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kid mercury

i'm still skeptical of apple opening up their platform, even after this announcement from jobs. let's see how open it really is -- if it is a platform designed to serve developers, and if they do real work in catering to developers and building a community for them, or if this is simply an open door to apple's prison (i.e. facebook style). in light of apple's history, i'm inclined to think it's the latter.

Ricardo Oliveira

[I'll try again]


I'm a student of journalism in Brazil and I am reading some parts of your book "Interface Culture". I was reading your thoughts about the "FireFly" agent and now I've a question: what do you realize about "Last.Fm"?

I have a blog about art and comunication and I really would like to show for my readers your thoughts about this new agent, Last.Fm. Could be great.

Ricardo Oliveira


Releasing an SDK was always part of the plan. People were just too impatient to wait for it. The iPhone has only been out three months for God's sake.

In a January interview in the New York Times, John Markoff quoted Jobs as saying:

“We define everything that is on the phone. You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore. These are more like iPods than they are like computers.”

However, Jobs also noted, “These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them. That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn’t mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.”

And Kid Mercury, I don't know how you can say Apple doesn't have a good history with software developers. If that's true, how do you explain Apple's Developer's Connection every year. Why don't you stop repeating Microsoft's FUD and do some real research: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Developer_Connection

Adam Rice

I don't pretend to know what Apple's original policy was WRT an SDK, but I do know that at the iPhone rollout, when Jobs said web apps are the only development platform, it was a poke in the eye. And if the original intent was to ship an SDK eventually, that was a remarkably, and uncharacteristically tin-eared PR move.

I don't want to say this apparent reversal is worse PR than never shipping an SDK, because it's not. But it is worse PR than being upfront about plans to ship one later. There may be a brilliant plan at work, but I suspect this was a PR mistake.


In answer to your closing question, Steve Jobs said from the beginning that the iPhone would eventually be opened up, and that they were internally debating the best way to do it for security/reliability reasons--pretty much the same thing he said in his "Hot News" note, minus a ship date. He was very clear about this at the introduction of the phone, but so much hot air has blown on this issue in the last few months that people have forgotten. I see that one of the other commenters has actually chased down some sources, so thank you!


iPhone released in late summer. New OS to be released in Fall. iPhone uses frameworks and code not included in the current OS, so OS patches were issued for iPhone compatibility. The evidence is very heavy that iPhone and Leopard were always intended to go forward hand in hand and timing was always expected to be an issue. My money is that Apple always intended to keep iPhone development on Leopard (particularly on XCode3). patching XCode2/Tiger to do it was spending resources on an audience that will rapidly vanish with the introduction of the new OS (that audience being developers on Tiger, not necessarily Tiger users, which won't shrink as fast.)

Louis Wheeler

I don't believe that Steve Jobs changed his mind about anything. He always intended the iPhone to have a Software Development Kit, but some problems intervened. The iPhone is still too insecure to permit third party developers. It was a tough job getting the iPhone to be as ready as it was. Then the programmers had to switch back to getting Leopard out the door.

If you look back at Steve's early announcements, he never precluded a SDK but always said that the iPhone isn't ready. It was the hackers who jumped to a false conclusion. Is Steve Jobs a control freak? Yes. As much of one as the Hackers implied? No. Steve Jobs isn't stupid.

It is no coincidence that Steve chose the day after Leopard was announced to tell us about this. The iPhone is a Leopard devise. It uses Mac OSX 10.5 leopard technologies like Core Animation to make it work. Could Steve tell anyone about this? No. Apple does not talk about unreleased products. It learned from Microsoft not to do that.


Hah, don't be so gullible! There's exactly zero shift in strategy. Jobs's is simply saying what he needs to say to make the criticism go away. As you already said:

"keeping the SDK plans secret wasn't a competitive advantage in any sense, and it was bringing on a ton of ill will from people who would otherwise be iPhone fanatics."

Jobs is still running a one-party totalitarian state with absolute control over the media. When he has a couple of thousand bloggers including product teams putting their views and soliciting feedback on public beta products then there might be some openness, but at the moment, there isn't.

@ Louis Wheeler
> Apple does not talk about unreleased
> products. It learned from Microsoft
> not to do that.

You can't keep products secret if your business is based on tens of thousands of outside companies building on top of your product platforms. It only makes sense if your strategy is to own the whole market yourself, via vertical integration.

If you want to own the hardware, the OS, the apps, the online services, the peripherals and the shops and lock everyone else out (or charge them high prices to participate) then of course it makes perfect sense.


Nice post, but what does openness and transparency have to do with Web 2.0? Are you thinking confusing it with Clue Train? Web 2.0 is user-contributed data and social networking.

Vocabulary mission creep?

Also, the term is "organic milk," not "Web 2.0 milk." And "hybrid car," not "Web 2.0 car."


This article is like all the other whiney hacker comments for the last month or so, complaining and whining about things that don't go exactly the way they think it should. And then, on top of that, they view everything in their own limited "world-view" which bears no resemblance to reality, only what is in their own limited and deficient minds.

Apple was always going to put out an SDK. It was only the whiney hackers that couldn't see beyond the nose on their own faces that had no recognition of reality, plus not being able to read previous Apple statements to that effect, that caused them to "go on a rampage in a web-corner of the Internet (fortunately a corner of the Internet that has nothing to do with real life).

The most hilarious statement (phrase) of this whole article is "That suggests to me that he's still evolving as a CEO and as a PR wizard...". That's a real HOOT!! LOL!

Jobs comes back to Apple, brings his engineers and operating system with him, transforms Apple into a successful company that it was meant, always, to be, and he's still evolving...??! That's the problem with these kinds of hacker/cracker analyses and their inability to comprehend reality (only in their own limited spheres of influence, within the gray matter that they own themselves...).

These other CEO and PR people should have 1/10 of the capability of Jobs and they would turn any company around in six months... LOL!

The process of what went on with the iPhone was to "get it out the door" on the schedule that they announced. They took engineers off Leopard to work on the iPhone. They did not develop the SDK at that time, with plans to do it after they finished Leopard, because a lot of it depended upon Leopard. In order to "hold over" people, in order to have "some apps", they made it possible to do something with "web apps" in order to tide people over until Leopard was finished, and then the SDK (which depended upon Leopard).

So, Leopard is out the door (essentially) and now the SDK will be worked on, full speed, until its release.

Everything is in logical and "plain sense" order -- something which escapes whiney hackers and their inability to comprehend reality beyond their limited hacks.

Thank God for people like Jobs, who can comprehend reality and business and PR and programming, enough to make a booming success of Apple through all these years that he's been back. And thank God that the overwhelming majority of iPhone users don't even bother listening to the whiney hackers and their idiotic ideas. Thank goodness that Apple will be dealing with the future programmers of Apple's iPhone in a sensible and orderly manner and not by means of hacking through security holes in the iPhone system, like these whiney hackers try to do. Thank goodness that these future programmers (of the iPhone) will be handled through a certification system, in which apps will be tagged and certified as they were programmed (by means of a signature) and they will definitely be identified as from a particular person or company and distributed through controlled means specified by Apple. This is how to make sure that people don't get all these whackey or malicious hackers invading the iPhone space of casual and ordinary users.

It's a good thing that Apple, led by Steve Jobs, knows how to do those things.


Since Jobs return, except for one instance, Apple does not discuss future products in public:
1. unless Apple is sure technologically speaking that it will happen and has a projected release date, i.e., Intel switch, Leopard preview, AppleTV preview, iPhone preview, and now iPhone SDK, and
2. unless Apple benefits from early external developments, i.e., prepare developers, discourage consumer cellular contract renewals/lock-ins, gain digital content. New products without these needs are kept secret until launch date.

So, I've always been convinced based on what Jobs said at MW in Jan (NYT article), at All Things D in May (interview transcript), and at intro in June (WSJ article), that an SDK was being worked on but Apple was technologically unsure if it was feasible (relative to maintaining the user experience that it wants), and clearly had no projected date for release. There was no urgency to tell potential developers since there was uncertainty and no projected date for release. Apple would not stoop to FUD like MS did with Longhorn. Given the uncertainty, Apple spun up a Web-based DK for developers - and said, take it, or leave it and go do something else. Apple wasn't going to have developers expecting an SDK that it might not deliver.

Finally, the SDK clearly depended on features being included in the Leopard development, and if Leopard did not have those needed features by the Oct deadline, then the SDK would be pushed off further into the future. I think the major changes in iPhone 1.1.1 was a good indication that decisions were made, and its rushed release allowed Apple to test some things before Leopard went Gold Master. So the SDK announcement following Leopard Gold Master status makes perfect sense. And developers still have 6 months using Leopard to get ready for the SDK.

The one instance where Jobs violated his rule was his saying 3GHz G5 PPC chips would be available within a year.


As a Red Sox fan, the verbiage swirling around the iPhone SDK reminds me of nothing as much as the relationship between Red Sox fans and Red Sox management. There are so many opinions of what should and could be done, with incredibly forceful opinions on what the absolutely "right" thing is to do based on nothing more than the tiny sliver that each individual can or chooses to see. Meanwhile, all this adds is another layer of crap for management to deal with while trying to manage the whole picture.

The arrogance inherent in all this is astounding. Every no-talent assclown out there convinces themselves they can do a better job when they only see a minute fraction of the whole strategy, partnerships, and related product lines. Rolling out something as huge as the iPhone is really really hard - that's why so many very smart people screw things like that up. 99.98% of the people who comment on the iPhone have no idea and even less talent for what's involved.

I love free speech, but "timor licentia conturbat me" people. Just because you *can* say something doesn't mean you *should*.


So true, Dogzilla. Especially when, being short-sighted, so many people miss the true point of the Apple-AT&T partnership.

That is, in return for sharing in the revenue, Apple is easing AT&T's (and its other carrier partners) transition from voice minutes+data plans to all-data plans, priced at different speeds and capacity limits. Apple does this by increasing the number of subscribers paying for data. iPhone is a phone as Jobs keeps repeating, but Apple will soon change the meaning of phone, from a "voice" device, to a data device, where voice is just one kind of data.

Apple is aiming to convince the carriers that there is a huge market willing to pay for data, who today don't pay anything for data. And what better phone to use for data than iPhone, and iPhone 3G when it arrives (alongside with AT&T's 3G network build-out). And to make data more valuable (so more people will be willing to pay), iPhone needs more data apps, therefore, all this effort for an SDK.

So despite all the whining from unlockers, Apple's best interest is to make AT&T a success, after which the other carriers will also transition, after which Apple will either give up their revenue share, or contract with the other carriers for a share of revenue.

Harvard Irving

"Web 2.0 is user-contributed data and social networking."

Wait, I thought that was Web 1.0? Rememebr how the internet was supposed to free us from the shackles of corporate media, and be a bastion of freedom?

I thought Web 2.0 was AJAX and stuff.

Actually, I have always thought that "Web 2.0" was a useless buzzword that is used by people without imagination to hype their websites and poorly thought-out business plans. It's a term that people use when they don't know what they are talking about, but want to look like they are "hip" and "with it."


Great post, very interesting points :)

Steven Johnson

@Stephen -- the web 2.0 line could have perhaps more clearly written as "the openness and transparency so fashionable among Web 2.0 companies..." though I do think that openness is a value associated with Web 2.0 functionality as well, in precisely the social networking sites you mention (ie, living your private life out in public on MySpace and Facebook, etc.) But I meant it more in the sense that every post-Flickr/Delicious company has a blog and is constantly trying to out-expose the competition with behind-the-scene details, etc. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, by the way.)

@All of you who seem to think I'm being critical of Jobs in this piece, or saying he made some kind of mistake -- um, please read the post again. I'm saying I think he played it just right, assuming that Apple officially decided relatively recently to release the SDK. I think it is an undeniable fact that Jobs has had a more open "conversation" with his consumers (and not just the press) over the past year, with these quasi-blog post announcements, so there is some kind of evolving going on....

yet another steve

Of course it was the plan all along. And there was SOME strategic benefit to secrecy--this is going to be a highly disruptive platform. Think about an iPod that's really an OSX computer. GPS device? Game platform? An ecosystem to produce EVERYTHING. How would SJ possibly pass up the chance to flank MS and leverage the ipod into OSX being the Windows -- the lingua franca -- of consumer devices?

But a platform SDK that will possibly last decades is a very different undertaking than a device with internal apps (for internal apps you can rev the internal apis, have the other teams recompile, and ship as a unified update. Can't do that when people are programming to a public sdk/interface. Not to mention security...

So an SDK was going to take more time.

But how could SJ pass up on this opportunity?

MS has seen it all along. Its the only logic behind entering the mp3 player market. They see where the ipod and advancing technology leads.

A family of various sized portable consumer devices running OSX with an SDK. How could Apple NOT have been heading in this direction?

You're right about the announcement... the negatives were outweighing the benefits of secrecy. Plus it was leaking. But SJ would have to be an idiot to stop with making a closed phone. And he is sooo not an idiot.


I think the rationale behind Apple's iPhone marketing and mobile OSX SDK plans could be like this:

- What Apple is trying to do, is building a successful mobile computing platform. The whole thing is damn bigger than a fancy touchscreen phone. They've lined up the hardware, the UI and the software platform for a whole class of great handheld computers - the introduction of the iPod touch just few months after the iPhone is a clear sign of that strategy.

- With this in mind, I'd assume that they planned from the beginning to release an SDK at some point.
A computing platform just can't fullfill is potential without an ecosystem of third party development.

- "At some point" is when they have tested their platform in the wild, refined security, sorted out real world bugs, correct the .0 deficencies, figured out a business model for software distribution, and when they can offer an appetible user base.
Which is, when they have sold a decent number of products based on their platform.

- To sell those products, the iPhone and then the iPod Touch, they needed to put the emphasys on them, on their own value, not on the future value of the emerging work-in-progress platform they belong to
(which, incidentally, is what vendors like MS or Sun would probably have done).

Much better say "hey, this is the iPhone, it rocks, it does a lots of great things, we packed it with anything you need, and you can even access lots of third party web apps via Safari, you don't need anything else on it" than to say "we have this new phone which runs our brand new OS for mobile, the thing is not finished by now but we have written a couple of cool apps for it, and when in six or seven months we'll have sorted out the bugs and shortcomings, documented the apis and reinforced security, it will be a great platform".

Ross Hill

Jobs was simply playing the PR game - how much coverage did Apple get?

1) The iPhone is shiny! Woohoo!
2) It's a closed device, booo!
3) Will he or won't he?
4) He will! Yay!
5) Was it planned or not?
6) Who cares, let's go play with some more apps.
7) Did you see the Spore game?
8) Scott is the new Steve.

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But a platform SDK that will possibly last decades is a very different undertaking than a device with internal apps (for internal apps you can rev the internal apis, have the other teams recompile, and ship as a unified update. Can't do that when people are programming to a public sdk/interface. Not to mention security

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But a platform SDK that will possibly last decades is a very different undertaking than a device with internal apps (for internal apps you can rev the internal apis, have the other teams recompile, and ship as a unified update. Can't do that when people are programming to a public sdk/interface. Not to mention security

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I'm a father of three boys, husband of one wife, and author of nine books, host of one television series, and co-founder of three web sites. We split our time between Brooklyn, NY and Marin County, CA. Personal correspondence should go to sbeej68 at gmail dot com. If you're interested in having me speak at an event, drop a line to Wesley Neff at the Leigh Bureau (WesN at Leighbureau dot com.)

My Books

  • Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

    Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
    A history of innovation accompanied by a 6-part TV series on PBS and the BBC, this was the first of my books to crack the top 5 on the NY Times bestseller list. Appropriately for a book that celebrates diverse networks, this was the most collaborative of any of my books. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age

    Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
    My first book-length attempt to organize my writings about emergence and networks into something resembling a political philosophy, which I called Peer Progressivism. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

    Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
    An exploration of environments that lead to breakthrough innovation, in science, technology, business, and the arts. I conceived it as the closing book in a trilogy on innovative thinking, after Ghost Map and Invention. But in a way, it completes an investigation that runs through all the books, and laid the groundwork for How We Got To Now. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Invention of Air

    The Invention of Air
    The story of the British radical chemist Joseph Priestley, who ended up having a Zelig-like role in the American Revolution. My version of a founding fathers book, and a reminder that most of the Enlightenment was driven by open source ideals. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Ghost Map

    The Ghost Map
    The story of a terrifying outbreak of cholera in 1854 London 1854 that ended up changing the world. An idea book wrapped around a page-turner. I like to think of it as a sequel to Emergence if Emergence had been a disease thriller. You can see a trailer for the book here. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

    Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
    The title says it all. This one sparked a slightly insane international conversation about the state of pop culture -- and particularly games. There were more than a few dissenters, but the response was more positive than I had expected. And it got me on The Daily Show, which made it all worthwhile. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

    Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
    My first best-seller, and the only book I've written in which I appear as a recurring character, subjecting myself to a battery of humiliating brain scans. The last chapter on Freud and the neuroscientific model of the mind is one of my personal favorites. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
    The story of bottom-up intelligence, from slime mold to Slashdot. Most of my books sold more copies than this one, but Emergence has influenced the most eclectic mix of fields: political campaigns, web business models, urban planning, the war on terror. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate

    Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
    My first. The book I wrote instead of finishing my dissertation, predicting the growing cultural significance of interface and information design. Still relevant, I think. But I haven't read it in a while, so who knows what's in there! (Available from IndieBound here.)

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