OK, Steve Jobs told developers they had a way to add applications to the iPhone. He said Apple wants to “expand the capabilities of iPhone by letting developers write great apps for it and yet keep the iPhone reliable and secure.” The “sweet solution” for this will be to use the full Safari engine inside the iPhone to write “amazing Web 2.0 and AJAX apps that look exactly, and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone. And these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services – they can make a call. They can send an EMail. They can lookup a location on Google maps.” As Web apps, you don’t have to distribute them to individual iPhones, just put them on the Web. And they can run securely, without compromising security on the phone itself.
As an example, Scott Forrestal showed a corporate address book Web application. Using Safari, he went to a Web page. He typed into a Web page’s search field and it brought up a Web page with a list of names that looked a lot like the list in the phone’s native address book. He scrolled them up and down, tapped on one and a Web page came up with the person’s address information, and this Web page looked a lot like a native Address book page. He then showed that if he tapped a phone number on that Web page, he could initiate a call. If he tapped an EMail address, he could bring up an iPhone mail message pre-addressed ready for typing. And if he tapped a street address, it brought up the iPhone’s Google Maps facility showing that address.It was nice. And nice things can be done.
But how much of an iPhone app was that, really? The three Web pages involved seemed to be standard Web pages formatted to look like fields, lists, and information you would see on the iPhone’s native apps. And tapping specialized fields was something already shown in the January keynote as something you could do in any Web page. So what was special about this Web application that made it an iPhone application? Nothing I could see in that demo.
What I didn’t see was a way to write that Address book entry they looked up into the iPhone’s address book. Or a way to download the office layout image he bought up into the Phone. I suspect there isn’t a way to get any of that info directly into the phone, or to get any of the phone’s info directly out of the phone, because the point of this sandbox is to maintain the phone’s security.
You can make nice Web pages that do very nice things and we will see lots of useful Web apps, but to run them you have to host them apps on the Web, and users have to have access to the Web. This is not iPhone Software Development. Steve Jobs said “No SDK needed” and none is supplied either.We can still hope that in the near future there will indeed be a way to make stand alone applications that run on the iPhone. I was predicting in this WWDC we would see Steve tell us that the OS X DashCode application (which makes OS X widgets) would make Widgets that run on the iPhone, and that maybe next January we would see an iPhone SDK running in XCode. I’m still predicting that path will be followed. But when?