Apple iPhone Apps Platform: Total Control Or Tiered Security? (AAPL)

The good news: Apple will soon be supporting third-party iPhone apps, which we’ll hear plenty about during Steve Jobs’ iPhone press event this Thursday. The bad news: Apple’s stamp of approval could be the most restrictive in the smartphone industry.

Apple news site iLounge reports some details — many of which have been speculated since last fall: Apple will require developers to distribute their apps via iTunes, and developers won’t be able to write software that works with iPhone hardware accessories.

Most important, Apple will act as a gatekeeper, formally approving or denying all software releases for the iPhone. How does that compare to other smartphone operating systems? Our understanding:

  • Symbian has a few different levels of security via its Symbian Signed program: “Certified signed” apps are vetted by independent auditors to make sure they are safe to work on mobile networks. “Express signed” apps require a developer to sign up for a ID — to track who wrote the app in case it does something bad — and aren’t checked for quality. “Open signed” apps are basically test programs. They display a security warning when installed, and Symbian keeps a ceiling on the number of phones that can download them as an additional safety measure.
  • Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows Mobile platform requires developers to “sign” their apps with a unique ID so they can track harmful software. (Or else, apps could be blocked from running.) So does Research In Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry, if your app uses certain APIs. Both platforms allow developers to distribute whatever they want.
  • Palm’s (PALM) PalmOS is wide open. Anyone can develop/install anything.
  • Google’s (GOOG) Android OS is in beta. But it seems to be pretty wide open, too.

If Apple’s platform is as gated as iLounge reports, it could limit the amount of software that people write for the iPhone.

But iPhone hackers have already found a way around the gadget’s security: Plenty of third-party apps are already available for the phone, without Apple’s permission. We assume that the market for “unofficial” iPhone apps — and apps rejected by Apple’s (AAPL) quality-control system — will continue to fluorish.

Meanwhile, Daring Fireball author John Gruber has another idea: Tiered security.

One announcement I expect is that access to the SDK will be tiered, and that one such tiering will be for network access: Wi-Fi for all, EDGE [cellular data] for only a privileged few, most likely very few indeed. The reasons for this are obvious, but I suspect won’t stop The Internet from proclaiming the SDK doomed from the start.

See Also:
Apple: We Don’t Care About Unlocked iPhones
Apple Affirms 10 Million iPhones, Says “Nuts” to Wall Street Bears
iPhone Sales Stunted? No, Apple Can Still Hit 10mm
Apple: iPhone Software Kit Coming March 6
Steve Jobs: Frequent Flier
Apple’s “Useless” iPhone Takes 3rd Place In Q4

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