RealTime IT News

Apple Reverses on Third-Party iPhone Apps

Apple is making an abrupt about-face on its policy regarding iPhone applications, announcing yesterday that it will release a software developer's kit for the device early next year.

The SDK, which will also support the iPod Touch, will allow third-party software developers to develop and deploy their own applications for the devices.

"Let me just say it: We want native third-party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers' hands in February," Jobs said in a statement on Apple's Web site. "We are excited about creating a vibrant third-party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users."

An Apple spokesperson said that the company was sharing no further details of the plans for the SDK at this time. But even the limited news was welcomed by application developers, whose access to the iPhone platform thus far has been limited to developing browser-based applications.

Apple's announcement comes after almost a year of complaints from software developers and widespread hacking of the iPhone to allow it to accept third-party applications.

"It's not a shock, but it seems like a reversal," said Shaun Parvez, analyst at Cowen & Company. "I wouldn't be surprised if some of the reason for this came from two competitors introducing touch-screen phones in the US market."

Sprint Nextel and High Tech Computer Corp unveiled their Touch smartphone yesterday. Verizon Wireless also recently announced that it would offer two touch-screen phones from LG Electronics, the Voyager and Venus.

"This is definitely a positive move," said Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research. "To have native support, I think, is key. There's always a trade off in security when you open up development, so doing this and still keeping [the iPhone] secure, that's the challenge. But it's definitely a step in the right direction."

Security was clearly on Jobs' mind as well. "It will take until February to release an SDK because we're trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once -- provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc.," he wrote. "This is no easy task ... As our phones become more powerful, these malicious programs will become more dangerous. And since the iPhone is the most advanced phone ever, it will be a highly visible target."

Jobs pointed to Nokia's latest phones as an example of how it might proceed. The cell phone giant's recent products require applications to be digitally signed by their developers before they can be loaded onto them.

"We believe this is a step in the right direction," Jobs said.

Apple's efforts to prevent unauthorized applications on the iPhone have been occasionally bypassed by device hackers, who are seeking not only to support third-party applications, but to modify the phone to work on cellular networks besides AT&T.

The company has moved aggressively against users who use Jailbreak and other tools to circumvent the phone's security. On Sept. 27, the company's firmware upgrade disabled phones that had been hacked to accept unapproved third-party applications or support other cellular networks.

Those efforts may have caused more problems than they solved, however. Last week, a California lawyer filed a class-action suit against the company over the firmware update.