One of the biggest questions surrounding the iPhone since its January preview was whether developers outside of Apple would be able to create software that would run on the phone.
And just two weeks before the iPhone's June 29 release, Steve Jobs stood on stage at the Worldwide Developers Conference and told software makers that Apple had found an answer: a "sweet" way to support outside iPhone development.
Unfortunately, if you're thinking that Apple really addressed third-party development in Steve Jobs' keynote, you'd be wrong. While many people - including myself - have clamoured for support for widgets and applications, this week's announcement actually did nothing at all to address either issue. Instead, it told developers that since Safari on the iPhone is a full-fledged web browser, they can use Ajax and CSS to make nice, pretty web-based applications.
Now, don't get me wrong, you can do quite a bit with Ajax and CSS, as the demo of an Apple-created address book lookup tool showed. However, tools created using this solution are not true applications, as compared to the other programs on the iPhone. For instance, you can't tap on the program to launch it. There won't be an icon on the iPhone's screen, next to Apple's icons.
Instead, to run one of these web applications on your iPhone, you'll have to launch Safari, then either visit a URL or select an already-bookmarked entry from your Bookmarks list. You can't use them in places where there's no internet access - on an plane, for example - as the net will be required to connect to the program's URL. And we're two weeks from launch and we still have no idea how much the data plans will cost in the US (nor how they'll be structured) for the iPhone. If the plans include monthly limits, then each time you run a third-party application - even if that app doesn't really need to use the internet for any reason - you'll eat up some minutes to download and run the program.
For a developer, there's a huge difference between being able to give your users an icon on the iPhone's screen and telling them to load Safari and visit a web page. As a user, the first feels like a ‘real’ solution while the second feels like, well, visiting a web page. And as a user, I know I don't want to have to re-download (especially if I'm paying for it each time) these applications any time I use them. I want them on the iPhone's screen, right there next to Apple's offerings.