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.

3 Responses to “The iPhone SDK: Another Walled Garden or a Publisher’s Paradise?”

  1. #1 Version3 says:

    sorry that this is so wordy, just wanted to point out a few things that are missing from this that might be important, and one that you probably need to fix (see Restrictions comment near end of message).

    Distribution: there is still a lot of speculation around how they will “certify” apps, but officially right now, the only apps they’ve (Apple) said will have to pass a rigorous check are commercial (pay) applications. From what I’ve read, the plan currently is to try to minimize the amount of work being done to certify free apps. The big question is how this will play out, but it may be really important to marketers, because the allowing time for Apple to Certify bit may not be an issue… and if the last 3rd party content item (for the iTunes store) is any indication (podcasts), it won’t be an issue for free stuff, the licensing tied to the SDK may help weed out the junk allowing for a quicker process as well.

    Free: None of it is “free” though. To be a publisher via the iTunes store, there are fees associated with it. While this may not be an issue for an end-client paying someone to build an app, it does discourage (at least to some extent) the “kid down the street” from publishing apps. This is also part of the procedure being put in place to help minimize Apple checking and certifying every app. The cost for the Enterprise App license (paying applications – proprietary) is: $299 While, the fee for free and commercial applications is: $99

    Limitations: The bandwidth hog thing has been clarified a bit by several people from Apple as I’ve read around the internets, it’s in reference to apps that continue to pull bandwidth, in a constant stream, or through 2-way communication. Like P2P stuff, or remote access apps. There are also limitations (this could be important) to apps running in the background (while not up-front and active) and no Plugin install/access applications. Apps can’t do software installations, beyond the initial installation of the app itself I’m sure. The running in the background restrictions have already raised a lot of questions, with applications like IM (there are already plans to launch AIM with the iTunes application store in June).

    Access: I’ve read the official Apple plan allows for downloading from the iTunes store even over Edge. I have no idea how they will be achieving this, probably through a new app item that allows access only to the software portion of the iTunes store.

    One more thing: You have a mistake under “Restrictions”… last line, you say that VOiP is allowed on WiFi only and will be allowed on EDGE… the latter should read “will not be allowed”.

  2. #2 Carnival of the Mobilists 115 Now Live @ Andrew Grill's Blog | mobilestance.com says:

    […] The iPhone SDK: Another Walled Garden or a Publisher’s Paradise? […]

  3. #3 London Calling » Carnival of the Mobilists 115 is here says:

    […] personal post of the week comes from Jamie Wells who looks at the new iPhone Software Development Kit from the viewpoint of mobile publishers and advertisers and argues that Apple’s open stance […]

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