Apr 2

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Getting the iPhone Open Source Tool Chain Up and Running

Tomorrow at 10 am pacific time, is hosting a free webcast with Jonathan A. Zdziarski, one of the original hackers of the iPhone and author of iPhone Open Application Development. From the announcement:

Jonathan will demonstrate how you can use the iPhone open source tool chain to design third-party software that will run on on both today's iPhones, and on iPhones that will soon be running Apple's next version of firmware based on the official SDK. Jonathan will demonstrate on a Mac running Leopard.

Introducing Jonathan will be Brian Jepson, executive editor for Make Magazine's Make:Books series, co-author of Mac OS X Tiger for Unix Geeks and a number of other geeky books, and iPhone hacker at large.

This is your opportunity to hear expert advice on building applications for the iPhone and ask questions of the experts themselves.

Attendance is limited, so register now. We'll send you a reminder before the webcast.

Date: Thursday, April 3 at 10am PDT (17:00 GMT)
Cost: Free
Duration: 30-45 minutes
Meeting link:
Teleconference dial-in:
(select the number that is closest to your location)
East Coast US: +1 617 231-0350 and pin 8136507
West Coast US: +1 213-455-0500 and pin 8136507

Some people might wonder why we published a book on the open source toolchain when an official SDK has already been announced. (I wondered that myself :-) We started the book before Apple had learned from the first hackers that people wanted more out of the phone and announced the open API. But why didn't we just hold off on publishing it, modify it for the official API, and release it when the time comes (supposedly sometime in June) when the official API is open for business? The answer is threefold.

  1. We believe strongly that hackers mark off the natural paths that official developer programs later pave over and make safe for the less adventurous. Smart companies know this, and pay attention to their hackers. (Google Maps is a great case in point. It became the mapping platform of choice because, rather than shutting down the early mashup hackers, it quickly figured how to pour fuel on the fire that they'd started.) We think that despite the official disapproval, Apple knows that the hacker interest in the iPhone is a great boost to their program and their goals. (Witness the fact that the Apple store in Cambridge MA allowed Jonathan to present on open iPhone development in a meeting at the store.)

  2. The open API has a great deal of overlap with the official API. So getting up and running with the open toolchain will help developers get a head start. But it's also more powerful than the official toolchain, and will let developers continue to push Apple in interesting new directions. Jonathan wrote:
    With the introduction of the Apple SDK, developers gauged its functionality based on a comparison to the unofficial, open source SDK released last August. In the process of building this custom, open source compiler for the iPhone, the development community exposed the many low-level APIs (application programming interfaces) available on the device. Using tools such as class-dump, nm, and just plain old trial-and-error gave developers access to the full breadth of functionality available deep within the iPhone's frameworks. It was used to write applications that could look and act just like Apple's preloaded software, so when Apple announced that their SDK was "the same set of tools," many expected that it would look and feel like the open tool chain. Very few had anticipated the many restrictions they've come to find in the official SDK. While roughly 75% of the two SDKs do overlap, the remaining 25% has shown to be very restrictive, removing the developer's ability to do "the real fun stuff" with their application.

  3. The demand was there. The number of slots in the official API program is far smaller than the apparent demand. We published the book, and it sold out immediately, indicating that we were right. We do plan to update the book with information about the official API as soon as the Apple NDA is lifted, but for now, we are eager to fuel the fire, since we believe that the iPhone is one of the most important new platforms in the market today, and one that developers should be exploring as deeply (and as soon) as possible.

See also Jonathan's article on the O'Reilly Network about open API development for the iPhone for more information about the difference between the two APIs, and why developers need to know about both. We're also planning to have a strong open mobile development track at OScon.

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Comments: 6

  Ajeet Khurana [04.02.08 11:31 AM]

"We believe strongly that hackers mark off the natural paths that official developer programs later pave over and make safe for the less adventurous"

Wow! That is certainly one for the quotations books. I agree. And more power to the ethical hackers. And also some credit to Apple (and others) for not trying to weaken them.

  Russ [04.02.08 03:46 PM]


I completely understand that you guys have an iPhone Hacks book to hawk, but honestly, your continued promotion of developing for the iPhone using unofficial APIs is harming other TRULY OPEN projects more worthy of finite developer time like Maemo, OpenMoko or even Android.

Instead of encouraging your readers to break the law (the DMCA however loathsome covers the sort of stuff you have to do to get code running on the iPhone), I wish you'd recognize that Apple doesn't deserve this sort of attention from you or developers. Apple has decided to keep their device - however cool and interesting - to themselves and sandboxed developers out of doing innovative things. That's their choice, and they should suffer the consequences of it.

Why in the world would you want O'Reilly readers creating new apps on a proprietary platform they have zero control over? Especially from a company that is a litigious and duplicitous as Apple - they've shown quite well in the past that they consider any innovations on their platform to be theirs for the copying (Konfabulator, Watson). The iPhone hacker API is not "open" (calling it so is duplicitous at best) and is viable only as long as Apple's famously vicious lawyers continue to ignore it. As soon as it becomes inconvenient for them, look for the sites and developers supporting those APIs to be ThinkSecreted immediately.

The iPhone is only ONE of the important new platforms on the market today. I would hope that a company like O'Reilly that has made its reputation supporting Open Source projects would recognize the problems with your current enthusiasm for the iPhone and re-think your constant drumbeat of attention you personally and the O'Reilly organization has lavished on it.



  davidm [04.02.08 05:41 PM]

I have to agree, I don't understand why O'Reilly only seems to promote the iPhone. It's truly disproportionate. There seem to be a few favourites and a few dis favourites (Java is one) at the organization. Why champion Apple? They'll always be a niche company, by choice.

  anjan bacchu [04.02.08 07:16 PM]

hi there,

reminds me of what Andrew Schulman did with "undocumented windows 95".

is there a chance that Apple will do what MS did : learn from the hacks to prevent critical hacks from happening ?

Thank you,


  Mark Keuchen [04.03.08 03:19 AM]


what would you think about a plugin for the iphone?

Best Regards

  Tim O'Reilly [04.05.08 10:18 AM]


Lao Tzu says:

"People through finding something beautiful

Think something else unbeautiful,

Through finding one man fit

Judge another unfit.

Life and death, though stemming from each other, seem to conflict as stages of change,

Difficult and easy as phases of achievement,

Long and short as measures of contrast,

High and low as degrees of relation;

But, since the varying of tones gives music to a voice

And what is the was of what shall be,

The sanest man

Sets up no deed,

Lays down no law,

Takes everything that happens as it comes,

As something to animate, not to appropriate,

To earn, not to own,

To accept naturally without self-importance:

If you never assume importance

You never lose it."

(That's Witter Bynner's translation.)

I don't see why documenting the iPhone hurts OpenMoko or Android, any more than our books that make Windows more accessible hurt Linux or the Mac. We're working on Android stuff as well, and if we see a market for OpenMoko books, we'd do that too. (FWIW, we have posted about OpenMoko on this blog as well as the iPhone.)

The iPhone is an important device. People are hacking it. Apple seems to be condoning that hacking (and hopefully learning from it). That's a good thing.

Hopefully, the same folks who are hacking on the iPhone will be hacking on other open mobile platforms as well.

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