Sunday, March 16, 2008

Apple to iPhone devs: Keep on developing for Jailbroken iPhones guys!

Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt is reporting that Apple has delivered a mighty slap across the face to many potential iPhone and iPod touch developers and turned what was good PR last week into what could be a PR headache this week.

Apple to iPhone devs: Keep on developing for Jailbroken iPhones guys!By week’s end, almost everyone who had downloaded the SDK and offered to pay the $99 ($299 for enterprises) to become an official iPhone or iPod touch developer had received Apple’s polite but firm rejection letter:

“Dear Registered iPhone Developer, Thank you for expressing interest in the iPhone Developer Program. We have received your enrollment request. As this time, the iPhone Developer Program is available to a limited number of developers and we plan to expand during the beta period. We will contact you again regarding your enrollment status at the appropriate time. Thank you for applying.”

What stings for the developers who got what reads like a pink slip is that they know Apple has already let its favorite partners under the tent. In addition to the companies that demoed at the March 6 event (EA, Salesforce, AOL, Epocrates, Sega) Apple quoted a quite a few more the press release (Intuit, Namco, Netsuite, PopCap, Rocket Mobile, Six Apart and THQ Wireless).

Hmmm. I’m disappointed, but not all that surprised.

The reason I’m disappointed is that this would have been a big opportunity for new and upcoming developers to get an opportunity to showcase apps for the iPhone and iPod touch in front of a large audience. I’m pretty sure that given the quality of apps that I’ve seen for jailbroken Apple devices that these apps would have been high quality and, most likely free (or near-free). However, I’m not surprised at Apple’s “greet and toss” tactic - greet the high-profile big-name commercial companies and invite them in under the velvet rope, and toss out the riff-raff who were going to make their products available at a price (or lack of a price) that would mean that Apple wouldn’t be making money off the products. To be fair though, demand was so high that it would almost impossible for Apple to cater for every developer, but remember who was whipped up that frenzy in the first place - Apple. Overpromise, generate lots and lots of hype, and then underdeliver.

Even when the great unwashed are allowed in, you can be guaranteed that a two-tier system will operate - one for the big names and one for everyone else. A level playing field it won’t be. It’s not just Apple’s ultra-secret nature that will hamper developers. Overdemand and control-freakery comes into the equation too.

This move is likely to send a message out to the dev community that could be harmful to Apple, one that says ”Keep on developing for Jailbroken iPhones guys!” I’m pretty sure that there will always be a huge demand for “unofficial” third party apps. So far Apple isn’t doing a good job of trying to convince jailbreakers to walk the straight and narrow.

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