Reports: Apple Set to Open Up the iPhone (Within Limits)

October 5, 2007, 11:15 AM UTC

Apple (AAPL) won no friends among the developers of third-party iPhone applications — or the users who downloaded them — when it wiped them all out with software update 1.1.1. But with the release of Leopard (the next major upgrade of the company’s flagship Macintosh operating system) only three weeks away, there are signs that Steve Jobs may be set to open the iPhone up to outside programmers — or at least those who agree to obey his rules.

The iPhone was open to third-party software from day one, of course, as long as coders stuck to writing within the confines of the Safari development environment and didn’t try to write so-called “native” apps — a restriction that some hackers took as an invitation to crack the thing open on their own terms.

Now Cleeve Nettles of
, an Apple rumor site with a pretty good iPhone track record, reports on a burst of behind-the-scenes activity in Cupertino involving a chosen group of developers with close ties to the company. He writes:

Apple has been furiously working with their partners on games and applications for the iPhone/iPod and the standardized Human-Interface Controls that will go along with them. For instance, EA [ERTS, purveyor of Madden NFL, NBA Live, etc.] is currently porting their iPod lineup to the OSX iPod/iPhone platform to be sold along side the classic iPod OS versions. Other big developers with strict confidentiality agreements are also on board. (link)

According to Nettles, Apple is seeking to replicate the development model T-Mobile pioneered with its Sidekick, where developers who have applications the company thinks its customers might want and can demonstrate that they are compatible and don’t interfere with other apps are given the keys to the kingdom and allowed to distribute them through T-Mobile’s integrated payment system. Apple has reportedly hired some people from Danger (the company that built the SidekickOS) to help design the architecture of its own software testing and distribution system.

This jibes with Carl Howe’s advice to would-be iPhone developers, posted yesterday on the Blackfriars’ Marketing blog:

Wait for the Leopard Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard release later this month before you write off the iPhone platform. Apple hasn’t shipped an SDK [software developers kit] yet, not because Apple is evil, but because the iPhone is a Leopard device. (link)

“I have heard from developers,” Howe continues, “that applications of all types are being held for the Leopard release. Why? Because they rely on either foundational data structures or features (typically Core Animation, but there are others); you can read about one rumored example here.”