Sure the new iPhone is cool, but those apps...

Sure the new iPhone is cool, but those apps...

By Hiawatha Bray, Globe Staff | July 11, 2008 The Boston Globe

I haven't laid hands on the new Apple Inc. iPhone yet, and I don't much care. That's because I've already spent hours with Apple's most important innovation of the year, and it's not a piece of hardware.

It's an array of powerful, versatile software programs that run on old iPhones as well as new ones, which go on sale today. Most don't cost much and many are free. Hundreds of these applications, or "apps," became available yesterday through the App Store, part of Apple's iTunes Internet retail service.

Yes, the new iPhone is important enough. Its built-in global positioning system chip and faster cellular data networking are major improvements to an already brilliant design. Still, the new iPhone isn't a game-changer.

But iPhone 2.0 is. That's Apple's name for a software upgrade that finally lets outside companies write programs to run on the iPhone. When the phone was unveiled in June 2007, software developers worldwide were salivating over the chance to write innovative programs for it. But Apple didn't provide access to the iPhone's core operating system, freezing out third-party software development.

The policy also hampered the iPhone's ability to compete with rival smartphone technologies. Corporate and government users prefer Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry phones or devices running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Mobile software or Nokia Corp.'s Symbian software. Those systems encourage third-party developers to write compatible programs with innovative features.

Microsoft used the same policy with the desktop version of Windows. The result was a tidal wave of Windows-compatible programs that overwhelmed rivals like Apple's desktop computer, the Macintosh.

Apple has plainly learned the lesson. Last year, the company vowed it would eventually open up the iPhone. Earlier this year, it provided software developers with a tool kit for building iPhone programs.

Now comes the payoff, and it's a lavish one. Apple says independent developers have already created 500 apps for the iPhone.


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Monty Solomon
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