This week at WWDC, Steve Jobs told Mac Developers that they were offering a “sweet” way to develop applications for the iPhone. Yes, he said “sweet”. Multiple times.

Steve also told us this was an “Innovative new way” to develop applications. And that it was “Easy to update – just change the code on your own server”. Ouch! Developers were not happy. This is no way to write good applications for a device.

For a start, how do you start your great app? Well, you click on the Safari icon on the iPhone. Safari starts – possibly at your home page. You click on the Bookmarks button. You search for your application in the list. You click on the bookmark. It loads the URL.

What do you see on screen. You see a web browser screen, complete with Address Bar. At the bottom of the screen are Safari controls. Basically, you see what looks like a web page.

Web Like ApplicationAs an example, I’ll take the wonderful work of David Cann and his Digg for iPhone web application. On the iPhone we’d expect it to look something like the image on the right.

Note the Address Bar and buttons. So not only did you have to start a web browser to start the application, you have to be reminded that this isn’t a real application anyway.

Apple calls this “sweet”.

Now obviously developers would have liked something akin to Dashboard on OS X – small applications that don’t have to run off a web server somewhere. What they were told is that you have to run your own web server (and any costs associated with that) in order to offer your application to others. Not even close to ideal.

But if we accept that Apple can only provide web apps at this stage, couldn’t Apple have at least given us a more usable solution?

Making it “sweeter”

As I’ve mentioned previously, the iphone is missing an icon! That interface is all lopsided – I can’t figure out why Apple didn’t put an extra app there just so the screen shots look aesthetically pleasing from day one.

Given they’re missing an icon, Apple should add one. I’ve called it “Extras” in my mockup. It could have also been called “Widgets” or “Web apps” or something.

iPhone with Extras

The Extras MenuOn tapping the Extras button, Apple could load up a list of special bookmarks – a bookmarks area for Extras that people have added – see the mockup on the right.

By using favicons, the applications get an icon. Sure, not as exciting as having your icon on the iPhone main interface. But at least no one has had to start a web browser and go to bookmarks.

To the end user it is like a sub folder of applications they’ve added themselves. Much like most other phones these days (my Sony Ericsson here has an Applications sub folder where I have downloaded Java applications for my phone).

More App LikeThe user then taps one of the applications. At this point, Safari starts (in the background) and the web application is quietly loaded. However – here’s the big difference. The Address Bar is turned off! As are the buttons at the bottom. The end result is that this looks like a real application.

Ok, it isn’t a real application. Not even close. But at least it gives the appearance of one. It’s “sweeter” than having to go to Safari to launch your application, and requires very little work to add it to the interface. And Apple gets to make their main icon set look aesthetically better. Two birds with one stone.

Sure, adding new apps still requires browsing somewhere, and adding a bookmark to the Extras area. But there are ways to make this easier too.

To quote John Gruber, it is still a “shit sandwich”. But now it would at least have some sugar on it. :-)

iPhone Development: Not so “sweet”

53 thoughts on “iPhone Development: Not so “sweet”

  • June 18, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    I really wish you so-called “developers” would get over this whining. I’m adding six iPhones to my company, one for each employee. The very last thing I want is to find the iPhone has gone kaplunk or the AT&T Network has conked because some developer wrote an errant program.

    So write a browser app and live with it. If not, then develop for another product.

    As a consumer I’d be furious at Apple for allowing my iPhone to come to a halt because of a bad iPhone app.

  • June 18, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    Hi OS2GUY,

    The consumers don’t appear to be demanding Apple run Mail, iChat and iTunes inside a browser to avoid being furious at Apple for crashing their Macs.

  • June 18, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    If you’d actually read the blog, you’d see that he’s accepted the fact that Apple is only allowing browser apps, but can’t see why they couldn’t have provided an easier way to access them, rather than having to use the Safari bookmarks feature. You can’t deny it’s a cheap, lazy hack and we should expect better from Apple, especially considering they claim to have pulled half their developers off Leopard for the iPhone.

  • June 18, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    OS2Guy, I was arguing about usability more than development of web apps. Please re-read the article.

    You can still get your secure web apps – it is the presentation of those apps that is the issue.

  • June 18, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Absolute fabulous idea. I hope that Apple is listening and incorporates your ideas.

    This really would make for a much better user experience for 3rd party iPhone “apps”.

    The next step, beyond fixing the presentation of the 3rd party apps, would be the inclusion of something like Google Gears to allow offline usage.
    For example, I shouldn’t need to be connected to the net to use a shopping program…

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:30 am

    @OS2 Guy “the iPhone has gone kaplunk or the AT&T Network has conked because some developer wrote an errant program.”

    WTF are you talking about? This is hardly whining, its the the truth… obviously you have no clue what your talking about.

    @curmi.. I agree with IphoneLad 100% and hope apple is listening. These web apps are going to be extremely limited, especially at accessing local resources and functions such as the gesture based interaction.

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:47 am

    I just want to clarify something (minor) here:

    The addressbar isn’t always visible onscreen.

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:51 am

    “the iPhone has gone kaplunk or the AT&T Network has conked because some developer wrote an errant program.”

    what the hell are you talking about? devices like smartphones have been programmable for years and nothing malicious has ever happened to a network carrying them. aside from that, its fairly hard to write a virus for platforms like that anyway.

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:53 am

    In all reality developers should not have a problem with this if they have been on the cutting edge of software. Many companies are now using web 2.0 apps to write programsand I don’t understand why developers are complaining. Apple has once again predicted the future and have included suberp functionality with a gorgeous pruduct.

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:54 am

    In all reality developers should not have a problem with this if they have been on the cutting edge of software. Many companies are now using web 2.0 apps to write programs and I don’t understand why developers are complaining. Apple has once again predicted the future and have included superb functionality with a gorgeous pruduct.

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:54 am

    Uh, I’ve been running dozens of apps on my Treo 650 and 700p for years, and I’ve never once taken down Sprint’s network. I guess I’ve just been lucky.

    Sure, my phone will crash if one app steps on another, but by only having just those apps I can’t live without, I’ve got my crashes down to about one per quarter. I can live with that, especially for the added functionality these apps give me over Palm’s default software.

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:57 am

    “and have included suberp functionality”

    what? all they did was include a web browser and market it as a way to create programs for the iphone. how can you consider a marketing technique “superb functionality”?

  • June 19, 2007 at 9:59 am

    I agree with you 100%. You could tell that they knew they were laying the bull on pretty thick during the WWDC. Like, “please, don’t call us on this total bull.” I’m not a developer, and I knew right away. I want cool touch and drag games, cool new ways to use it, and not to have to be online to access them. Anyone know if it’ll play interactive flash movies?

  • June 19, 2007 at 10:09 am

    This is the dumbest article I’ve read in a long time. In my humble opinion, and with the utmost respect, I submit that the author is an idiot. And I further submit that the ridiculous issues raised in this article matter only to the author himself, and exactly no one else.

  • June 19, 2007 at 10:11 am

    “iPhone may crash” – OS2Guy is clueless.
    If iPhone is running real MacOSX, why can’t they provide a sandbox to run user apps ? Segment the memory, run a VM or whatever.
    I think the blogger has given a more plausible solution- in fact I would have demanded similar icons in the Extras page as well.
    It is true that Apple has taken the cheap way out – probably for the launch date criteria. May be we will have some hope in iPhoneV2 ? or as a patch ?
    Good blog, dude – don’t worry about the OS2Guys and VMSGuys and other lame ducks.

  • June 19, 2007 at 10:16 am

    @The OS2Guy

    I can’t believe that a smart guy like you would believe this BS FUD from Apple…

    Smartphones have been around for years and not one of them have hurt the network…

    Apple just hates being open… it’s a shame, ‘cos the iPhone could have been a revolutionary device.. instead, it will just be another fancy “non-smart” phone…

  • June 19, 2007 at 10:17 am

    Actually, they might not have had the time to make a proper SDK – so in the interim this is the Jobsian trip – one sweet illusion. I love the Macs, I am crazy about OS X, I love the iPhone – but I can’t take bullshit – even if it is from Steve. And this qualifies for uncontaminated bullshit.

  • June 19, 2007 at 10:48 am

    Good ideas curmi. I too hope Apple is listening. However, assuming iPhone ships with effectively Tiger and Safari3 at the end of this month, I would be pissed if there isn’t an upgrade to Leopard and Safari3x come October, that will bring Web Clip and updated Dashboard that will allow you make Widgets of your iPhone webapps. Who knows, perhaps the publicised ‘interface’ of iPhone is actually a version of Dashboard. ??? Just trying to crystal ball gaze and think wishfully here a bit.
    I also agree with Roger re Steve is still holding a lot of cards against his chest. I don’t believe that was the keynote he wanted to be able to present.

  • June 19, 2007 at 11:38 am

    I’ve been reading your blog for years. I wish Apple would just hire you and let you run the GUI development. Then we’d really see something sweet… schmick even.

  • June 19, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    I have been wanting to make an iPhone app, but I am afraid I won’t be able to cope with the server load if it gets a lot of use.

  • June 19, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Corralling web apps into a separate folder is a good idea, but even better would be to allow the user to save a bookmark as an icon so that the web app can be launched directly from Home. Of course that could eventually lead to the cluttered-desktop syndrome, but it would be a step towards seamlessness.

  • June 19, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    I 100% agree with your application menu idea… it’s almost as good as just allowing developers to put an icon on the main application menu… ;)

  • June 19, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    I second the Google Gears point. Since it is safari, and Apple and Google have been friendly of late, I am hoping a iPhone Safari Gears support will be out very early. If they implement this idea and we’ve got gears all should be well.

  • June 19, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    You all don’t get it. Steve is marketing this “great” way to write apps now. He would never even dream of releasing the iPhone SDK that isn’t ready until Leapord launch. Because Apple doesn’t do that. They don’t tell you about stuff before it happens. Except for the iPhone. Now that we know that the iPhone will be out soon, they don’t have anything to tell us until it happens. There I said it stop whining the SDK is coming chill it out.

  • June 19, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    I’m agree with you completely, im no developer, i’m a user and with jobs announcement i expected something else, not this so call “sweet solution” but all we can do is wait to see if apple can find another way fot developers to write great apps.

  • June 19, 2007 at 2:05 pm


    There isn’t gonna be an iPhone SDK. Its an iPod with phone features and a “smartphone” in marketing only.

    I mean, look at all of the 3rd part iPod apps we have now thanks to that iPod SDK Appl-


  • June 19, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    I agree with Rick. Apple should just hire this curmi the frog/blog whatever. His ideas seems simple, sensible and useful. No doubt Apple will ‘borrow’ them without giving any credit.

  • June 19, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    I am not a developer myself. But as a current Smartphone power user, I am suprised no one has brought up the fact that with the current development model, it’s not possible to develop a VERY critical app for me, an electronic wallet.

    One of the things that significantly increases my productivity, is to have all my information when I need it, where I need it. I am shipping in Kinkos and don’t remember my Fedex account number, no problem, open my wallet…

    Well, with the current frameowrk for development, I would have to serve this information right from the web… I don’t think so!

    Isn’t this an issue for more people?

  • June 19, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Martin, this is exactly the sort of thing we aren’t getting because of the lack of an SDK.

    There are all sorts of apps that shouldn’t require you to connect to the internet. For example, a scientific calculator app that does more than the built in one – something a scientist might want. Even a simple shopping list application.

    This isn’t what my blog article was concentrating on, but it is clearly a problem for those who can see the possibilities a device like this should provide, and feel they are being blocked in making the possibilities reality.

  • June 19, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    It’s too expensive for me to care. My phone cost 80 bux and can do email web games and music. Not super fancy, but not 6x less fancy.

  • June 19, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    How sweet, Apple just reinvented WAP.

  • June 19, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    I dont see the big deal about the 3rd party app integration. I mean, yes its a but of a clumsy way to have to go via safari… But doesn’t this more or less indicate that apple either has some ubersmart way of doing things we can’t comprehend yet or are they making it like this so not many people will use it and thus keep the iPhone clean and *pure* without cluttering apps.

    I think another good question is; will we really need 3rd party apps? What apps does the iPhone ship with? Isn’t that just enough?

    I for one, use a phone to call people, send SMS messages and occasionally when i don’t have my my macbook pro at hand go online. (But usually i use my phone as a modem for that matter.) And while typing this post, i can’t really think of one thing i would add to the iPhone.

    As far as i could find, it has everything most people would need….

  • June 19, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    SHRIKEE, I fail to see why you even need an iPhone, my cheap prepaid cingular phone does all of the stuff that you need, so of course a phone marketed as a smart phone will also come with the stuff you need.

    Also I think that people need to be reminded that Apple is not god, stop thinking of them as some omniscient being. It is a company run by people out to make a profit, they will mess up just like any other company and their products are not perfect, if they were we’d all still be using the original iPod and every other company would be out of business.

    Sticking apps on a web browser is no new trick. Its something that any phone capable of web browsing could do, including my el cheapo phone if sony felt like doing like apple and claim it was some sweet new system.

  • June 19, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Look, if you need the functionality of running native applications on a device with a big touch screen and a fast processor, there’s already a couple great platforms out there.

    Windows Mobile would be my first choice. You can use .NET or native C code, there are a plethora of tried and tested devices available with any combination of features, and there’s nothing that the iPhone can do that something from HTC can’t do better.

    Palm would be second – there are a ton of them still out there.
    Symbian isn’t a bad bet either, though you’re mostly just targeting Nokia with that.

    Honestly, the iPhone isn’t a serious attempt at an open, extensible platform.

    Think about this: if all the applications are web-based and Apple insists you run them off your own server, people are going to be paying for connection charges just to run an application. That may be fine and dandy in some parts of the States where you can get unlimited data, but the majority of the world still has you paying obscene amounts of money for data. In Vancouver, I pay $10 a month to get 5 megabytes of data. That wouldn’t last ten minutes of use for a real app.

    Second to that point is the fact that the iPhone only has EDGE, the 2.75G GSM data solution. It’s not bad and is widely available, but it’s a little pokey for heavy application use. The demonstrations of Google Maps and streaming video that you’ve seen are undoubtedly over Wi-Fi, not cellular data.

    In short – it’s a fashionista device for the hip crew to bandy about. People serious about having real mobile capabilities are going to stick with devices that don’t lock you down. I have a 400 MHz processor in my device – let me use it to process shit, rather than the network, thanks.

  • June 19, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Did you really just criticize Apple for not putting an extra, unnecessary item in a menu in order to make it symmetrical?

    Aesthetics are important, but they do not, ever, govern information design. Put a button where a button is useful. If your design needs IA to change to accommodate it, your design is not up to snuff.

  • June 19, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    I’m just wondering if the iphone runs off of some unix variant, and if so . . . just ssh into the sucker and install and compile all you want . . . just an idea.

  • June 19, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Replaceable Battery Please!
    Can you imagine having to send your mobile phone back to Apple to have the battery replaced [possibly a new device] and the data security issues related to that?

  • June 19, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    You know what? Just imagine: memory prices drop, hardware improves all the time. What is the problem of running small web server locally on the device? Hogging on resources? Don’t even start.

    Then starting an app would execute Safari in back end and go to local server and run the app locally.

    Anything else that bugs you? You should understand that all applications will be online sooner or later….

  • June 19, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    Mikesol almost got it right. Everyone needs to keep in mind that the Apple iPhone paradigm is very different from that of the standard cell phone carries. No carrier wants you to load your own apps. They want the world to be a service economy. So, unless you get your Apps purchased via your carrier, then you must pony up for the data charge to access a crippled web version of that app. Further, unless you are selling the application via the carrier, there is no reason for them to want you to have an SDK.

    Perhaps this will change, but for now all of these decisions, which people assume are for the sake of a timely product launch, are most likely for carrier profit purposes.

  • June 20, 2007 at 12:14 am

    Isn’t it obvious? The thing has a microphone and a system, with some memory to boot. So OBVIOUSLY it truly needs DICTATION SOFTWARE ! Now that would turn it into a very desirable device, even despite its several (and severe) shortcomings (limitation to Cingular/AT&T, high price, limited memory for video and music, lack of voice dialing, etc.). But just think if you could dictate an Email, or dictate a text file to go (later) to a word processor/printer! Now that would be revolutionary !

  • June 20, 2007 at 3:09 am

    Web Apps are the future. Screw having to code apps to the underlying OS.

  • June 20, 2007 at 3:10 am

    OS2guy, iPhone runs Safari. In case you haven’t realized, the Windows release of Safari has proven it to be very insecure. Some of these exploits have already been able to be used on OSX.

    Now, I’m assuming that the Safari in the iPhone is going to have much more control over the iPhone’s OS if it is to run these javascript applications. Given the strongly insecure state of Safari, I would be much more concerned with someone finding an exploit in Safari.

    Depending on how much access Safari has to the rest of the OS, it would be very possible for a remote user to read your emails, get your contacts, view your calendar, etc.

    All of this could easily be going on in the background, because the applications are stored on a remote server.

    Running Javascript iPhone apps in Safari seems like a giant mess. I’ve installed plenty of Java applications on my i760, and I have yet to have any major problem with it “bricking” a phone.

    And, on top of this, if you need a third party app which doesn’t require internet access, it is still going to need to connect to the remote server to run. Say, you have a special calculator application. You are at a place you don’t get reception. You won’t be able to use your application simply because you don’t have any net access.

    And I’m also assuming that the dataplans aren’t unlimited? If they aren’t you’re going to end up paying a lot of money. This could cause massive problems for ATTs already slow and stressed data network.

    This is a terrible idea, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from Apple. The macfags and nubs are going to hop on this like crazy, regardless.

    I guess it just makes it easier for people like me to take advantage of people like you.

  • June 29, 2007 at 5:47 am

    Ok to the MACRETARDS:

    “As a consumer I’d be furious at Apple for allowing my iPhone to come to a halt because of a bad iPhone app.”

    “The very last thing I want is to find the iPhone has gone kaplunk or the AT&T Network has conked because some developer wrote an errant program.”

    THESE are the most stupid commnets yet I’ve come across. I guess people with money are allowed to be retarded.

    So far 10,000s of apps have been developed for Symbian and MS Mobile.
    They have NOT crashed any phone communications EVER!

    Now there may be some applications that are crap but you’re gonna come across those for the price of having so much variety.

    “you’d be furious” ? um restart it and then unintall the program when you get home ya MACTARD! Your buys a BETA RELEASE, do you really think THAT is not going to lock up at some point in time?

    Mactards= entertainment for all ! lol

  • July 11, 2007 at 6:16 am

    As a fulltime developer on business web based applications, I would expect the iphone to have at least 3G capability. I can easily image how slow the 3rd party apps run on this without it (3G).

    WTF was StevieWonder thinking? Has he lost the plot completely?

    Web browsers have been proven in the past to be way more hackable than embedded OSes could ever hope to be. Now add in the fact that Apple has its underlying iPhone APIs exposed (like MS’s active-x) through the safari browser and you have a hack-fest like no other!!

    What the hell is the point of marketing this as “more” safe??? Does Apple really know they are doing? Maybe they should consult and listen to ther client base and current OSX developers instead of deciding what is and is not good for them and they just have to shut up and take it like a bunch of brainless morons, which they are most definitely not!

    Apple is perfecting their Master & Slave attitude by the day!

    Wake up Apple – you screwed your client base and yourselves irreversably this time :)

  • September 24, 2007 at 6:09 am

    The solution is the Intel Sirlverthorne chip. A full Mac OS X on your hand. A full computer on your hand. Expect it on 2008.

  • October 3, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Well, you can join the underground development team like I have done. I have used the following link: to successfully build a tool-chain on my Fedora Core 5 OS – Intel processor laptop. I have joined ADC, and fetched MAX OS X 10.4u SDK and other documentations to develop the native apps for my iPhone. To test my tool-chain out, I have download two sample apps from the underground iPhone development team, built them, and executed them on my iPhone. Since my iPhone is on my home network, I can access it using ssh and scp. I am working on my app now using ObjectC and Cocoa framework.
    Please try the above link – Hope that you will have as much fun as I have had with this magnificent device called iPhone

  • April 29, 2008 at 11:19 am

    1. If you’re not a developer, shut the f*** up.
    2. If YOU install a God damn program and it crashes your iPhone, tough s**t.
    3. The OS2Guy and Jason can suck my balls.

    I hate you guys…

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