Founder and Publisher, iClarified
Published: December, 23, 2007
Last Update: January 3, 2008
The release of the iPhone came with some dismaying news to developers. The iPhone was closed to third party programmers. Apple had not, and insisted it would not, release a SDK for the revolutionary phone.
The outcry from developers, users, bloggers, and news outlets leads to the question, "Why was the iPhone released as a closed platform?". Even more intriguing is why Apple changed their mind. "Why did Apple decide to open the iPhone?".
We don't know the exact reasons for Apple's initial decision; however, there are many possibilities.
First, with a closed SDK Apple maintains a monopoly on the sale of all software for the iPhone. Clearly a benefit to their bottom line. Historically, once a solid platform has been created it is easy to sell software. Take the Sony and Nintendo gaming platforms for instance.
Second, Apple has a reputation for the simplicity and functionality of their software and hardware. Opening the iPhone to third parties could lead to a poor user experience and reduce the consistent feel of Apple products.
Third, since applications are closely tied into the functions of the phone it is theoretically possible that a poorly designed application could have some detrimental affect on the cellular network. Steve has been quoted as saying "Cingular doesn't want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up."
Fourth, Apple thought it had provided a suitable means for third party expansion via the web platform of Safari. In fact it created the iPhone Dev Center to appease programmers desires to code for the iPhone.
Fifth, Apple does not want to become dependent on third party applications. Third parties will always act in their own interests and these may not coincide with Apple's.
Sixth, providing an API or SDK inevitably causes headaches. Apple more so than most companies is constantly releasing updates and improvements to their products. This is probably somewhat of a marketing initiative but also a necessity. If third party applications were permitted Apple would have a very difficult time making sure that its future updates didn't break third party applications. If a firmware update renders a user's applications useless Apple could have a serious problem.
All these reasons for a closed platform brings us back to the same question. Why did Apple abandon all these reasons it stood firmly behind? "Why did Apple decide to open the iPhone?" In an Apple Hot News entry Steve Jobs did 180 degree turn and proclaimed, "We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers hands in February."
Again we don't know the exact reasons why Apple changed its mind; however, there are some obvious reasons.
First, Apple has done its best to keep producing firmware updates that will break the iPhone jailbreak. It has not succeeded. Programmers have been successfully able to work their way around every firmware release to date. What this means is that third party applications are being developed for the iPhone already. They are not using a proper SDK and are not officially supported but they are there. If Apple really is concerned about the look and feel of their product, the danger to cellular networks, the perceived iPhone reliability and possible iPhone damage then clearly a closed system is not superior. By opening the phone to developers Apple can create a safe environment for programmers and users alike. They will also be able to manage this environment to protect their own interests.
Second, it is my belief that the iPhone Web Apps concept did not take as well with consumers as hoped. While Apple believes that "the web is the new SDK" users haven't quite reached that point yet. There are still limitations in web applications. The iPhone, while supposedly Web 2.0 compliant, does not run some of the most popular Web 2.0 applications. And, let's not forget that to use any of these applications you must be connected to the Internet.
Third, Apple touts itself as a leading innovator in hardware and software. It declared the iPhone the phone of the future. How can the phone of the future not be capable of installing third party applications? How is Apple better than the monopoly it looks down on? Companies like Microsoft and and Nokia realized the iPhone's closed platform is a weakness they could punish Apple for. Nokia launched an entire website highlighting the openness of its phones. They declared "We believe the best devices have no limits." Microsoft followed the same strategy and marketed Windows Mobile saying, "We think the best approach is to create a sound platform and allow partners to extend that platform." Surely Apple can't afford to give its biggest competition such a large marketing advantage.
I'm sure there are even more reasons involved in Apple's decision to finally open the iPhone. Personally, I am happy they finally succumbed to the pressure.
Mac OS X is a great operating system; however, it is the numerous applications created by third party developers that makes it amazing. Likewise, Apple has a great mobile device in the iPhone, but now the time has come for developers to make it something amazing!