The iPhone SDK: Could this be a movement?

Apple announced today that the iPhone SDK was downloaded over 100,000 times in the first four days. So with the documentation officially "out there," what comes next for the developer?

JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg said today, "This is super important because if even just a fraction of those downloads yield product, there's going to be a pretty complete catalog of applications available come June. Considering that iPhone wasn't a software platform as recently as week ago, this is really important news and bodes well for the iPhone/iPod Touch ecosystem."

It will also mean a tremendous amount of revenue for Apple. In the unlikely event that everyone who downloaded the SDK so far produced a single app, the one-time fee for enrollment in the developer program -- mandatory to have your application listed and sold in the App store -- would total $10 million in revenue for Apple.

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Even more money can be made from enterprise-level developers who want to develop proprietary apps. The one-time fee for enterprise developers is three times higher. With enrollment in the program, Apple avails realtime testing and debugging as well as technical support from Apple engineers.

But the potential profits necessitate more regulations, and this raises an important and troubling question: Can a development community flourish within the rigid guidelines Apple is famous for establishing?

Almost as soon as the SDK was released, it became apparent to bloggers and op-ed columnists that Apple does not want applications to be developed that could infringe upon specific revenue streams from which the device was originally intended to draw. Understandably, VoIP apps running on EDGE are not allowed, as both Apple and AT&T would suffer from lost revenue.

But another limitation that has been brought up on numerous forums is the debarring of applications that run in the background. The SDK states that applications must quit when the user closes them.

While that is an impediment certain applications can work around, the license limitations also put forth a much more restrictive guideline: "An Application may not itself install or launch other executable code by any means, including without limitation through the use of a plug-in architecture, calling other frameworks, other APIs or otherwise."

Furthermore, developers must agree to confidentiality before even downloading the SDK. By signing the agreement, the developer asserts that he will not disclose any confidential information to anyone other than registered iPhone developers working within the same firm. This mandatory non-disclosure puts undue burden on creative communication.

A community for iPhone application developers has already sprouted form, from the prior need for non-Apple iPhone software to be Web-based. That group had actually laid out its own iPhone development standards. In all likelihood, a similar group will come together by June. But for now, developers still have to wait for Apple to tell them what to do.

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