iPhone SDK release rumor roundup

According to an online report, sources say the forthcoming iPhone SDK — coming out this week — will feel the heavy hand of Cupertino. The software feature some heavy constraints by Apple in distribution and in support for hardware peripherals.

Apple iPod touch
According to an online report, sources say the forthcoming iPhone SDK — coming out this week — will feel the heavy hand of Cupertino. The software feature some heavy constraints by Apple in distribution and in support for hardware peripherals.

Apple announced the SDK release date last week.

The source of the latest speculation came from an iLounge story by Jeremy Horwitz. He said the event will tout enterprise applications for the iPhone but that the actual SDK won't be released until WWDC in June.

The most controversial aspect of Apple’s SDK plan is its intention to formally approve or deny all SDK-based software releases for its devices. Our sources confirm that Apple will act as a gatekeeper for applications, deciding which are and are not worthy of release, and publishing only approved applications to the iTunes Store; a process that will less resemble the iTunes Store’s massive directory of podcasts than its sale of a limited variety of iPod Games.

While one source saw this as a positive for major developers, suggesting that Apple will be choked by application submissions and forced to give priority to releases from larger companies, another source disagreed, stating that Apple’s current approval processes for third-party products have resulted in lengthy, needless delays. It is unclear whether Apple will need to approve subsequent bug fixes and feature additions to accepted applications, another issue that could clog the approval system and postpone important improvements.

Analyst Ross Rubin at NPD Group called this news "mixed, but again, no surprise." In his blog, he said the censorship by Apple may ensure a better user experience, while limiting choice.

We’ll have to see how heavy a hand Apple takes here, but it’s probably a safe bet that applications that impinge on potential Apple revenue streams, including Skype, instant messaging programs, and other music store clients, will be excluded. I wouldn’t expect a Windows Live Messenger client any time soon.

Apple is also reportedly limiting developers from connecting hardware peripherals to the iPhone via its dock. Rubin continued:

The most disappointing is that developers won’t be able to access iPod functions via the dock connector, scuttling or at least complicating accessories such as keyboards. This one is somewhat curious as Apple has certainly done well collecting fees for the iPod dock connector in peripherals for older iPods. So at least Apple has some motivation to open this up at some point.

However, developer John Gruber at Daring Fireball said security could be a component of this reported decision.

If it’s true that the dock connector is off-limits, that’s unfortunate, but also not surprising — clearly a big part of what Apple’s been working on in advance of this SDK are ways to sandbox applications for security and control of resources. (Expect “sandbox” to be an oft-repeated word.)

Applications don’t talk directly to hardware ports in Mac OS X, either. That’s the realm of kernel extensions and other device drivers. Apple could, in theory, be on the cusp of announcing a very liberal application SDK but which still wouldn’t allow for third-party hardware drivers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the SDK severely limits direct access to the file system, let alone direct access to the hardware.

A developer I spoke with said there wasn't much point in speculating on questions driven by a business model, since those can change very quickly. He added that the reason for the lateness of the SDK is that the entire iPhone/iPod Touch mobile strategy (and product) is half-baked. I have to agree with him.

We will see whether Horwitz's sources are correct about the timing of the SDK. Perhaps there will be more clarity in the summer about the next generation of the iPhone as well.

At the same time, the limitations on third-party hardware connecting with the dock port could be a platform consideration. Apple has a vision in mind for its mobile platform and that doesn't seem to be one with a lot of input.

The idea is that if mobile users want to create content, then they should use a platform made for creation: the MacBook Air, for example. And if they want to view or listen to content, then they have great choices for that.

I bought a keyboard for my Palm V back in the days. I used it a bit. And I know many people who entered a lot of data on that platform.

Still, I was messaging recently with a former Palm product manager who now is using an iPod Touch.

It's the first iPod I've ever purchased for myself, and ironically I almost never have earbuds connected (nor do I carry them with me). It's my pocketable email/contacts/calendar/web device, and I'm getting more productive use out of it than I ever did with a Palm device.

Ouch. Another switcher, I guess.