Despite discouragement from Apple, some Mac developers are determined to make it possible to easily install and run non-Apple-approved iPhone applications that communicate directly with the smart phone's operating system.
Officially, Apple wants third-party applications to run in the iPhone's Safari Web browser. Such applications would be built using Ajax and other Web 2.0 technologies, and would allow Apple to maintain tight control over the iPhone's operating system.
But having access to the innards of the OS provides the technology needed to build applications with far more capabilities than those running in a Web browser, so Mac developers -- many from the open source community -- are trying to make an end-run around Apple. Glen Aspeslagh, co-founder of Ecamm Network, which builds software for the Mac, estimates there are more than 100 iPhone applications, such as utilities and games, available today that run directly on the OS. "The floodgates are open," he told InformationWeek on Friday.
Among the first projects to pry open the gates since the iPhone was released June 29 was the Toolchain Project, whose members have built what essentially is a software development kit for the iPhone. The kit includes a compiler and the technology needed to run code on the iPhone OS. Aspeslagh has tried it out. "We're pretty impressed," he said. "If you're a Mac OS programmer, then programming on the iPhone is going to look very familiar."
But so-called "native" applications are not for mainstream consumers. "There's no easy way to get applications on the iPhone," Aspeslagh said. "You have to make changes to your iPhone, and that really freaks people out. It's a procedure that could turn your iPhone into a paperweight, if it's not done correctly."