In a message signed by Steve Jobs, Apple announced that it will release an SDK for the iPhone in February.
How open will the iPhone be with the SDK? There are two kinds of open-ness associated with the iPhone, first the ability to load applications into the phone’s execution environment and run them, and second the ability for the phone to work on any GSM network (network unlocking).
The announcement says:
We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developersâ€™ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users.
To reduce the risk of malware, Apple plans to require digital signing of some kind for the applications; this is a great idea provided that the process to get the signature isn’t too arduous.
It will be interesting to see how much of the system is exposed through the SDK. Nokia’s Symbian environment lets third parties take control of the telephone UI, so that they can implement handset clients for FMC. If the iPhone SDK provides the hooks to do this the iPhone would become useful in a dual-mode enterprise environment. But it is unlikely that the iPhone will soon be as enterprise-friendly as the Nokia ESeries phones, which have OMA-DM, and just-announced “Freeway” connection mangement.
As for the network unlocking, Apple is rumored to share in the service revenue stream that AT&T gleans from the iPhone, and is also rumored to have similar arrangements with its European network partners. If you could buy an iPhone and activate it on any network, Apple would miss some of this revenue. This means Apple is motivated to make sure that every iPhone sold is tied to a service plan from which it gets revenue. But once that activation has occurred, and the customer has committed to a long term service agreement, both AT&T and Apple will get monthly service revenues whether the phone is used on that network or not. On the other hand, Apple will be shipping an unlocked phone in France, since French law limits locking of phones to networks. Whether this will have any effect on unlocking policy in other countries is to be seen. Unlocked French iPhones will presumably flood eBay as soon as they are released, and class action suits in the USA may force AT&T to unlock iPhones on demand, or within 90 days of purchase (as they do other phones) or at the end of the service agreement (two years).