Developers Gather to Design Apple iPhone Apps

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After this weekend, if everything goes according to plan, you'll be able to download the first Web 2.0-based applications optimized for the Apple iPhone. The apps will stem from the collective brainpower of developers, designers, and testers who turn out for this weekend's iPhone Developers Camp, in San Francisco.

"It's going to be the largest gathering of iPhone owners--we'll probably have at least 150 iPhones in the same room," promises event organizer Raven Zachary.

The idea for the gathering originated with Zachary, a technology analyst with the 451 Group and an iPhone user himself (he waited on line for 9 hours to get his phone at launch).

"The Friday after the WWDC [Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference], I was sitting on my deck and thinking about how we could encourage an iPhone development community to spring up," Zachary says, "And I thought we should organize a BarCamp-style camp." These events bring together Web 2.0 developers in a free-form collaboratiove environment.

Portland, Oregon-based Zachary and five other organizers--including BarCamp founder Chris Messina--put together the iPhoneDevCamp in the three weeks following the end of the WWDC.

iPhone Development Community Builds

Zachary initially called up a few friends in the community to organize the event--and immediately received positive responses. "We had no problem getting sponsors for this event," says Zachary. "The developers, the designers, the testers--these are the people they want to reach out to. We have 35 sponsors: Adobe is hosting the event; and Yahoo is a sponsor and even buying Saturday lunch. Plus, we have a large number of iPhone accessory vendors like Belkin, DLO, and Griffin [that are] giving away accessories to the developers who are coding over the weekend." Other sponsors include drink manufacturers Red Bull and the Mighty Leaf Tea Company, and snack maker Kettle Chips.

Event organizers expect to draw 300 developers, designers, and testers at this all-volunteer event. Apple is not a sponsor of the event.

"The focus is on people who are developers, designers, and testers," says Zachary of the event's structure. "It'll be a great place for them to learn and work with their peers. [Participants] will work in teams over the weekend to build and launch applications for the iPhone. On Sunday, our goal is to have on our site, iPhoneDevCamp, links to a number of applications for the iPhone."

iPhone Development Challenges

Earlier this summer, Apple announced at its WWDC that third-party iPhone applications will be allowed through iPhone's Safari Web browser. Such applications will utilize Web 2.0 technologies.

The timing of this event is very specific, according to Zachary. "It's a week out from the iPhone's release, so everyone is still learning how to optimize [code] for the iPhone. The iPhone is a new opportunity for Web developers," he says.

All applications will be run off the Internet, via the Safari browser. "Pages can be cached locally," says Zachary, "but you're really operating applications on the Internet."

Zachary says organizers are expecting great things out of the collaborative sessions this weekend. "There are people who are coming to build things entirely from scratch, and those who are coming to build an iPhone version of something that already exists. It could be a Web site that's optimized for the iPhone, or it could be a productivity application."

Apple released its Web iPhone developer guidelines today; those guidelines note that the version of Safari on the iPhone uses the same Web kit engine as does Safari on the computer. By limiting the applications to Web 2.0, though, Apple is being both visionary and restrictive.

As has been widely noted, the iPhone's browser can't deal with Flash or JavaScript. That limitation constrains developers' creativity from the get-go. Another limitation is the iPhone's inability to store Web-based content locally. "Sadly, as far as I know, Safari on the iPhone requires either an EDGE or a Wi-Fi connection. Because of that," Zachary admits, "I think there are going to be some application ideas that will be hard to implement. But we're going to wholeheartedly embrace what we've got, and do some cool stuff."

iPhone Apps: Ready to Go

The goal is for the end results from the weekend codefest to appear online. "We're encouraging people not only to post the apps, but also to share the source code," explains Zachary. "We're not requiring they open-source the code, though; we do have some commercial developers coming. But we want people to be able to share their coding with the development community. And we'll probably post pretty direct instructions on our site, explaining how to bookmark these apps and sync them with your iPhone."

Though Apple has roped off the home screen from developers, Zachary thinks that this policy will change over time. "It's probably inevitable that Apple will release the ability to put applications on the home screen," he notes. "If you're going to get 10 million users out there, you're going to have the Mac development community want to reach those 10 million users. I think the opportunity for third-party developers is too great for it not to happen in the long term." The iPhone can receive software updates via the sync process with iTunes; those updates could make new features available in the future, just as you can add new features to Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD players via firmware.

Zachary emphasizes that the iPhoneDevCamp is a working event and not a users group meeting, but he admits that the group that will assemble won't be an ordinary meeting of minds. "This is the world's biggest iPhone focus group, with the earliest of early adopters," he notes with infectious enthusiasm.

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