Friday, October 19, 2007

Apple iPhone and Third Party Applications

At one level, it is easy and straightforward to leverage the power of independent software developers to make your platform more attractive. We know that the attractiveness of a platform like Windows is largely based on the strength of complementary applications (just as XBox and Sony PS3 etc..).
We also know that Apple has been relatively closed and only cautiously leverages third-party developers. It does not mean that Apple has not recognized (or understood) the power of indirect, complementary network effects. I see it as Apple selectively deciding when and how to bring the power of third-party developers to maximize the attractiveness of Apple products to its users. If Apple had not made iPod and ITunes compatible with Windows, Apple would have surely remained as a niche player in the music sector.
In the case of iPhone, Apple is also being selective and cautious. Sure, there are a lot of people wanting Apple to open up its architecture to third-party application developers. Yes, we all want to be able to customize the look-n-feel of our phones. But, we also want stable and robust applications that are reliable (and do not just hang!). So, as an Apple iPhone user, I welcome what Steve Jobs has announced as his intention to bring the power and creativity of third party developers.
Third Party Applications on the iPhone

Let me just say it: We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users. With our revolutionary multi-touch interface, powerful hardware and advanced software architecture, we believe we have created the best mobile platform ever for developers.

It will take until February to release an SDK because 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. This is no easy task. Some claim that viruses and malware are not a problem on mobile phones—this is simply not true. There have been serious viruses on other mobile phones already, including some that silently spread from phone to phone over the cell network. As our phones become more powerful, these malicious programs will become more dangerous. And since the iPhone is the most advanced phone ever, it will be a highly visible target.

Some companies are already taking action. Nokia, for example, is not allowing any applications to be loaded onto some of their newest phones unless they have a digital signature that can be traced back to a known developer. 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.

We think a few months of patience now will be rewarded by many years of great third party applications running on safe and reliable iPhones.


P.S.: The SDK will also allow developers to create applications for iPod touch.

[Oct 17, 2007]

Orchestrating an ecosystem is a a core competence for success in a network era. I am one who argues for seriously recognizing how complementary capabilities can be brought to bear in business innovations. In such cases, every company should ensure that the benefits of a vibrant network outweighs the downside risks.
Apple's success with iPhone depends on how well it ensures that its distinctive signature--design and elegance--are enhanced (not detracted) by its partners (including network operators such as AT&T, O2, Orange and others) and third-party application developers.

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