For most users, business data support may not be the biggest thing coming out of Apple's new software update. In fact, the biggest news may not even come from Apple itself. Apple has released its own software development kit (SDK) into the wild, giving programmers the tools they need to write native software--rather than just Web apps--to run directly on the iPhone.
The iPhone 2.0 update will include an iTunes App Store utility. Tap it, and you'll see a library of downloadable titles. Apple CEO Steve Jobs indicated that, while the purpose of the App Store will be to sell software for the iPhone, many of these apps will likely be free. Of course, that depends entirely on what developers decide to do. To get a better idea of what kinds of apps you'll be likely to see come June, we downloaded the SDK ourselves and took a look at the tools Apple is offering.
The iPhone SDK will give developers access to most aspects of the device, from the touch screen to the camera to the accelerometer that is responsible for sensing when you tilt the device. Sample code available on Apple's iPhone Dev Center site includes examples of how to do many of these things. What's clear from these examples--and from the developer demos at yesterday's briefing--is that games will be a major factor on the second-gen iPhone platform.
With the SDK, game developers will be able to tap into the iPhone's accelerometer and discover new ways to control the on-screen action. By tilting the device in various directions, or with combinations of tilts and screen taps, you'll be able to navigate heads-up displays, virtual environments, and anything else game makers can dream up. We may even see games that take advantage of the phone's geolocation capabilities in new, innovative ways.
Meanwhile, with the Wi-Fi hardware readily accessible, new apps will be able to do everything from conventional Web surfing and messaging to device-to-device data and media sharing. And most of these development tools will have benefits for iPod Touch users also. So while Apple never implemented a Zune-like squirting feature for music--letting users send songs from one device to another for temporary sharing--such a feature could easily come from a third-party developer (if Apple doesn't kill it first).
Ultimately, the iPhone may very well shape up to be a major platform in its own right if programmers take to the SDK en masse. And if the App Store fills up quickly with cool tools and games, yesterday's announcement may prove to be a major one, even for those who have no interest in creating their own software.