Nov 5

Marc Hedlund

Marc Hedlund

What does Google's Open Handset Alliance announcement tell us about iPhone third-party apps?

I'm listening in on Google's press call about the Open Handset Alliance, which Google announced today. It's hilarious to hear all of the big wireless companies speaking about open platforms and software. Good for Google.

This announcement and the focus on open platforms make me think back to Apple's recent, seemingly rushed announcement that it will finally be supporting third-party apps on the iPhone. If Apple had made that announcement after Google made this one, it would have fallen very flat. By announcing beforehand, they were able to tell an "open platform" story while they still had the whole stage to themselves. Did Apple announce iPhone third-party apps as an aside in their "Hot News" column (instead of on Steve Jobs' home court, a conference keynote) in order to get the news out fast -- before Google?

It's interesting to note that Google and the Open Handset Alliance are starting out by shipping the platform first, and shipping phones with that platform on it a year later. Andy Rubin mentioned that an SDK will be available in one week (Apple won't have an SDK until February), and that it will be shipped with the Apache v2 license. Starting with developers -- what a great way to compete with Apple. Someone asked if a manufacturer could create a "completely locked-down Android device," and Andy Rubin responded, sure, the Apache license lets you do whatever you want, but Eric Schmidt chimed in, why would you bother? The point is having access to the applications. As he said later, "This is fundamentally a developer platform announcement."

It's also interesting to remember that Apple was rumored to be considering a Sidekick-like model of application delivery -- that is, all apps would need be downloaded through something like iTunes, that Apple would control, rather than being installed by the user directly, as on Palm OS. Rubin, co-founder of Sidekick maker Danger and now leader of the Google effort, must be rooting for them to make that mistake. It certainly didn't seem to make developers excited about the Sidekick. Maybe this competitive pressure will spur Apple and AT&T to give that up, if they were considering it; here's hoping.

All in all, very interesting. It's remarkable to see Apple once again in the position of selling a whole-stack platform (software and hardware, at least -- network sold separately), competing with a broad coalition of commodity hardware companies using a common software platform. I think they'll repeat history -- they are already repeating history -- by not doing whatever they can to bring developers to their platform. I wonder if Google will teach them what they should have already learned from Microsoft.

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Comments: 32

  Einar Vollset [11.05.07 11:02 AM]

Why announce an SDK a YEAR before there's any hardware to run it on?

And as to Schmidt's comment about why would you bother to create a completely locked down Android device? Why not? It's par for the course! Devices get subsidized by carriers, and carriers restrict what the devices can and cannot do (witness the "upgrade" from Nokia's E61 -> E62).

  Michael Sheeley [11.05.07 11:09 AM]

Apple is great at coming out with new groundbreaking technologies, but they don’t know how to keep the competitive edge. It baffles me that they try to compete against everyone in the developer community rather than utilizing their skills by teaming up with them. All Apple is doing is creating opportunities for their competitors to come in steel the market from them. Good for Google to see this opportunity.

  monopole [11.05.07 11:25 AM]

But, but, it's going against the iPhone!!! And as we all know the iPhone!!! is the only mobile interface that matters. I mean its got a friggin' lowercase i as the first letter in its name! Sure its got less functionality than a Palm or a Symbian and is locked into the worst possible cellular network, but it's spiffy and invented by Steve Jobs personally! An' 'cuz it's an Apple it's inherently good and used by rebels 'n different thinkers!

Kudos for writing an article which actually ignores the incessant and massive hype surrounding the iPhone, I just wish your fellow contributors would do the same.

  Marc Hedlund [11.05.07 11:35 AM]

Thanks, monopole, for the compliment, but in the interest of full disclosure, you may be mistaking my "fellow contributors" for me. (See, for instance: ) After saying I wouldn't, I fell to the hype and bought an iPhone, too, and one for my wife, and I love it. I'm a hypocrite on this topic (as my fellow contributor Jimmy Gutermann pointed out to me, very politely, a while back).

That said, I think Apple has made the wrong moves on third-party apps, and while it's the right phone for me today, I don't know whether they'll hold the market with a closed platform. I suspect not.

Fortunately I get to be a hypocrite with my wallet and consistent with my writing. I'd have a crappy phone otherwise. :).

  Paul M. Watson [11.05.07 12:43 PM]

You can own and really like using an iPhone and still criticise the overall application strategy from Apple. It isn't ideal but based on what is here and now the iPhone is a good device. We can only hope that OHA produces open, feature rich phones with interfaces as good as the iPhone.

Hopefully they learn from Apples correct moves and avoids Apples incorrect moves.

All the best to OHA, I hope it works and we enter a better era of mobile application development.

  Robert F. [11.05.07 12:52 PM]

Just as an aside, seeing as this is Google, do you suppose the SDK will use C++ or another language?

  rektide [11.05.07 03:23 PM]

this seems more aimed as a headshot on Verizon than Apple.

the current problem is not that you cannot develop mobile phone apps (Apple of course excepted), the problem is that you cannot develop mobile phone apps for more than one handset. as you establish, the primary point is that this is to be a developer platform, and thusfar the enemy of phone developers has been the phones and the carriers, not apple.

you hint at the carriers and their never ending desire to manifest into the content delivery portal. this is an undying meme and leads to Verizon disabling features on phones and controlled distribution systems. by rallying the phone handset makers, by empowering developers, OHA can bypass this caltrap nonsense and allow mobile devices to break out of rut they've been locked into.

  Simon McBride [11.05.07 03:28 PM]

I'm thinking Android on iphone would be interesting. The iphone developer community moved fast to unlock the iphone, so Android on iphone might even happen before the Apple SDK is released.

This is a neat strategy from Google: they're breaking down the barriers to entry into the handset business which will drive improved mobile applications and ultimately more internet services business. Of course massive increases in internet users from mobiles also plays to a Google strength of processing all those requests. On the face of it, it's a neat strategy.

  Martin Pilkington [11.05.07 05:03 PM]

One advantage Apple will have when they finally do open up is the Cocoa API. Google will be starting getting people behind their platform whereas Apple has around 20 years of experience plus the wealth of developers available on the mac. Yes Apple has the disadvantage of not opening up straight away, but considering they had to rewrite many of the UI APIs to deal with multitouch then you can partially understand that. It will be interesting when we finally have an API from google to compare to cocoa because at the moment Apple potentially has the stronger and more attractive development platform

  Oz [11.05.07 05:07 PM]

"...Apple's recent, seemingly rushed announcement..."

What exactly seemed rushed about it? From what I could tell, the timing of the announcement was perfectly appropriate given the various events (entirely non-Google, also) that seemed to lead up to it.

  Luis Alejandro Masanti [11.05.07 05:07 PM]

"Just as an aside, seeing as this is Google, do you suppose the SDK will use C++ or another language?"

Today, Google also released the GData APIs:

No C or C++ versions, only Objective-C (you know, the language only used by Apple!).

Java, Perl (or/and PHP) and .Net. JavaScript partial support.

  gnat [11.05.07 05:39 PM]

@Einar: time and time again, companies that attempt to build closed-source versions of open source have failed. They fail because they don't have the goodwill of the developer community and find it difficult to get help, add patches, etc. without forking--and that brings its own set of unmanageable headaches.

  hardmanb [11.05.07 06:15 PM]

Many of the comments about Apple and others such as Google and Microsoft are made from a false assumption...that Apple is trying to compete with "everyone" and "take over the whole market".

That is not Apple's intent or business model. Apple's targeted market segment is those that are willing to pay more for a superior product and experience. Increasing consumer affluence and knowledge should keep Apple growing.

The Google alliance IS THE BORG...disruptive to cellphone manufacturers, carriers, the "closed garden" business model, and the giant software producers. It will be interesting to see what happens when everyone else wakes up and realizes that the only winners are Google and consumers.

  Bob [11.05.07 06:38 PM]

"...Apple's recent, seemingly rushed announcement..."

Funny how Marc was too busy to do a blog post -- at the time -- about how and why the announcement was rushed. So he had to link to a Gruber post -- uh, which doesn't say anything about the announcement sounding rushed.

20-20 hindsight armchair pundit.

  HG [11.05.07 07:02 PM]

Apple's press vacuum leaves much for misinterpretation.

The seemingly rushed announcement was made in the context of third party developers getting ahead of themselves. Apple needed to clarify a few things mostly to this group. But before they could do that they had to do some important work with Leopard. Now that Leopard is out, the updated APIs create the right development environment for iPhone development.

Apple's framework spans the iPhone, AppleTV, Macs, and who knows what else in the future. I don't think they're repeating history--only leveraging their assets.

By the way, I read somewhere that Google's framework will be using Apple's WebKit for its browser technology.

  HG [11.05.07 07:11 PM]


Nobody invites the comparisons between Apple and anybody else except trollers and hit whores. Your reaction is exactly what they aim to produce.

We really don't need your approval for anything and we hope you're happy too with your choices.

  Bill Hall [11.05.07 07:17 PM]

Why is this Big News? Nokia has had an open platform in both the S40 and Symbian (S60/S80) platforms for some time now and let it be said that Nokia is a very large player in the "Open" Market. The only reason this is getting any headlines is because the operators in the US, both GSM and CDMA, are so closed. They tried to offer their own services and failed, leave it to the people who can do it and you the operators just run the network. It is not the phone it is the operators. I am tired of hearing about the iPhone it is a p.o.c. compared to the capabilities of some of the mid-range and by the way, Open, Nokia Handsets.

  rektide [11.05.07 08:03 PM]

@HG: monopole was being a sarcastic troll, he was just wanting to vent on Apple mania. The best response to trolls is no response at all.

  Oink [11.05.07 08:16 PM]

Google had to announce Android and the Open Hardware Alliance pretty darn soon, in order for the FCC to take Google's bid for 700 MHz spectrum seriously early next year. And if Google does win spectrum rights, I predict the 30+ other members of the alliance will feel like they got bitten in the ars when Google comes out with its own mobile hardware.

  Harry [11.05.07 08:43 PM]

I don't understand how the value of a pure software platform can be so high when the user interface hardware design is left to the handset manufacturers. Sure, the carriers had a brain-dead "walled garden" application business model, mainly because they could not afford to service end users.

But won't the value of this new platform also be quite limited if the user experience is dissimilar across the handsets that run it?

  roz [11.05.07 09:35 PM]

before apple shipped the iphone many thought they could not do it.

then it came out and was amazing. it had 2 problems, its price was a bit too high and it was not open to developers. now these are being addressed.

apple took a huge and mostly successful leap here and they are on the right path, lets hope.

its still a great platform for developers and the price has been adjusted.

personally I think part of the issue here is that apple is still a very small company and they dont have the reach to take on all these tasks at once. so maybe the sdk work for iphone was waiting for leopard to ship to be dealt with.

the iphone sdk will ship in feb, there will be about 2M devices in the market. Its a lot more viable than the gphone platform.

And there is a long way between early development and shipping a completed device. If i was a developer I would want to prioritize the platform that I can release on now.

  mark [11.05.07 10:59 PM]

Tell me more about how Google's phone platform will use my personal information to direct ads my way? Where can I sign up?

  Zap Frelling [11.05.07 11:01 PM]

This article is a whole lot of nothing - vague, and based on rumors. Not just rumors, but Apple rumors. 99.9% of rumors about Apple are complete hogwash. Why would anybody put any stock in them at all?

Apart from rumors, we have speculation that Apple's iPhone SDK announcement has something to do with Google. This seems highly unlikely. Some evidence would be useful here, but no evidence is provided, of course.

Yep - nothing really going on here, just a bunch of groundless speculation to get attention and hits.

  Mads [11.06.07 02:08 AM]

The x-box works, Palm works, Nokia phonea works and they are all whole-stack platforms.

"I wonder if Google will teach them what they should have already learned from Microsoft"

I am not that convinced that separating hardware and software is always a good idea. In fact I think it has never worked very well, it has just been cheaper.


  Glenn [11.06.07 04:13 AM]

The interesting thing about this is that Eric Schmidt is still on Apple's board. If there was an actual conflict (iPhone vs. OHA), it seems he would need to step down. Google's announcement of ObjC without C/C++ is curious.

I don't believe Steve's announcement was rushed, other than trying to encourage jailbreakers to hold off.

In general, I believe Steve's formal-if-casual announcements should be taken at face value. They've all been very thoughtful, and they've later proven to be on the level.

  Uniboy [11.06.07 06:56 AM]

Your last paragraph is very well stated. I read an article elsewhere about Apple's seeming inability to learn from their early mistakes with the Mac platform, as well as the rise of WinTel.

  Swapnonil Mukherjee [11.06.07 11:06 AM]

"I think they'll repeat history -- they are already repeating history -- by not doing whatever they can to bring developers to their platform. I wonder if Google will teach them what they should have already learned from Microsoft."

Even if they provide a SDK.

What will that SDK have?

What would be their complier or their debugger?

Since the final runtime is a dumbed down version of MAC OSX, just tell me how, one would be able to write and test a native iPhone app on a Windows or Linux box?

Java and J2ME would have been a possible solution, but Apple's just running away from Java. I don't know why.

  Joe [11.06.07 12:39 PM]

Apple doesn't learn from its past, but so many guys only learn one lesson
and repeat it to nausea. What happened with apple and windows is ancient
history compared to what happened with the ipod, but only a few smart
people are asking apple to learn from the ipod and everybody else is asking
to learn from a company, Microsoft, that is increasingly irrelevant in
terms of innovation. Google sells ads and it's very good at it: we'll see
how they do in the phone business. In the meantime, it would be great if
the pundits who have been repeating the same story about history and apple
took the time to go back to study history and learn more than One story out
of it.

  Zap Frelling [11.06.07 03:45 PM]

Since the final runtime is a dumbed down version of MAC OSX, just tell me how, one would be able to write and test a native iPhone app on a Windows or Linux box?

Why would you test an iPhone app on anything other than the hardware it runs on - in other words, an iPhone? Doesn't make much sense.

If mobile developers are testing their apps on computer screens, that might explain why mobile phone apps are generally crappy.

  Swapnonil Mukherjee [11.06.07 11:20 PM]

"Why would you test an iPhone app on anything other than the hardware it runs on - in other words, an iPhone? Doesn't make much sense.

If mobile developers are testing their apps on computer screens, that might explain why mobile phone apps are generally crappy."


I live in India.

I have a very simple question. If I write an app for an iPhone, how will I test it?

iPhone will not launch in India in the near future.

In which case, the only solution for me is to, board a Lufthansa or British Airways flight to the US or London, find an iPhone user, mug him, steal his phone and try and install my apps on it.
Now,why would a person be that desperate?

In Google's case , I can probably write a tiny little "Hello GPhone" app, then deploy and run it on November 12th itself.

  Lun Esex [11.07.07 01:48 AM]

"I live in India.

I have a very simple question. If I write an app for an iPhone, how will I test it?"

You can't buy Macs in India?

A previous commenter wrote: "Since the final runtime is a dumbed down version of MAC OSX, just tell me how, one would be able to write and test a native iPhone app on a Windows or Linux box?"

To put a mirror to that comment: Since the final runtime of a Windows Mobile phone is based on the Microsoft Win32 API, just tell me how, one would be able to write and test a native Windows Mobile app on a Macintosh (without installing Windows via BootCamp, Parallels, etc.), or Linux box?

The iPhone SDK drops in February. Does anyone seriously think that it A) Won't require Xcode on a Mac (because that's simply the way you write Mac OS X software), or B) Won't include a Mac-based software emulator for testing?

Besides the fact that you'll need to have a Mac to write iPhone software (duh), one of the other major differences between iPhone development and Google Android development is that *real iPhone hardware* will have already been available for many months, even if not officially in your area. (You can always try eBay; I hear it's much cheaper than an airline ticket.)

Sure, you'll be able to write a "Hello GPhone" app before the end of this month (probably), but you'll have no idea of the final capability of the real hardware to do really interesting stuff until the second half of next year!

Even OpenMoko development kits come with real hardware.

Oh, and if officially unlocked iPhones start being sold in France this month, how many of those do you think are going to be going up on eBay? Plus by the time real GPhone hardware is available, iPhone will also be available in Asia ("early next year") and it's hardware will almost certainly be at v2.0 (3G at a minimum, 16GB at least, GPS very likely; what else does it need then, besides a physical keyboard?)

  Beef? [11.09.07 04:19 AM]

I think it's been shown pretty conclusively that native third-party apps are not the end-all-be-all of the success of mobile devices. So anyone predicting Apple's downfall at the hands of this "consortium" over just that issue is a bit deluded.

Also note that there are already third-party native apps on the iPhone: Google Maps and YouTube. Who owns those? Google.

I think around February it will be announced that the iPhone SDK *is* the Android SDK, or some iPhone-specific subset of it.

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