Predictably, Apple will Open Up iPhone

You have to think this was the plan all along, but sometimes it seems that Apple's secretive ways get in the way, even when being a bit more transparent would help customers and end questions about the iPhone's most controversial limitation.

Apple on Wednesday announced via an open letter from mercurial CEO Steve Jobs that it would begin opening up its iPhone to third party developers in early 2008. The announcement comes amidst a series of steps the company has taken to block third party applications on the device, some of which have caused customers' phones to become unusable.

"We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK \[software development kit\] in developers' hands in February," Mr. Jobs wrote. " It will take until February to release an SDK because we're trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once -- provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc. This is no easy task."

Excitement over the iPhone dimmed somewhat in recent months as it became obvious that the company's original plan for allowing third party development via a Web-only interface was limiting and unsophisticated. More problematic, perhaps, Apple actively fought those who tried to undermine those limitations and install native applications on the device. The iPhone is the only major smart phone type device on the market that doesn't provide support native applications. On other mobile platforms, like Windows Mobile and the Palm OS, this support has resulted in healthy markets for add-on applications and features. The iPhone, however, is locked against these advances by design.

Apple didn't provide any details about the SDK or the functionality that developers will be able to access. Jobs did, however, hint that it would continue to be restricted compared to platforms like Windows Mobile and Palm OS. Referencing a newer Nokia phone design, Jobs noted that the "less than 'totally open'" approach used there was "a step in the right direction."

So this is a step in the right direction, albeit a belated and probably limited step. It's unclear how this change in course will affect the two iPhone-related lawsuits the company now faces: Apple is charged with unlawfully restricting consumer choice by locking out third party applications on the iPhone.

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