Shut Up and Play Your iPhone, Volume 1

The news from the Apple Developer Conference is mostly good (Leopard), and only a little bad (developers for the iPhone are not happy yet), but certainly not as ugly as it is on the dark side (critical Vista and Internet Explorer 7 patches).

While the debate rages on about its lack of a mechanical keyboard, the iPhone has already changed the way people think these devices should work, and how developers should provide third-party applications (besides, the iPhone virtual keyboard turns out to be quite useful, according to friend and co-author Andy Ihnatko). Developers should do as much as they can using Web 2.0 standards (such as Ajax) right now. Develop really cool widgets and iPhone-specific applications? Maybe later… But right now, make the iPhone work the way it’s supposed to regarding the Internet, because that’s the first major hurdle.

The iPhone is, as I wrote before, a platform in infancy, waiting to be exploited in the next decade. Even as naysayers pointed to the lack of a decent software developer kit for third-party applications, two new iPhone applications appeared from third parties within two days of Steve Jobs’ appearance at the conference. When it ships on June 29, 2007, the iPhone may very well be the first platform designed for Web 2.0 technologies. This is significant because Web 2.0 applications that run on servers demand a certain level of performance in the browser to work properly. Showing real, unadulterated, unfiltered Web sites and running Web apps — that’s the full Internet experience Apple needs to promote to get beyond the smartphone set and make iPhone a success for everyone, including third-party developers. It’s a good move for Apple, not a bad move for developers, and guarantees that the iPhone experience won’t be ugly.

The iPhone uses the full Safari browser, which will also be available for Windows, completing the platform picture. Web 2.0 developers are accustomed to making their services work in Explorer and Firefox, but anything that works with Safari will most likely work with these other browsers as well, making Safari a “least common denominator” for testing their services. Expect Google Apps (with word processing and spreadsheets) to be available on the iPhone, maybe not when it first ships, but soon thereafter — as Google Apps are part of the Safari 3 framework. (I am writing this using Google Apps and will be reporting immediately on how useful an iPhone is for this purpose, as soon as I can get one of my own.)

But developers are peeved that Web site are considered “third-party applications” — even if those sites offer Web applications. Developers want to make something unique to differentiate their offerings. They want to innovate on the iPhone platform with the same gusto (and developer resources) that they brought to the task of innovating on the Mac platform.

There’s that word again: platform. Bottom line — to quote one commentor on the miffed developers story: “Developers should be bloody relieved that there IS actually a way of developing 3rd party apps for iPhone!”

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