What the iPhone SDK means for open source

What the iPhone SDK means for open source

Summary: It means the absolute device control AT&T and the other U.S. carriers have exercised must give way. It means that the iPhone is not a phone, and that's what its competitors, such as the coming GPhone, will be as well.

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Apple iPhoneIn a purely technical sense, news that Apple will offer an iPhone software development kit and allow third-party applications is not an open source story.

This is still a proprietary platform.

But with this move Jobs is admitting that the iPhone is a computer platform, thus subject to computer rules, and that is an important move.

It means the absolute device control AT&T and the other U.S. carriers have exercised must give way. It means that the iPhone is not a phone, and that's what its competitors, such as the coming GPhone, will be as well.

So what we have is a tipping point, from mobile voice to mobile data. One that will change public attitudes. While people can accept "it's the network" as an excuse for maintaining voice reliability, they know better when it comes to data.

They have the Internet, the "network of networks," not (supposedly) under any one carrier's control, offering fixed monthly service pricing, a comparative gob of bandwidth, with voice as just one of many low-bandwidth applications.

Consumer demand is going to move in this way. Apple's decision was really defensive, a way to forestall bigger market share losses to Google.

So far AT&T's contract concessions have been minimal, and the phone has been highly profitable, grabbing market share from rival T-Mobile,  forcing Sprint into a limp response, putting pressure on Verizon.

But as mobile service is increasingly defined by the device makers, and mobile devices are increasingly data-driven, can the carriers retain their monopoly control? I doubt it.

In a way, Apple and Google are playing a good-cop, bad-cop routine on the carriers, with Apple as the good cop (you don't want to be sued) and Google as the bad cop (we're just going to ignore you).

On TV, suspects who are subjected to this routine eventually crack. Will the carriers? 

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Open Source

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21 comments
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  • Apple is probably realizing that the GPhone will be out soon, and they need

    to open up. It is interesting that Eric Schmidt is on both boards.
    DonnieBoy
    • Not that surprising

      [i]It is interesting that Eric Schmidt is on both boards[/i]
      Not that surprising
      Google "keeps it's friends close, but it's enemies closer"
      John Zern
    • I doubt if Apple is concerned abut the gPhone.

      Steve Jobs always intended a SDK, but he had time constraints. He had to jerk his
      programmers from finishing Mac OSX 10.5 Leopard to get the iPhone software
      ready. The iPhone OS isn't finished either. It was completed enough for a phone
      but not for a handheld computer.

      Now that Leopard has been announced then the programmers can go back to the
      iPhone. Both use the same operating system. The iPhone has features removed
      that it doesn't need and a few more features added. The display is driven by Core
      Animation.

      I seriously doubt that the gPhone will be much competition.
      UrbanBard
      • Still, if he can get it out before Google, there will be developers

        already developing for the iPhone. That is a huge advantage.

        And, until we really know what gPhone is, hard to say too much. I wonder if Steve knows what the gPhone will be since Eric sits on his board. Or does Eric have to leave the room when the board discusses the iPhone? I would not be surprised if Eric eventually has to leave the Apple board if they end up competing too much.
        DonnieBoy
        • I suspect that the markets are different for each.

          Apple is not promoting the iPhone for current Smart Phone users. The gPhone
          probably will.

          I have no statistics, but it seems reasonable that the bulk of the iPhone buyers
          currently have a cheap "feature" phone. Since they are 90% of the mobile phone
          market that is the people to sell to. It is they who want easy-to-use mobile phones.
          The Smart Phone buyers like to have all the bells and whistles, buttons and gadgets.
          Most ordinary people don't.
          UrbanBard
          • I would be that Google will target the average hip user though. They want

            the mass market, not the elite looking for a lot of complicated features. But, more than anything the gPhone will work great with Google web properties like Google Maps. Also look for the gPhone to have built in GPS as that will be a big help in providing advertisements targeted to location. And, the other thing is that Google will NOT care about making money on the phone, they could even sell it for a loss like the game industry, and make up for it on targeted advertising sales.

            Or, will the gPhone just be a reference design with software stack, for others to implement?
            DonnieBoy
          • I wish mobile phone buyers were that predictable.

            I'm certain that most of them don't want Smart Phones,
            because they would have one already. They aren't geeks:
            They don't want all the bells and whistles. They may want
            the features of a Smart Phone, but without it being so
            complicated. That is where the iPhone shines.
            UrbanBard
  • if you want open look at nokia

    If you want an open eco system, look at nokia's efforts, they've got some very nice stuff, including source code in the wide open. Heck, i can even run a webserver on my Nokia .....
    tombalablomba
    • Evidently not that many people care about "open"

      since Nokia is sitting at about a 30% customer satisfaction rating and the iPhone is at a rather surprising 82% according to the latest figures at changewave.com?

      Go figure...
      MarcB_z
      • Yes, people would rather have "good" than "open."

        Don't get too political on us. Proprietary software can satisfy the customers needs.
        Apple isn't Microsoft; the two companies have different goals.
        UrbanBard
  • I don't think it is being defensive

    I can only imagine that this was Apple's strategy all along. Why use OS X at all if they weren't planning on opening it up from the very beginning? Otherwise they would simply have used an iPod OS approach. Obviously they wanted to get something to market but still had some issues to deal with before putting out the SDK. This isn't a "reaction", just the timed unfolding of a master plan.
    MarcB_z
  • Open devices will come

    The big carriers are in fierce competition with each other. In order to win market share, they will have to differentiate themselves. Open devices will be one way to do that and it will happen.

    Personally, I think most people want low prices and good coverage. Open devices wont really matter but they will be there for those who want them.
    otaddy
    • Agreed to some extent

      Price is less important to people who really want function, but coverage is certainly critical.

      Evidently "ease-of-use" ought to figure in somewhere and the iPhone seems to be making most of its owners happy on that count, at least 82% of them...
      MarcB_z
      • It's the carriers that are a mess.

        They use incompatible technologies. That is why an unlocked iPhone cannot work on
        Verizon. The next step to G3 for AT&T is HSDPA. A new Broadcom chip HSDPA was
        announced yesterday, but that is just half the problem; the carriers have to up grade
        to HSDPA service and that will be slow with the cities first. I don't expect a G3 iPhone
        for a year.
        UrbanBard
        • This is indeed part of the problem

          When digital cellular first appeared, U.S. regulators allowed carriers to compete on the basis of technology, rather than "choosing winners." Europe and Asia, on the other hand, chose to mandate use of GSM technology, and both have a more open market as a result. T-Mobile, by the way, is a GSM network.
          DanaBlankenhorn
          • Asia also uses CDMA

            Europe specified open phones because it made it easier to deal with the multiple networks in the multiple countries that make up Europe. Likewise, since GSM was developed in Europe, they forced everyone to use it---cant have any open competition here--the govt knows best.

            But European systems are less open than in the US and Korea as Europe forces GSM on everyone while the US and Korea allow multiple network technologies.

            GSM works well but next generation networks use more of the CDMA spread spectrum solutions than anything from GSM.
            otaddy
          • Sorry but Europe is far more competitive

            Because you can take your phone with you, Europe is a much more competitive mobile environment than the U.S. Check the prices.
            DanaBlankenhorn
  • RE: What the iPhone SDK means for open source

    What's unbelievable is that Apple still tries to blame a late SDK on worries that an app would bring down the carrier network.

    That excuse does not explain why they didn't have major and minor companies port Flash, Skype, Slingbox, etc already.

    So no, they didn't have plans to open up to third parties before now. Something has pushed them into it.

    Perhaps watching HTC sell almost as many of their WM Touch devices as the iPhone did, in the same amount of time, opened their eyes. Perhaps it was Nokia announcing a touch UI to come soon. Probably a combo of all that, Google, falling sales and constant bashing by the media over it.
    kdarling
    • That seems reasonable

      The entire competitive environment no doubt caused Apple to take this decision, and to risk AT&T's ire thereby. Reporters like to identify just one threat (Google) but there are several players out there.
      DanaBlankenhorn
    • Steve Jobs never preclude Third Party apps.

      It was the hackers who jumped to that conclusion.

      Why did Steve Jobs wait until the day after Leopard 10.5 was
      announced? It's because the iPhone uses OS X 10.5 technologies like
      Core Animation. Apple had two problems: it had to get Leopard out the
      door before the Programmers could go back to fixing the iPhone. The
      iPhone was still a work in progress. It was good enough for a phone,
      but not for a handheld computer.
      UrbanBard