Reporter's Notebook: Apple's iPhone SDK rollout

Apple rolls out its iPhone SDK and prepares to take on the enterprise with its mobile platform. To help get the ball rolling, a $100M venture fund will invest in iPhone applications.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

Cupertino — After the announcement of iPhone support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync services, and after the testimony by software developers — most of whom had never used a Macintosh or an iPhone — about the ease of coding with the new iPhone SDK, and after Apple CEO Steve Jobs had run down the details of the iPhone App Store, which will be the only place to download native iPhone applications, it was time for the traditional "one more thing ..." that would wrap up the launch proceeding.

But this time the "extra" announcement wasn't from Jobs, rather, from John Doerr, the Silicon Valley legendary venture capitalist and partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Doerr took the stage and hugged Jobs.

He said the group was forming iFund for the iPhone, a $100 million fund to promote iPhone applications.

"New platforms are very rare, but they can be transformational if they are about great products with robust APIs, powerful distribution, outstanding entrepreneurs, and usually, a little help from VCs. We gave a lot of thought into what size should be the iFund ... We decided that it should be $100M — that should be enough to start about a dozen Amazons and maybe 4 Googles."

He called the Mac and the iPod, two platforms. But the iPhone could overshadow them all, Doerr said.

"Today, we're witnessing history: that's the launching of the SDK, the creation of the third great platform, the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Think about it. What the iPhone is all about is in your pocket, you have something that's broadband, and connected all the time. It's persona, it knows who you are and where you are. That's a big deal, a really big deal. It's bigger than the personal computer."

"So, [iFund] is about this great opportunity. But more than the money, it's really about the people, the entrepreneurs, it's about the great team at Apple, and most of all it's about the great talent that we can recruit together and go build these amazing companies."

It was a strong endorsement, and no doubt appreciated by Apple brass in the audience who must be smarting after months of reassuring the market that the sky isn't falling when the company's stock price has dropped over 35 percent over the past few months.

Here are some observations from the event:

The architecture and APIs of the iPhone SDK are very similar to the Mac OS X's as are the tools. The framework layers will be familiar to any Mac programmer:

•Cocoa Touch, the graphical UI application framework, which also includes APIs for multi-touch events and the accelerometer built into the iPhone and iPod Touch;

•Core OS, the primary hardware layer, including power management, Keychain access, file system services, networking, and security. Scott Forstall, vice president of iPhone software, said the iPhone uses the same kernel as its Mac OS X cousin, albeit optimized for mobile applications.

•Core Services, which include APIs for the SQL Lite database, file access, address book data and location services; and Media Layer, which supports APIS for Core Audio, Open GL ES graphics acceleration, Open AL 3D, video playback, Apple's Quartz 2D rendering engine, Core Animation, and support for graphics file formats but not Flash).

Apple arranged for some enterprise, vertical market and consumer developers to try out the SDK for a couple of weeks. The coders were brought on stage to demonstrate the results of the programming and describe the experience. Some had never used a Mac or Apple's Xcode 3.x framework, which is Apple's approved platform for iPod development.

The demonstrations included a version of the AOL Instant Messenger client, Electronic Arts' Spore game, a Salesforce.com CRM client, a clinical pharmacological reference client, and a Sega game.

iPhone as a game platform. A number of demonstrations took advantage of the iPhone's built-in accelerometer, OpenGL ES graphics accelertation, and OpenAL audio APO for effects.

Ethan Einhorn, a programmer at Sega, showed a version of the Super Monkey Ball game. He said the iPhone quality wasn't like a typical cell phone game, instead, it offered full console quality. This was unexected he said, and he needed to fly a graphic artist into Cupertino to improve the graphics for the demonstration.

The Sega game as well as other demonstrations used the 3-axis sensor as a controller. For example, in Super Monkey Ball, users controlled the game by tilting the iPhone. In another, a graphics program let users clear changes by shaking the iPhone, much like an Etch-a-Sketch.

"For me, I'm a hard-core gamer, so it was really tough for me to wrap my brain around the idea of not playing with analog sticks. But after two weeks with the iPhone, it will be very hard for me to go back to playing with a traditional controller."

Vertical market clients. Glenn Keighley of Epocrates, the developer of a point-of-care mobile reference also appreciated the power of the device as well as the Xcode IDE and the Cocoa Touch graphical IDE.

He said over his 8 years of mobile development, "developing for the iPhone is like developing for no other mobile platform. It's a sensation of developing for a stronger, almost desktop-like application."

The client leveraged the iPhone's "enhanced screen resolution to show pill images for the first time on any mobile platform." Doctors used a picker to determine what pills patients might be taking. The iPhone would allow doctors to see clear, high-resolution images of the medicines.

Limitations. Not all applications will be welcome at the iPhone App Store, Jobs said. The short list of bad categories included porn, (anti)privacy, bandwidth hogs, malicious and illegal software. So that porn, illegal drugs P2P application may be out of luck.

VOIP applications will be okay but only if they work over WiFi but not over the cellular network, Jobs said.

Exchange ActiveSync Support. Jobs mentioned last month's RIM BlackBerry outage several times in the SDK launch. Responding to a question on relative RIM vs. iPhone performance, Jobs said, "performance really slows down when the NOC [network operations center] goes down."

The iPhone and iPod Touch will support only one Exchange account for ActiveSync but will let users connect to other calendars and mail accounts.

In the Q&A session following the presentation, Forstall said Apple would offer specific configuration tools for enterprise and RIM migration, including Profiles, a mechanism that can dynamically-create VPN settings, certificates and profiles, which will then be automatically downloaded to configure the iPhone.

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