iPhone – nice, but not for me

Being fairly interested in this whole mobile phone software thing, it’s pretty hard not to sit up and take notice of the iPhone SDK that was just announced. A few thoughts:

  • Of course it’s nice, polished, and lets you do some interesting things with the phone. That was not too surprising though.

  • The “investment fund” seems like something of a response to the Android Developer Challenge, and is certainly an interesting move on Apple’s part. Strategically, it certainly alters the focus of the money flowing into the equation. Comparing the two, the dollar amounts in the ADC are much smaller, but they are also more “concrete”: N people will get X dollars in time frame T. As an independent developer, that works fairly well for me as something to have a go at and then move on from, win or lose. An investment fund backed by Kleiner Perkins is on a whole different scale and level. The amount of money is huge (they won’t even bother with less than 100K), but who knows how that works out in practice, or how much of that is actually 100% committed to iPhone companies. KP aren’t the sort of people that are going to just hand that out to any old company that does an iPhone app. They’re also going to want to be involved in the companies, which means there won’t be too many of them. In short, it brings in all the good and bad aspects of venture capital. In short: in one corner, lots of money for relatively big, organized players, and in the other, small, quick incentives to do cool things that anyone has a shot at. We won’t really be able to judge the results until we see how it plays out. (As an aside, I still have some bad memories of the management that KP foisted off on Linuxcare).

  • The system for selling applications is smart. You will have one place to go to to get your apps, and as a user you’ll have some assurance that they’re up to certain quality standards. People will like that kind of thing, and is far nicer than anything JavaME ever had. Instead of multiple, fractured marketplaces, you get one big one. Of course, it also keeps Apple in control of everything, which also has some negative implications as well.

  • 37 Signals seem to be wildly ecstatic about Apple’s potential, but I’m a bit less sanguine. I don’t doubt that the iPhone has a bright future, that much is pretty obvious. However… dominate? First of all, if it’s so widespread, it loses some of its cachet, doesn’t it? I don’t think Apple wants that. I don’t see them licensing the system so that other phone manufacturers can use it, so it will only be adapted as widely as Apple sees fit. Cheaper Nokia models are very popular over here in Europe. Will iPhones at those price points (less than 100 euro) be available and competitive with Nokia’s offerings? Open and adaptable aren’t necessarily things that Apple is known for, which might be the difference between “strong presence” and “dominate”, as we saw with Mac vs Windows. Getting 10-15% towards the high end of the market might be what they aspire to, rather than ubiquity.

  • I could, however, very easily envision Apple getting into some kind of business niche and dominating that completely, as they did with education for a while. That might not extend to the broader market, though.

  • Moving on to other considerations, this one is important to me: apparently, according to the license agreement, you can’t run an interpreter that fetches code and executes it, amongst the various other restrictions! That’s kind of a deal breaker for Hecl, which counts that ability as one of its strengths. I don’t think a port was in the works in any case since Hecl is written in Java. Still, though, that’s the kind of annoying restriction that reaffirms my commitment to open source.

  • As an aside, I wonder what Sun is up to at this point – between this and Android, they have to be under enormous pressure to release a successor to Java ME, which was a good effort for its time, but is beginning to look dated and limited, even though it is very widely deployed.

I’m an open source guy at heart. I love openness and source code and the freedom to tinker… and while I’ll certainly give Apple their due for making some fine products, closed and controlled is simply not for me. Others may feel differently – it’s a matter of taste and preferences.

So for the moment, my efforts will be focused on Android, which I see as the best, most open thing out there at the moment.

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