By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
March 15, 2008

Three days ago it seemed as though the world had finally opened up for would-be iPhone developers.

After eight months of pent-up demand, the pieces were in place to begin exploiting the new platform in earnest. Getting hold of the free software developers kit (SDK) was as simple as entering your iTunes name and password. The tools were powerful. The support was rich.

The programmers were “excited,” Apple’s PR department assured us more than once. On Wednesday, the company issued a press release to announce that an astonishing 100,000 copies of the SDK had been downloaded in just four days. Said Apple (AAPL) product marketing VP Phil Schiller: “Developer reaction to the iPhone SDK has been incredible.”

Developer reaction today is somewhat more muted. “The twitterati,” writes Erica Sadun at
, “are reporting widespread disappointment and anger,”

It turns out that it may be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a third-party developer to get into Apple’s iPhone Developers Program.

By week’s end, almost everyone who had downloaded the SDK and offered to pay the $99 ($299 for enterprises) to become an official iPhone or iPod touch developer had received Apple’s polite but firm rejection letter:

Dear Registered iPhone Developer, Thank you for expressing interest in the iPhone Developer Program. We have received your enrollment request. As this time, the iPhone Developer Program is available to a limited number of developers and we plan to expand during the beta period. We will contact you again regarding your enrollment status at the appropriate time. Thank you for applying.

What stings for the developers who got what reads like a pink slip is that they know Apple has already let its favorite partners under the tent. In addition to the companies that demoed at the March 6 event (EA, Salesforce, AOL, Epocrates, Sega) Apple quoted a quite a few more the press release (Intuit, Namco, Netsuite, PopCap, Rocket Mobile, Six Apart and THQ Wireless).

“The articles going around saying Apple is ‘stalling for time,’ implying that everyone is getting ‘rejection’ letters, are false,” writes David Schroeder, who manages Apple support at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a MacRumors Forum. “Select developers and enterprise customers are already included in these programs.”

One the bright side, he adds: “When June arrives and iPhone OS 2.0 is final and the App Store is rolled out, everyone will be able to participate in all developer programs. Also, to be clear, NO ONE has to wait to begin developing and testing their iPhone apps today. Anyone can download the iPhone SDK beta for free, and there is nothing stopping you from developing iPhone apps now.”

Well, not quite. Despite Schroeder’s assurances, U.S. developers have no guarantee they’ll ever be accepted into the program (developers outside the U.S. need not apply at this time). Meanwhile, without Apple’s blessings they are reduced to working on an iPhone or iPod touch simulator, unable to test the devices’ touch screen or accelerometer — key features for game developers.

Besides, who wants to be the second — or 100th — developer to introduce a particular kind of app, especially when the first to market has deep pockets and an inside track at Apple.

“In other news,” writes Daniel Jalkut to TUAW‘s Sadun

, “it looks like the Jailbreak Developer Program still has open slots, and people are getting approved as I type.”

You May Like