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Marc Hedlund

Marc Hedlund

"Let OS X developers at the iPhone. Please."

I agree completely with every word in Merlin Mann's excellent post, "Let OS X developers at the iPhone. Please." Apple, you need to listen. As I said in the earlier Radar round-up, "Ten Things I Want From My Phone":

[D]on't lock the platform. I never even thought about buying a sidekick because of this. If I can't install what I want on it, it's not a computing device, it's just a fancy tin can, and I won't buy it.

Apple, your iPhone is ringing. Pick it up.

Update: John Markoff interviews Steve Jobs about this:

Mr. Jobs also appears to be restricting the potential for third-party software developers to write applications for the new handset — from ringtones to word processors [...] it appears that he wants to control his device much more closely than his competitors. “We define everything that is on the phone,” he said. “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.” [...]
“These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn’t mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.”

Dang. What a bad and disappointing decision. I'll wait for them to change it, or to put out a video ipod of the same form factor without Cingular boat-anchored to it.

Update 2: I've posted a long follow-up on this story.

tags:   | comments: 19   | Sphere It


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Comments: 19

Justin Mason   [01.11.07 10:21 AM]

How is this different from the iPod?

Marc Hedlund   [01.11.07 11:03 AM]


I didn't like it on the iPod, either, but the iPod has no network and I view it differently as a result. I am a Treo user despite the terrible decline in build quality since Jeff Hawkins left the company, simply because I can install whatever apps I want on it. If this is the one app I carry in my pocket, I consider that essential; espcially at the iPhone price point.

davidm   [01.11.07 11:48 AM]

It is also important to provide full Java ME support. It is the most predominant small device language, is fully cross platform, significant apps are available for it, and is now free software (GPL). I guess people's idea of "open" varies, but if the iPhone doesn't support Java ME, it will be a strong signal that its a walled garden.

anon   [01.11.07 01:55 PM]

I think closing it up makes it substantially easier for Apple to support.

Although I would expect it to be possible to install widgets (HTML + JavaScript + XMLHttpRequest). They appear to be the same widgets as those on OS X.

Parand   [01.11.07 02:31 PM]

The sidekick has a developer program, an SDK, and allows you to install whatever you want on the phone so long as you're willing to update the phone software.

Greg   [01.11.07 03:23 PM]

Could it be that the OS is not a fully capable MacOS X installation after all? What if an iPhone app did require special porting and developer education that Apple couldn't commit the resources to at this time? Why offer (only) widget support but no binary support? I hope my lurking thought is wrong.

Marc Hedlund   [01.11.07 04:59 PM]

Parand, Wikipedia's entry on the Sidekick says: "There isn't a way to add applications to a standard Hiptop device without the use of the Software Catalog [...] Application developers can bypass this functionality by using the included programs in the Danger Hiptop SDK to install user-written applications to the Hiptop device directly. [...] This will allow the installation of user-written applications to the device, but will void any software warranty provided by Danger and/or your wireless carrier." That certainly sounds like a locked platform to me. I'd like to not have to write all the software I use.

Charles   [01.11.07 05:26 PM]

Apple is letting developers on the iPhone. Here's how.

Marc Hedlund   [01.11.07 11:25 PM]

Charles, if you've ever used a web browser on a Treo, I doubt you'd be excited about that answer...

Leon Jacobs   [01.12.07 12:11 AM]


I think the desire to customise to the minutiae is a rather geeky desire. The bulk of gadget and computer buyers are not like the Linux crowd who like to fiddle under the hood.

For Apple to want to make the iPhone be a well-designed and controlled device is a wise move because the phone will remain true to the Apple brand. Like Stevezy said, it won't mean there won't be apps/widgets coming down the line (either from themselves or from 3rd parties) but they must be true to the Apple design philosophy.

Marc Hedlund   [01.12.07 12:50 AM]


Look, ripping CDs was once considered an extremely geeky desire, and iTunes made that a mass-market phenomenon. Apple could, and should, do the same for this market.

That said, if installing new apps is a geeky desire, then why does it matter to Apple and Cingular as some huge support issue? There's evidence that you're right -- I believe Palm has seen surveys that a small percentage of all Palm users has ever installed a third-party app. But there's also evidence that you're wrong, from the same platform; some people believe Palm's very robust software development community (over 15,000 PalmOS apps exist) has helped sustain the company through a prolonged attack on its market by Microsoft via WinCE.

I'm very surprised, though, that anyone would accept Jobs' stated reasons at face value. There is a long and clear history of cell phone companies disabling third-party applications, especially networking applications, in order to force customers to buy apps directly from them. I don't for a minute believe that the reason to lock the platform is support concerns.

In four years of using a Treo, the only application that ever crashed a phone call for me was the phone application, produced by Palm. (That one crashes a lot, unfortunately.) The applications I've installed have generally been higher-quality, especially from third-party commercial developers. And I've installed a great many applications -- a New York Times crossword player, a Scrabble game, an ssh terminal, several mail clients, diet and exercise programs, the Oxford dictionary, Google Maps, and many more. The diversity and quality of those applications is directly related to the ease with which I can install them, and no other mobile platform has matched that breadth, not by a long shot. Apple could, but has decided not to.

I'd also say that Jobs created this perception problem for himself by saying setting expectations badly. If you say the phone runs "OS X," which he did, it's natural to assume it's an OS, and not a sealed package. He said the right thing to get everyone fired up about the device, but overpromised in calling it "OS X." I may be a geek for being disappointed, but when the issue is getting covered in the New York Times, I won't accept that it's merely a niche concern.

galeal zino   [01.12.07 06:46 AM]

Great post and agree Jobs comments are just marketing spin.

Sprint or T-Mobile needs to partner with a few others and build a truly open phone, including open broadband IP access. They won't beat Cingular/AT&T or Verizon at the walled garden game so why not change the game.

Charles   [01.12.07 07:08 AM]

"Charles, if you've ever used a web browser on a Treo, I doubt you'd be excited about that answer..."

Marc, Safari's WebKit engine is quite capable of running full XHTML + JavaScript on mobile devices; I know, I used to write them at Openwave and know how efficient WebKit can be. Nokia has proven this, but it took Apple to come up with the right UI.

Of course, the proof will come in June, but I think you have to distinguish the next gen browsers and what they'll be capable of.

As for me, I'll be really happy to have a nicely designed touch screen desktop web browser to write my web apps for.

adamsj   [01.12.07 07:38 AM]


T-Mobile had its shot with the Sidekick (and still, I'm on my second one--the keyboard is too usable to abandon). I suspect it'll be smaller regional carriers that'll first enable a really open phone.

Brian Yamabe   [01.12.07 08:55 AM]

I'm sure everyone who's commented is a super-smart, Grade-A, alpha geek. I also know not to listen to any of your opinions on the success of consumer products. What percentage of you said the iPod and it's limited storage and crappy DRM were doomed when it was launched? The openess of the iPhone will not determine it's success. Being able to hack a product can help it survive in a niche market (e.g. roomba), but a broadly successful product is not made on its openess (e.g. TiVO wasn't successfully because you have shell access).

galeal zino   [01.12.07 09:21 AM]

Brian - fair point - and agree that the success of a product is ultimately most dependent on the users perception of how it meets their needs - but aren't needs such as I just blogged over at NextBlitz important to some users now, and almost all users over time?

Adamsj - good point on Sidekick. Still like to see them take another shot.

Marc Hedlund   [01.12.07 09:23 AM]


I'm not arguing that this decision will cause the phone to fail -- as I said above (about Palm), I see arguments on both sides. The argument I'm making is that I won't be satisfied without an open platform, and that I don't buy the "support is hard" claim Jobs is making, not for a minute. This is about control and trying to maximize revenue from phone customization. What this means for the mass market, I have no idea, and don't pretend to be making a prediction.

You're probably right that this question won't determine the outcome for the iPhone, certainly not in the short term. In the long term, who knows? Lack of openness is very widely cited as the reason the Mac lost out to PC compatibles originally. Open platforms are more economically efficient, and that's certainly a mass-market concern.

Brian Yamabe   [01.15.07 04:34 AM]

Marc, I understand that there are a lot of alpha geeks and tech gadget gurus who will stay away because the platform is closed and that is great. I agree that this is all about Job's belief about control of the platform. Look at the quote he gave from Parc guy about software companies should be making the hardware.

Apple doesn't care about economic efficiency because that leads to commodification.

Galeal, of course meeting user needs is of the utmost importance, but if it doesn't meet that need out of the box it will flop. And if expandability is a basic need than the iPhone will flop. Ringtone and background picture customization are one thing. Whole new functionality is another.

TJ Talluto   [01.06.08 05:30 AM]

Marc, you are not on board with the Apple philosophy... it is obvious that the iPhone is not for you: Jobs statement about allowing any [non-Apple-approved] software on the Apple hardware is absolutely correct. Tight control of both hardware and software is what has preserved the quality of Apple products for decades, and also prohibited them from becoming marketshare leaders at the same time. Apple purists do not need the product to be opened up [to perform any task that is defined by a developer]. If you need more functionality than your iPhone provides, then buy a Windows mobile device and enjoy yourself - take your approach elsewhere.

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