I’m starting to wonder if I slept through the winter and woke up towards the very begining of April 2008. Yesterday Steven Colbert made an interesting announcement and then Steve Jobs dropped a bombshell that the iPhone will get an SDK.
Firstly, frankly, hell yes. The apps that developers have already built are incredible and support from Apple will make them even better. As development becomes easier and the barrier to entry is lowered we will see more and more great extensions to an already great device. People will even plug some seemingly obvious “feature holes” and iPhone sales will increase, the platform will become more more ubiquitous, and the cycle will continue.
Still Apple is being very careful in how and when they do this. Citing concerns for the stability and security of the iPhone, it has taken a good 10 months since we were introduced to the iPhone to even get confirmation that native development would be possible and endorsed. Steve Jobs has stated that one strategy for protecting the iPhone would mimic a similar strategy used by one of Apple’s competitors.
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 â€œtotally open,â€ we believe it is a step in the right direction.
While I understand where they are going here, Nokia is a terrible comparison. Nokia has never been in the position to create a device with this much potential to change how we use computers. Looking to them on how to manage this is like asking the safety guard who helps your kids walk to school to plan out the complete traffic flow timing scheme for your home town. They are good at what they do, but just because they also allow development on their devices, mobile computing is NOT what they do.
There are a whole hosts of complications with using digital signatures. On a major open source project, does the whole project (or at least the people who can commit) get access to the signature? If so, it’s easier to compromise a signature, negating all the supposed benefits. If the signature can only be used by a single developer, what happens if that person leaves the project? What happens on branches and forks? Is there now a new possibility for identity theft in order to gain access to an audience? New phishing schemes? And on and on…
There is a better solution. Treat the iPhone like what it is — a computer. Make it easy to reload, backup, etc. Rely on requests for privilege elevation like how OS X does now. Hey, here’s a crazy idea:
Give iPhone owners a reason to buy a Mac, just like you did with iPods.
Make the right choices here Steve. Be a leader, set some compelling precedents, and usher in a new age for computing.