Spoutin' Off: Apple is opening up iPhone for tweaking

By Michael Rau

March 24, 2008


Steve Jobs' latest progeny is advancing rapidly into adolescence, with advancements coming in leaps and bounds, so it seems like a good time to revisit the iPhone and poke our heads under the hood.

The biggest development has to be the release of the iPhone Software Developers Kit (SDK) earlier this month. These are the proprietary codesets that developers need to create their own applications for the iPhone.

What makes this especially significant isn't what may emerge in terms of applications for consumers, but rather those developed for enterprise users.

When the iPhone was originally introduced last year, many industry analysts dismissed the device as providing no advantage to the average business user over Blackberrys or Windows Mobile driven multi-purpose phones. Also, the proprietary nature of the device's software made it impossible to secure over business networks. Thus, it was predicted that enterprise users wouldn't embrace the iPhone in the same way as aficionados did.

Now, with the SDK providing developers with an avenue to create applications for business users, that may change. Gartner Research, one of the more respected firms for analysis of business trends, reversed its original recommendation from 2007 last week and now believes the iPhone could become a valuable tool for enterprise users.

According to a report in Information Week, Gartner determined that once all the technology is in place, the iPhone will be ready for use on corporate networks for accessing calendar and contact information, e-mail, and business applications.

They reported that among the most desirable corporate enhancements was support for Microsoft Exchange e-mail server (software maker SyBase has already announced it will add support for Exchange, as well as Lotus Notes, to its 'Anywhere Suite' by the first of next month), Cisco virtual private networks, and the WPA2 security standard for Wi-Fi connections.

With the sophistication of the iPhone's interface when compared to those of other so-called smart phones, and with the needs of enterprise users being met through third-party applications, the iPhone's evolution into a powerful business tool will open up a huge new market.

The news from the SDK front isn't all good, though.

According to Apple Insider, the agreement that Apple requires developers to accept “appears to restrict all code except that which relies on Apple's own programming interfaces to run, including those that run inside another third-party program's shell”.

This would seem to prevent development for the iPhone of such common applications as the Firefox and Opera browsers, Excel, and even some games, all because they use non-Apple-based scripting languages to operate. And if an application requires Java, it may never be compatible.

This restriction has also made integration of Flash into the iPhone problematic, although both Adobe and Apple report some progress in figuring out how to get Flash onto the device. This, in my opinion, is a critical lynchpin in advancing the iPhone's success as Flash is now easily the most ubiquitous streaming video format on the Internet.

Not surprisingly, pirate developers are already working furiously to do an end run around Apple's restrictions - something which surprisingly, Apple has expressed little objection to.

For the rest of consumers, there are plenty of developments in the pipeline to look forward to as well.

The first of these will come this summer with the release of version 2.0 of the iPhone's firmware. The larger part of this update won't be readily apparent as it's mostly enabling the porting for third-party apps. Since the SyBase Exchange support software will be public then, you'll be able at that point to access the Exchange server at your workplace with your iPhone. The Cisco-branded VPN system should also be available at that time.

More noticeable for non-enterprise users will be the addition of parental controls, allowing subjectively offensive content to be selectively blocked. Also, the on-board calculator gets a major upgrade with the addition of scientific functions.

According to the Website 'Engadget', which got hold of an early version of the 2.0 upgrade, there are also other obvious additions which are as yet undefined.

Two other things:

The first is that a recent patent filing from Apple, complete with drawings, indicates that the company is developing a clamshell-design phone. This might be the basis for the long-rumored iPhone 'Nano'.

The second is much larger, and is something that I touched on in my column on the iPhone from last July.

The iPhone currently operates on the older 2G standard for wireless communication, while most other smartphones operate on the faster, more robust 3G standard.

This is going to change soon. Although Apple has been coy about a timeframe for transition to 3G, some leaked documents indicate that the company may introduce their 3G iPhone as soon as September when the iPhone is due to be introduced in Singapore.

I plan to wait for the 3G iPhone to become available before I bite the bullet and buy one.

So if you own an iPhone, you'll appreciate the coming advancements. If not, you - like me - might want to wait until the 3G iPhone becomes available to the rest of us.


Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.


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