Third-party apps are officially coming to Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch early next year. Steve Jobs writes today that Apple plans to release a software development kit for its gadgets next February. Until now, developers were limited to writing iPhone apps that ran in the phone’s Web browser — or relying on a hack to put more complex apps on the device.
The iPhone’s inability to run official third-party apps has been one of its most criticised features, even inspiring an attack-ad campaign by rival Nokia. What is taking Apple so long to open up? Security, Jobs says: “…we’re trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once—provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc.”
One initial caveat: Jobs’ definition of “open” is still unlikely to satisfy the most ideological of his critics, who want the ability to install whatever they’d like on his machines. That won’t happen. Jobs notes that Nokia itself won’t allow third-party apps unless they have a “digital signature” that IDs the app’s creator. Expect something along those lines from Apple as well, he says:
While this makes such a phone less than “totally open,” we believe it is a step in the right direction. We are working on an advanced system which will offer developers broad access to natively program the iPhone’s amazing software platform while at the same time protecting users from malicious programs.
BusinessWeek’s Arik Hesseldahl and Olga Kharif predicted Apple’s move earlier this week.