Would a cheap ‘developer license’ for the iPhone satisfy you?
Posted January 16, 2007on:
So, by now it’s old news that the iPhone is going to be a closed system which will not allow any old third-party applications to be installed on it. The excuse given (stability of the phone and the network) is very weak, but the real rationale is understandable. They simply can’t allow unauthorized software because versions of Skype and Windows Media Player would be made in a heartbeat. The former could potentially undercut the cellular carriers and the latter would finally allow users to use Apple’s beautiful devices without being locked-in to their online store.
So, is it a disaster that iPhone users will be shackled to whatever software Apple and Cingular deem appropriate? Well, no. All mainstream games consoles are also closed systems, and they prove that a closed system can still be perfectly adequate for an excellent consumer experience. But, what about the tinkerers who want to be able to run their own code and do things that these cool embedded computers were never meant to do? Well, inevitably, talented people find ways around the technological measures that restrict them, and we can expect that a “home-brew scene” will crop up within days or weeks of the iPhone release in June.
However, a home-brew scene is hardly ideal: there’s always a certain amount of hassle involved in going against the grain, and as a result these things don’t tend to reach a very broad audience. For instance, there are custom versions of the Sony PSP system software available that let you run games off a memory stick (for a welcome boost to the painful disc loading times) and the latest version also de-restricts the crippled built-in video playback on the PSP that normally prevents the watching of full-resolution videos. But the installation procedure is a pain, and keeping up with the latest updates is tedious (the updates are needed because Sony forces their fixes onto users by making new games require them). So, all things considered, it’s very hard to recommend these sorts of things to someone who isn’t a dedicated geek with a slight stick-it-to-the-man mentality.
So it seems likely that this is the situation we’re going to find ourselves with on the iPhone. But what if there was another option? How about if Apple issued cheap ‘developer licenses’ for the iPhone that allowed you to develop and run unofficial software on your own device, but didn’t give you the ability to distribute your software to regular iPhones that don’t have the license. That way the tinkerers of the world could have all the geeky fun they wanted, without hurting Apple’s and Cingular’s business interests. The licenses would be cheap enough for “hobby programmers”, but expensive enough that no-one would try and sell the software they’d developed, hoping that the users would buy a developer license in order to run it. I’m thinking $100 would be the sweet price-point, and I for one would be there in a flash.
It would also be a great way of encouraging the sort of small-time developers who should be able to shine on a platform like this, where innovative applications would not require huge budgets. Developers who come up with interesting apps could pitch them to Apple and those that make the cut could be sold on the iTunes Store, so the system would benefit Apple, the developers and, of course, the iPhone end-users.