more dangerous. And since the iPhone is the most advanced phone ever, it will be a highly visible target.”

iphone web apps 300It’s all speculation, of course, as to why Apple has taken so long to open up the iPhone to third-party developers. Some thoughts:

Steve wants control.

Apple has security and virus concerns.

Apple didn’t want the iPhone to detract any more than it has from the development of the new operating system Leopard, which has already been delayed. Plus, third-party developers are working diligently on Leopard applications as well.

It was always planned this way (my favorite).

Apple wanted to wait for the delivery of the iPod Touch, which is just like the iPhone but without the phone and camera. The forthcoming SDK will also support the Touch.

I’d also like to throw in competition. This week Nokia showcased an updated S60 mobileOS, which will support a touch-screen interface. And while it’s not a phone, Nokia’s N810 (announced today), the latest version if its Linux-based tablet, will sport wi-fi connectivity, GPS, Bluetooth, a large, bright display, among other niceties.

Nokia tackles the security issue of third-party applications running on its handsets by requiring a digital signature so that every piece of software can be tracked back to a known developer. Jobs wrote, “While this makes such a phone less than “totally open,” we believe it is a step in the right direction. We are working on an advanced system which will offer developers broad access to natively program the iPhone’s amazing software platform while at the same time protecting users from malicious programs.”

And, finally, what would speculation be without the conspiracy theory? Some believe that Apple is building an iTunes-based platform to securely deliver apps to users, so that it can profit as the middle person. “From movies to music to software, Apple is plotting a way to keep itself in the middle of any money-making transaction on its hardware,” notes ValleyWag.

So, in a way, third-party applications will be the second coming of the iPhone — and I bet there is some new hardware to go along with the applications.

Photo credit: image of iPhone with third-party apps from Engadget.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

3 Responses to “Apple to open iPhone to third-party developers. Why did it take so long?”

  1. Travis says:

    If Apple does the middle man situation and tries to make a buck off of EVERY app, I’m still going to hack. Hands down.

  2. David Mackey says:

    Maybe the competition from Nokia is starting to get hot? e.g. the new Ovi APIs.

  3. I love this phone I have used it for a while now no problems!