In-Depth Coverage: Apple reveals details of their much awaited iPhone SDK

iPhone SDK event

Apple today revealed exciting details of how developers can develop official native iPhone Applications for the iPhone at the much awaited special event today at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino.

Developers will be able to develop applications using the same native APIs and tools that Apple has used to build iPhone apps i.e. using the same SDK as Apple engineers use.

You can find the in-Depth details about the iPhone’s SDK and what it means for developers and more importantly for you as iPhone users after the jump.

About the iPhone SDK?

As mentioned earlier, Apple has announced that they will be giving developers access to the same APIs that its engineers used for development of the original iPhone applications.

As you would expect iPhone’s Core OS uses the same kernel as Mac OS X in a scaled-down, power-optimized version and the accessible features to a developer using APIs would be:

  • Core Animation
  • OpenGL in an iPhone-optimized edition
  • Core Audio
  • SQLLite

Based on the information we have currently it does not appear that the iPhone platform is limited as speculated by many in the blogosphere so kudos for Apple for keeping it as open as possible.

What are the tools available to developers?

Developers will have a comprehensive set of tools to help create and debug applications. Developers can use Xcode as source code editor with code-complete for the APIs, it has been enhanced to support the iPhone and knows all about the iPhone SDK.

It also integrates directly with source control management system, subversion, cvs and integrates with iPhone SDK documentation as well.

Developers will also have a tool called Interface Builder which one can use to build the iPhone application’s interface. The tool includes complete library of iPhone interface assets so you can just drag and drop them onto the canvas for UI design.

How can Developers debug iPhone applications?

Xcode like most source code editors has a debugger and can also be used as a remote debugger. All a developer needs to do is plug an iPhone in, run the app live on your iPhone, and debug it from your Mac.

The other cool thing is that developers will be able to simulate the entire API stack on your computer on a new tool called iPhone Simulator so you will be able to debug the iPhone application you have developed right on your computer.

When will the SDK be available?

The iPhone software development kit (SDK) for the iPhone is available to developers starting today as a free download. You should be able to download it from Apple’s iPhone Development center (link here).

However, the iPhone 2.0 firmware update which will allow end-users to run iPhone applications and includes the enterprise features will be released as a free update only in June for iPhone users and at a nominal cost for iPod Touch users.

Will the developer be able to distribute their official iPhone applications?

Apple has announced a new program called "App Store" which will be added to the iPhone in the next software update. App Store will be the platform to wirelessly deliver the official iPhone applications to iPhone users.

Does it cost the iPhone Developer anything?

Yup, developers will need to join the iPhone developer program for $100 which includes technical support, code testing and more importantly is required for them to distribute their official iPhone Applications through the App Store. An Enterprise program costs $299 per year.

Can iPhone Developers charge for their Applications?

Absolutely, developers will be able to set their price for applications, but Apple will take a 30% cut of revenues. However, Apple will take care of the hosting, credit card transactions, etc on behalf of the developer.

Developers can also distribute applications for free and Apple will not charge developers for it.

Is there any roadblocks to be an iPhone Developer?

Apple has announced that only a limited number of developers will be accepted into Apple’s new iPhone Developer Program. This could be due to resource constraints in screening the developers
as well as testing the iPhone applications for any malicious stuff. They haven’t provided the criteria on which they will be making the selection.

Any technical limitations?

Those still using PowerPC machines: if you want to develop for iPhone, you’ll not only need Leopard, but an Intel-based Mac to run the SDK.

As iPhone user what iPhone Applications can you expect?

Apple got some big name third party developers to demo applications and games which in most cases was developed in as little as 2 weeks of development effort using the iPhone SDK, so you can expect just about anything under the sun (or at least thats what I am hoping).

  • Electronic Arts demoed Spore.
  • SalesForce.com demoed their SFA app.
  • AOL demoed AIM, the most popular IM service in the US as a native iPhone application.
  • Epocrates demoed Drug monographs on the iPhone.
  • Sega showed off the Super Monkey Ball as an iPhone application.

Steve Jobs even hinted that there could be an official third party VOIP applications for the iPhone but only if they are developed to work over Wi-Fi.

Can we expect some of the unauthorized iPhone applications in the App Store?

The iPhone hacking geniuses will have to re-code their unauthorized iPhone applications to use the API’s available in the SDK. However, it ultimately depends on Apple as they have the right to reject an iPhone application if they believe its malicious. Engadget were quite sneaky when they asked Steve Jobs if the SIM unlock software will be available in the App Store and it was a categorical "No".

How does Apple plan to build in security to prevent malicious programs?

Apple admits that this is one of their big concerns, so iPhone developers will need to get an electronic certificate so that they can be tracked.

Does the iPhone SDK mean an end to the unauthorized iPhone applications or jailbreaking?

I don’t believe that its the end to Jailbreaking or for the unauthorized iPhone applications for the following reasons:

  • iPhone users will still want to unlock their iPhone at least until Apple goes with exclusive carriers and is not available across the world.
  • iPhone users will want to use applications such as VOIP working even on Edge or applications which go beyond the limitation of the iPhone SDK. I guess it is still early days to figure out the limitations of the SDK and the impact it will have.
  • The other critical factor would be pricing, if there is an application out there for a fee as opposed to an unauthorized iPhone application available for free, there will definitely be some iPhone users that will prefer the free option especially those who are technically inclined.
  • The fact that the number of developers will be limited will also be a reason for an enterprising developers to make their iPhone application available via the jailbreaking method.

Any other interesting details?

Premiere VC firm, KPCB, have announced a fund called iFund for the iPhone platform to essentially fund start-ups that develop applications for the iPhone.

So to conclude….

Today’s announcement by Apple is indeed historic, the iPhone SDK is a game changer and its safe to say will be one of the best platforms for mobile devices if not the best (we will have to see if Google will beat Apple in the race with Android as the best platform for mobile devices, but my vote goes for Apple).

However, the most important thing about the SDK is that it is great for iPhone users as it means that the bar will be lowered at least technically for most of them to install third party application as quite a few unauthorized third-party iPhone applications currently are only for the technically inclined. But all this would be for a price in case of some official third-party iPhone applications.

We can also expect some great iPhone applications thanks to the tools that are now available to the developer and since it is official we can expect all big names in the Application development space to develop applications for the iPhone.

Initiatives like the iFund by premiere VC firm, KPCB, with a corpus of $100 million is a great opportunity and incentive for developers to develop revolutionary applications for the iPhone.

I can’t wait for June when iPhone Firmware 2.0 will be launched with the great enterprise features and not to forget the "App Store" for us to download the official iPhone applications.

You can also check out the streaming video of today’s event here.

Also check out In-Depth Coverage of Apple’s iPhone Software Development Kit – Part 2.

[Special thanks to folks at Engadget for Live Blogging from Apple’s special event]

 

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