On March 6th Apple gave the world its first peek at the widely-anticipated iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit), which developers will use to create native iPhone applications. In typical Apple fashion, the event was hosted by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and was held at the company’s Cupertino, CA headquarters. In a somewhat rare move, His Steveness delegated most of the announcements to Apple Execs Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall, choosing instead to serve merely as more or less the event’s MC – opening the proceedings with some iPhone growth stats, and closing the affair with a brief Q&A punctuated with his usual displays of hype and candor.
The Background: Without the iPhone SDK the only choice for developers wishing to create iPhone applications is to create a “web app,” which are vastly inferior to native apps in most respects: Web applications are inherently slower, less secure and powerful than native apps, and require a data connection to operate.
Apple is targeting a June, 2007 release date for the iPhone SDK. Key details are as follows:
- Distribution. Simply put, the only way to distribute an iPhone or iPod Touch application is to go through Apple- via the (yet to be released) “App store” or on iTunes. This will likely require the application to be “certified” by Apple, considerably prolonging the development and testing process (this versus a 100% open system, otherwise known as the internet). Ultimately this means that while brands need to give developers more time to have their applications certified by Apple, distribution and discovery of iPhone applications will nevertheless be a relatively painless process for consumers. What’s more, if developers are allowed to “deep link” to specific pages on the App store, promotion of specific Apps should be extremely straightforward to marketers. (SMS “WAP-push”, email, web banners and paid search should all prove efficient promotional means).
- Free or Pay to Play? For premium apps Apple has announced that they will be retaining 30% of net revenues for distribution and payment services, but the big news (for marketers) is that Apple doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of free (read: marketer-friendly) applications – whether sponsored, co-branded and/or ad-supported. Not only will they not get in the way, but Apple has gone on record as saying “Apple gets nothing” if the app is free. This is tremendously important for both brands and agencies wishing to enter the free-to-the-consumer iPhone application space.
- Functionality. The real promise of the iPhone SDK is that, according to Scott Forstall (Apple VP of iPhone Software), Apple is “opening the same native APIs and tools to build our iPhone apps…[so that] 3rd party developers can build native iPhone apps using the same SDK that WE do.” It is with these set of APIs that 3rd party developers (read: anyone from agencies and brands to the kid down the street) can build native applications that integrate the iPhone’s address book, calendar, media player, 3D / OpenGL graphics layer, 3-axis accelerometer, camera, internet connection, databases and more. This is big folks…
- Restrictions. So far Apple has stated that that the only applications that won’t be allowed will be those classified as “porn, malicious, illegal, infringing on privacy or bandwidth hogs.” Those last two are a bit nebulous and will need to be further clarified by Apple in the coming days (isn’t YouTube – a service already featured as a prominent iPhone web app – the world’s #1 bandwidth hog?). Also, applications will not be allowed to unlock the SIM – which should come as no surprise given Apple’s newfound wireless subscription revenue stream (subscription revenue shares only come from their partner carriers – hence the SIM lock). Finally, VoIP apps will be restricted to running over the iPhone’s Wi-Fi connection only; VoIP apps running over cellular networks will not be allowed.
- Security. Much of the Apple announcement was dedicated to new enterprise-friendly enhancements, such as Apple’s licensing of Microsoft’s ActiveSyc (for integration with Exchange) and other iPhone software updates guaranteed to keep RIM awake at night. Nevertheless, while these enterprise-grade moves haven’t been positioned as related to the SDK, iPhone’s new enterprise-level security features, such as “Cisco IPsec VPN, authentication and certification, enterprise class WiFi (WPA2 / 802.1x), security policies, configuration tools, and remote wipe” are, coincidentally, many of the same security features that will also satisfy the needs of marketers looking to protect personally identifiable, commerce, and other sensitive areas of consumer data.
Analysis: Overall, marketers should be quite encouraged by what we have seen so far in the Apple SDK. No doubt the weeks and months following the release of the iPhone SDK will be peppered with numerous announcements of native iPhone applications of varying degrees of functionality and import.
That said, much of the discussion following the SDK announcement had been focused on Apple’s decision to restrict distribution of iPhone apps to their “App Store” – in that this decision constitutes a new “walled garden” similar to those erected by the Carriers (and AOL before them). What remains to be seen if Apple’s distribution barrier was created in the name of quality and security (as it claims), or solely for the purposes of greed. If the former, Mobilestance finds no fault with Apple’s decision to act as gatekeeper, plain clothes cop, judge, jury and executioner in the policing of the ecosystem it has created. If, on the other hand, shameless self-interest purveys Apple’s distribution policy (laborious approval policies, the hamstringing of applications deemed competitive to Apple’s other business units), we can only hope that either developer backlash or third party system hacks will force Apple’s hand towards a more democratized distribution model.