iPhone SDK: More pros than cons

Appl e's iPhone media event ended just minutes ago. So this is a very rough first take of my reaction. And my reaction overall is positive. The news is much better than my worst fears, although a little worse than my highest hopes.

Here are the upside highlights:

    • Developers will get full access to the iPhone's toolbox. From the sound of things, any software that Apple can write in-house, developers will be able to do as well. For example, the iPhone accelerometer will be accessible, as seen in some of the cool games that were demoed.

    • Apple will release an iPhone Simulator that allows developers to test out their iPhone apps on a Mac.

    • The iPhone SDK is free to developers and a beta version will be available today!

    • Distribution of iPhone apps to users will be through an "App Store" application on your iPhone. YES! This means that you will be able to get software onto your iPhone directly from the phone itself. You won't need to go through the iTunes application on a Mac or PC (although there will be iTunes access to the apps as well). Steve said you should be able to access the App Store via Wi-Fi or EDGE.

    • The App Store will permit distribution of free software. Other than an initial $99 fee to publish software, there will be no charge for posting free apps. Developers will get to decide whether and what to charge for their software. Apple will take 30% of the price, if it is not free.

    • Although Apple will place some limits on what software is allowed (no porn was mentioned, for example), it seems like Apple is not going to be overly restrictive here.

Now for the bad news:

    • The iPhone Software Update 2.0 that allows users to get all of this software will not be available until June. The wait continues!

    • Apple will apparently do its best to prevent developers from distributing software on their own. Exactly what this will mean for the software currently available via jailbreaking is not clear. Maybe Apple simply won't officially support alternative distribution methods, but will still tacitly allow jailbreaking to continue. However, I suspect Apple will try to put an end to jailbreaking. Whether or not they can succeed remains to be seen.

    • Aside from the new enterprise features (which I am skipping over here, except to say that the ability to mass delete and move email messages is extremely welcome!) and AIM for the iPhone (which may be included as part of a default iPhone installation), no other upcoming new iPhone features were announced. There was no mention of a 3G iPhone, more open Bluetooth access or voice-dialing, to name three things that I am especially looking forward to seeing.

    • There was also no mention of whether or not third-party software will be able to allow hardware devices to connect to and work with an iPhone. I am especially thinking of something like a wireless keyboard. It remains unclear whether or not such devices will be possible via the SDK, but it seems unlikely. Apple did specifically say that they would not support any apps accessing the Dock Connector, outside of those that are approved for Apple's "Made for iPod" program.

Bottom line: Having to wait until June for the Software Update, after expecting it to be available by February, is obviously a big disappointment. However, once June rolls around, all will be forgiven and forgotten.

Most users will be more than satisfied, at least in the short term, with what the Software Update allows. I would guess that about 90% of the third-party software now available via jailbreaking will wind up in the App Store. For the typical iPhone user, that should eliminate virtually any incentive to jailbreak their iPhone. Some software, perhaps apps that allow direct manipulation of the contents of the iPhone's drive and certainly apps that perform actions that Apple does not want to permit (such as unlocking the SIM), will still have to depend upon jailbreaking. But most users won't want such stuff, or at least won't want to risk jailbreaking to get it.

On the plus side, by Apple completely opening up its iPhone toolbox and providing a "legal" method for third-party development, we should see a much wider and more elaborate selection of software than now exists. The games that were demoed today, for example, far exceed the rather minimalist games now available via jailbreaking.

So yes, we could have gotten a bit more. But we could have gotten a lot less. Yesterday, the iPhone was one of the greatest technological devices ever invented. Today it is even better—much better. It's hard to complain about that.