Apple seeds of discontent

How extendable is the new Apple iPhone? By this I mean open to modification and the addition of software packages. The iPhone comes with an email client, calculator, calendar, and can read (not write) Word documents and PDFs, but what about other sorts of apps that you can run on your desktop PC or Mac?

Well, er, it’s not good news, I’m afraid. The iPhone platform does not allow the addition of new applications. In fact, it’s even more closed than a normal computer. Much to the chagrin of software developers Apple is not allowing third parties to port (adapt) their applications to the phone.

This has understandably upset some developers as you can see from the questions asked in Steve Job’s conference interview I mentioned yesterday (at about 56 minutes). It is almost certainly going to upset users once they get over the excitement of simply using the new phone’s glossy interface.

Apple claims they have good reason to block third party developers: they need to be able to prevent other, potentially badly behaved, applications from crashing the phone. The more third party modifications and additions there are, the more likely it is that one of them, or the interaction between several of them, will upset the proverbial apple cart (excuse the pun).

In theory this should not matter as much as it used to since we are moving to a ‘service cloud’ application model, where users interact with software over the Internet through their Web browser. Well known examples include the Google Gmail client for email and Google Docs, which provides an online version of a word processing package.

This isn’t, however, quite the whole story as one example, highlighted by analyst Brett Arends, shows: the phone does not have Voice over IP installed.

VoIP would allow users to make free, or almost free, phone calls whenever they are in range of a WiFi connection. For example, the Nokia N800 looks set to feature a VoIP client that will allow users to make Skype calls over WiFi. I suspect that mobile phone companies, weighed down with the costs of licensing 3G spectrum, are not going to be wildly keen on this particular application being ported to the iPhone.

But surely we’ll soon be able to access VoIP through the service cloud? Well, apart from the fact that there are ethical issues around using applications from the service cloud (e.g. privacy and security), it is hard to implement VoIP this way as it currently requires access to the sorts of things that the operating system provides and which browsers are not normally allowed to access.

Apple does seem to be aware that the inability for developers to add new applications is an issue and seems to be trying to resolve it. As Jobs says in the video: “This is a very important trade off between security and openness. What we want is both…We are working through a way, we’ve got some pretty good ideas that we are working through.”

Whatever this will eventually mean, I’d bet a lunch that the issue of a VoIP application will run and run…


One Response to “Apple seeds of discontent”

  1. House of Lords 2.0 « Tech Lunch Says:

    […] reference to the issue of the ‘openness’ of Apple’s iPhone, which I discussed on this blog last month. The first section of chapter 4 looks at usability vs security and presents an argument, based on […]

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