Apple has just given the world its first look at the system it is putting together to allow developers to create and distribute third-party applications for the iPhone.
As expected, Apple’s rules for what developers can create and how they will distribute their applications are very stringent.
According to CEO Steve Jobs, developers will have access to the same tools for creating applications that Apple’s on-house team does.
Software will be assembled using Xcode and Cocoa Touch, which has been modified from the standard version to take into account that iPhone applications are touch-oriented, not keyboard oriented.
In addition, Apple has created the iPhone Simulator, which allows programmers to run their software on a virtual device on a Mac, which will save development time.
The company posted a free beta version of the iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit) on its web site today. To distribute applications, developers will have to be a part of Apple’s developer program, which costs $99 to join.
As had been rumored, developers will not be allowed to directly distribute their software to iPhone and iPod touch users. Instead, it will all have to go through Apple.
iPhone owners will be able to find applications directly on their on their device through Apple’s App Store. They will also have the option of buying and installing software through iTunes.
Developers will set the prices for their products, but Apple’s cut of all revenue will be 30%. The company will allow freeware to be distributed through approved channels.
By controlling the distribution channels, Jobs made it plain that Apple will block software in categories it doesn’t approve of: porn, privacy violations, bandwidth hogs, illegal, malicious, and ‘unforeseen.’
Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior VP of marketing, promised that the process for getting applications approved and posted in the distribution system will be "quick, efficient", but he wouldn’t commit to a turn-around time.
Although developers will be able to get started on their applications today, the distribution system won’t be in place until late June. It will require a free iPhone 2.0 upgrade for the iPhone, but Apple is going to charge iPod touch users for their version of this software upgrade.
Apple also announced that the venture capital firm KPCB is starting a $100 million fund to help developers create compelling — and profitable — software for the iPhone.
Update: Q&A with Steve Jobs
In a Question and Answer session after the formal event today, Steve Jobs said that VoIP applications that use cellular-wireless networks will not be allowed, but ones that use Wi-Fi networks will be permitted.
He also said — to no one’s surprise — that developers will not be able to distribute applications that SIM unlock the iPhone.
In addition, Jobs said that Apple is working on a method to allow companies to securely distribute internally-developed software to just their employees. There will also be a method to allow IT managers to block employees from installing third-party applications.
There will even be a method to allow parents to prevent their children from using some of the functions on the iPhone, like the Safari web browser.