March 04, 2008

PC Magazine

iPhone Software Developers, Start Your Engines!

Top mobile software developer DataViz, Wi-Fi hotspot provider Boingo and other software developers are raring to start writing software for the iPhone when the handheld's software developer's kit comes out on Thursday - as long as Apple doesn't throw a poison pill into the mix.'We are absolutely interested and currently investigating,' said Dataviz spokeswoman Jenn Figueroa. 'We started our company 24 years ago around Apple and the Macintosh, and we would love to bring our last ten-plus years of mobile office software expertise to their newest venture.'DataViz produces Documents To Go, the top Microsoft Office document editing suite for Palm OS and Windows Mobile, along with several other popular mobile utilities. Boingo announced its intent to write a native iPhone client last month.Major mobile games publisher Gameloft isn't committing quite yet, but senior vice president of publishing Gonzague de Vallois sounded enthusiastic.'We certainly look forward to seeing what Apple has to offer once the SDK opens up,' he said.This Thursday, Apple intends to announce the first official opportunity for third party developers to write true, native applications for the iPhone. The iPhone is a PC-class platform running a PC-class OS, with a 600-megahertz processor and a somewhat stripped-down version of Apple's OS X operating system. But up until now, users have either been restricted to 'Web apps' or to hacking their phones in non-Apple-approved ways to get new abilities.Rumors swirl, of course. Maybe Apple will require that they approve all apps. Maybe they'll ban apps they or AT&T don't like, such as Skype. Maybe they'll require that apps be sold through the iTunes store - or maybe that won't apply if the apps are free. Nobody knows for sure.Bill Stone, CEO of software store Handango, is hopeful that Apple will let developers follow their dreams. 'They've talked about an open Internet ... and have been openly critical of the carriers and their walled-garden approach,' he said.And Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, said at the recent Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium, said developers will 'only be limited by imagination.'Ken Ryu, chief executive of GetQuik, which is launching a Web app letting iPhone users order food from local restaurants, warns that a too-rigid authentication system could scare off developers and stifle the market - or simply drive them into the more open world of Web-based apps.'If Apple were to come out with a very rigorous business requirement approval process, then the sheer cost of getting the app approved may make the SDK's advantages less appealing and make it so we'd just want to continue doing Web apps,' he said.What's coming for the iPhone?The world of handheld applications is growing, Handango's Stone says, and Apple's presence could raise awareness of the thousands of applications people can install on almost any phone.The demand for handheld apps is shifting from a very business-oriented set of productivity apps to more consumer-oriented personalization applications, Stone says - things like a Blackberry app that lets you change the color of your track ball.'These are games, these are ringtones, these are wallpapers ... you're accessorizing your smartphone,' Stone said.De Vallois said the iPhone could be a terrific platform for cutting edge games, as it can run larger, longer games than most handsets. While most phones only support games up to around 2 Mbytes, the iPhone could run 40 MB games, he says.'The size will really transform the graphic capability and gaming experience for the consumer ... [and] touch-screen gaming will become more predominant this year,' he said.Social networking and messaging apps are sure to come quickly for any new mobile platform, said Ilya Laurs, chief executive of mobile application site GetJar.com.'If you look at Facebook, NimBuzz, Flurry, eBuddy, Emoze, each of them is a mix of blogging, chatting and social networking,' Laurs said.The social networking apps could be followed quickly by personal productivity apps: 'syncs, calendars, contact managers, all that kind of stuff,' he said.Looking at the existing 'illegal' native applications at a site like modifyiphone.com could also give clues to what's coming next. Some of the most innovative and ambitious applications there include one that gives the iPhone's camera digital zoom and a burst mode, many games, a personal finance app, a voice recorder, a home screen extender and many more.The iPhone is well-positioned to be a strong mobile application platform because there's only one model, Laurs said.'Developers have to write for a few thousand devices; fragamentation is a huge problem,' Laurs added. 'If you take a look at the iPhone, a big chance for them to succeed is that they have a homogeneous platform. That's a huge competitive advantage.'