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New Developments For the iPhone

Yesterday, Apple announced two major new initiatives for the iPhone--a series of upcoming software updates that should make it far more palatable for business use, and a software development kit (SDK) that will let independent programmers write their own applications for Apple's iconic phone (along with the iPod Touch).

The new "enterprise" features, such as the ability to set up and erase an iPhone remotely and synchronize an iPhone's e-mail, calendars and contacts list with a Microsoft Exchange server, may get IT types all hot and bothered. But they're not what I deal with in my role as personal-tech columnist, outside of their ability to speed the iPhone's adoption in the market at large. Instead, I'd rather talk about the SDK.

This is an important step, because until now the only way to get third-party software on an iPhone was to "jailbreak" it with an unauthorized hack like the utility that I tested last summer. Apple had been able to defeat these hacks temporarily with each new iPhone software update, but it was fighting a losing battle--it had to find a way to welcome the creativity of other developers.

To judge from the coverage of Apple's presentation in Cupertino, Calif., yesterday, the company has done so with relatively few restrictions... in the context of the phone business. Third-party programmers will be able to access almost every feature of the iPhone, including the nifty internal sensors that allow the iPhone to know if it's being held horizontally or vertically. (For example, you could "fly" a spaceplane by moving the entire iPhone around like a Wii controller.)

But they will only be able to distribute their software to users through a new App Store run by Apple that won't accept certain categories of programs: "porn, privacy-breaching tools, bandwidth-hogging apps, and anything illegal as an example of the restrictions," as Macworld summarized. For example, Internet-phone-call programs can only run over WiFi, not the iPhone's EDGE over-the-air signal, and programs to unlock the iPhone's SIM card will be completely verboten.

Apple will charge a 30 percent commission for software sold through the App Store--but if developers offer a program for free, that commission will be zero.

Mac developers appear optimistic overall--see, for instance, John Gruber's analysis of the announcement--but there are some issues with Apple's deal for developers. TechCrunch's day-after musings note one of the odder limits on iPhone programming--the lack of multitasking outlined in Apple's developer guidelines:

Only one iPhone application can run at a time, and third-party applications never run in the background. This means that when users switch to another application, answer the phone, or check their email, the application they were using quits.

This is a strange restriction. Even Palm OS phones allow limited background activity--you can keep playing music while you do other things--and Microsoft's Windows Mobile software allows genuine multitasking. Google's Android software will too (when I visited the company's campus in January and asked Android director Andy Rubin where he thought other mobile-phone software fell short, he specifically cited multitasking, saying that phones did a poor job of allowing background applications to get your attention politely).

We'll just have to wait to see what kind of software developers can come up with--the App Store isn't open yet, and you'll apparently need a software update for your iPhone to enable it. In the meantime: What programs--or what kind of programs--do you want to see ship first?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 7, 2008; 12:06 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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Heh, that's funny:
"Apple will charge a 30 percent commission for software sold through the App Store--but if developers offer a program for free, that commission will be zero."

Of course the commission will be zero (30% of zero is zilch).


-- W.G.

Posted by: WG | March 7, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I think the 'no background processes' rule (which is not a 'no multitasking' rule) is intended to prevent/reduce memory leaks and, especially, the battery from being drained.

I'm definitely going to download the SDK this weekend.

Posted by: wiredog | March 7, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Even with the SDK, I won't be buying the iPhone until it can operate on the 3G network of any major wireless provider. Locking down the iPhone on the AT&T EDGE network may work for early adopters, but not for me.

Posted by: SSMD | March 7, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Well, the "no background processes" rule might intend to prevent or reduce memory leaks, but it sort of sucks.

Right now, the Facebook Web app cannot badge itself if, say, you have a message in your Facebook inbox. Apple's apps CAN (Text, Phone, Mail Touch).

Does this mean when AIM for iPhone is released, the AIM application can't sit in the background, waiting for someone to IM you? I could see how it might be set up to push the IM to a closed app on the phone, and a sort of system-alert message would pop up, but still.

What if I'm writing on someone's wall in Facebook, and the phone rings. When I answer it and end the call, will Facebook reopen and still have my half-written message in the box?

Posted by: Brendan West | March 7, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Hmm ... the fact that the SDK only runs on Macs sure makes me wish that I had a Mac handy.

This motivates me to get a MacBook Air for work or a Mac Mini for home. Either way, I'd run it in Windows most of the time, but it would be nice to run boot it on the Mac side to use the iPhone SDK.

Posted by: Jonathan Epstein | March 7, 2008 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Currently, two or more iPhone aps can be accessed simultaneously. For example, one can play music and use Safari to browse the Internet or check mail. If both aps use Edge, one waits while the other is in use. For example, one can read information from an open email or webpage to someone on the phone, but one cannot send or receive email or look at another already open webpage, but not actually open a new webpage. I think that there will be similar delaying tactics with third party aps. So, for example, AOL will bookmark where an IM session was and return to it after a call.

Posted by: Podesta | March 8, 2008 12:42 AM | Report abuse


As an iPod Touch owner, not happy that I'll have to pay for the privilege to buy SDK applications. Apple claims it's Sarbanes-Oxley & the Touch is accounted for as "one-time revenue" that requires a charge for any "new & unadvertised feature," but that's lame - see also iTunes 7.6.1 adding movie rentals to Macs, yet being free.

Posted by: bc | March 8, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

It will be interesting to see if the App Store and jailbroken iPhones can coexist. I'm hopeful.

Posted by: Michael Moretti | March 8, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I have been a Sidekick user since 2002 and the thing I love the most about this phone is it's perfect multi-tasking. There are customizable keyboard shortcuts to switch between web, mail, IM, phone, etc. There are "polite notifications" that appear along the top of the screen for incoming messages. AIM even saves a conversation for me until I am reconnected which means it works better on my sidekick than on my desktop as far as lost connectivity!

I will probably get an iPhone when my T-Mobile contract is up, but it will be a tough decision.

Posted by: Saraj | March 9, 2008 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Word processing and keyboard, perhaps Bluetooth, access.

Posted by: Lane | March 11, 2008 4:48 PM | Report abuse

In Austalia we have no provider yet and no iPhone release date so I have a 1.1.1 Jailbroken iPhone. I can't upgrade without losing the unlock but that's fine atm.

Once the upgrades happen and the AppStore opens there will be a big demand for an upgrade/unlock routine that will get the unlocked community up to speed and give us all the new features like Outlook sync plus access to the AppStore.

Unless the AppStore is only going to be accessible by locked phones .......

Posted by: Steve at Bondi | March 11, 2008 6:00 PM | Report abuse

oh great!...just when I learn that bizness is war, we get independent entities who can remotely delete my sales-teams' iphones' data-banks with the click of a mouse...just at the right?..or perhaps most inopportune moment?

--come to the dark side....we have cookies!


Posted by: edgy2 | March 11, 2008 6:03 PM | Report abuse

We have a lot of iPhone customers frustrated that they cannot digitally upload professionally recorded audio files for their voice greetings.

Fortunately, we have a work around. It is an Asterisk-based call attendant customers can use to play their voice greeting over the phone line and into their voice mailbox. This works on iPhones as well as any other phone system you can call into to change the voice greeting. Check it out at

Posted by: Greg Krantz | March 13, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

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