According to Apple, "no software developer kit is required for the iPhone." However, the truth is that the lack of an SDK means that there won't be a killer application for the iPhone. It also means the iPhone's potential as an amazing computing and communication platform will never be realized. And because of this and no matter how Apple tries to sell it, the iPhone won't make a revolution happen.Steve Jobs initially sold the iPhone as the next revolution from Apple, just like the Mac was a revolution. While I have no doubt that it will change the concept of what we understand as a communication device this century, at this time I don't think it will be a revolution. Yes, the iPhone brings innovation and different ideas, just like the Mac did when it was introduced. The Macintosh, however, really broke the mold. The iPhone is just an intelligent and clean implementation of existing things.
Not a Revolution 2.0
The Mac did bring a revolution that changed the world. But it was not because of the Mac alone, but because other people created Pagemaker, Photoshop and Word. Not just because it was different from the old crap around it, but because it made new things possible. Software that came from other people's minds, not just Infinite Loop.
Unlike the Mac, the lack of an open iPhone SDK means that there are not going to be any third-party applications taking full advantage of the iPhone operating system. The iPhone will be limited to Apple's own creative force which, albeit formidable, is finite and will never be as varied and rich as having a million developers trying to make something new and unique.
So with no iPhone SDK there won't be any New Revolution. And this is bad because if there's any mobile platform that could make this happen, that's the iPhone. Unlike Windows Mobile, most of the power of Mac OS X is inside the phone, but developers will be limited to developing Web applications based on AJAX, a set of internet standards that make applications like GMail, Google Maps or FaceBook possible. The iPhone is the real thing, a complete UNIX-to-go with stunning graphic classes, and developers will be limited to Photoshop fakies.
The million-dollars question
Mind you, AJAX is great for what it does on the Web today, but is limited, complicated and hard to maintain. Furthermore, its power is limited. To see how powerful AJAX applications on the iPhone could be, a million questions will have to be answered this week. Questions like:
- Would I be able to access the iPhone databases from Safari and query them from my AJAX application? Looking at Jobs' stress on security, it doesn't look like this will be possible.
- Would I be able store data locally beyond cookies? Probably the same answer.
- How will these application perform over limited EDGE connections?
- How the connection will limit the interactive possibilities?
- How is the access to iPhone's hardware? Would I be able to access iPhone's hardware to connect to an infrared scanner via Bluetooth and create an amazing sales or logistics application?
Or perhaps the only that I want Apple to answer is this:
If AJAX is that good and the developers don't need an SDK, why has Apple built a dedicated Mail applications or Google Maps dedicated software into the iPhone? Why not just reformat the CSS on the Web and open a special view to .mac mail, Gmail or Google Maps made just for iPhone Safari users ?
I'm afraid the answer is very simple: because to do the cool stuff that iPhone's Maps do, you need to access all the cool Mac OS X classes the iPhone has. Period.
No real apps, really
Now, I'm sure that there will be great AJAX applications created for the iPhone, specially at the corporate level. But what is important here is that we won't have real apps. This is what Apple needs to make the iPhone not just great, but huge. A true revolutionary product. Otherwise, we will keep asking where are we going to find the killer apps that made the Mac what is today; where is the next Delicious Library-equivalent for the iPhone; where are the games. Just think about those, as Apple stresses its relationship with EA and id software. There's a great potential for games in the iPhone, which with multi-touch could be a Nintendo DS 2.0 in the making. Like Nintendo fans will tell you, a Flash game (which provides with even better flexibility than AJAX) is not a substitute for a real Wii game. And the next big games never come from the established big developers who may, at the end, be the only ones with access to the secret iPhone SDK at use in Apple.
So no SDK == no revolutionary apps, no real new concepts coming from third-parties, no eye-candy available for anyone but Apple and no possibility for some really crazy games that will fully exploit the graphic and multi-touch power of the iPhone.
In other words