Friday, February 29, 2008

Steve's Phone

Back in Apple's Good Old Days (and I'd always said that the corporate motto should be "Not what it used to be since 1990"), Mac OS was a pretty open development environment. Apple put a lot of work into MPW and decent tools, and--even with abortive efforts like MacApp, now resurrected in zombie-like spirit as Android--there were lots of possibilities for developers. You could pretty much write what you liked, distribute it as you could, and--largely--do what you wanted.

Those days came to an end a good while ago, and they're apparently receding further if the report from iLounge on the imminent "iPhone SDK road map" is accurate. For my part, it seems not only believable, but in character, to me.

First, the only mechanism available for the distribution of applications is going to be the iTunes music store, and the only mechanism for installation of applications is going to be the iTunes desktop. (Is this sounding at all familiar...?)

Second, Apple is going to be guarding the Pearly Gates. You'll have to submit your application to Apple for its "Officially Steve-worthy" seal of approval in order to get it onto the iTunes store. Anyone who's ever tried to get their podcast into the iTunes directory can see the flaws in this notion.

Third, no access to "accessories", which if I understand it, means pretty much no actual access to the hardware. This makes an awful lot of interesting applications pretty much impossible.

Clearly, Apple is strongly motivated to tightly control what people can get on their iPhone, to the point of (in effect) voiding your warranty for installing "unapproved" stuff on the device. The main reason for that would likely be the apparent total lack of anything like a security model on the iPhone. Pretty much everything has, so far, run as root (!), so any sort of mayhem is potentially possible. It's kind of amazing that some level of meaningful security (other than gluing the case shut) wouldn't have been designed in from the beginning on this sort of device.

This will unquestionably hamper development for the iPhone. Good news for the partisans of more open systems, bad news for the early-adopting line-standers. Good news for developers, ultimately, I think they'll be looking around for greener pastures for their efforts. Happily, greener pastures should be coming onto the market shortly.

As for you iPhone owners, it shouldn't come as a surprise. Did you think that was your phone? Not at all: it's Steve's phone, he just lets you use it. And pay for the privilege.

Steve is good. Steve is wise. Drink your Kool-Aid.