Apple's iPhone SDK Strategy Both Promotes and Stifles Innovation

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Which Apps to Make the Cut?

One big unknown is where Apple will draw the line on which apps they'll allow and which they won't. So far, they've stated outright that pornography and illegal apps will not be tolerated (natch). But beyond that, Apple appears to fostering innovation, encouraging developers to stretch their collective imaginations--right down to allowing developers to offer free apps as well as for-pay apps.

Steve Jobs has confirmed that developers will be able to tie apps into the phone's Wi-Fi connectivity (including for VoIP over Wi-Fi), as well as the camera; it's not known yet to what degree, if any, developers will be able to tie into the dock. If they can, expect a whole new cottage industry of accessories to crop up around the iPhone/iPod Touch.

The biggest catch to Apple's approach, though, is that the company is forcing everything to be distributed through the iTunes App Store, be it via the mobile device itself or the iTunes desktop client. This benefits Apple: The company retains a modicum of control over what gets installed on its devices. But without a third-party download source and a bonafide application installation/deinstallation manager, Apple will have the ability to constrain the needs of its consumers if and when it so chooses.

Competing Platforms? What Platforms?

All of the attention on the iPhone SDK has to be making Apple's competing handset manufacturers nervous. And rightly so. When the new iPhone 2.0 software update (which includes legitimate support for third-party apps) ships in June, it will transform the iPhone into the mobile phone to beat, for consumers and for enterprise users.

Never before has this kind of excitement--and accessibility--occurred around a mobile platform. At one time, Palm had a thriving community of active developers, but the oomph has long left the Palm. Neither Research in Motion's BlackBerry nor Microsoft's Windows Mobile platforms ever really generated the attention, let alone comparative accessibility, that the Apple's iPhone has.

Since the iPhone juggernaut was unleashed in the summer of 2007, it's been clear that Apple has had an indelible impact on mobile consumers. Now, the iPhone's SDK--coupled with the announcements of other enterprise support through Microsoft's ActiveSync and Exchange--means that traditional corporate handset makers are on notice, too: They need to shape up and compete head-to-head with the iPhone. If they can.

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