Is iPhone Opening its Doors to Third-Party Applications?

Apple will invite third-party developers next February to build actual iPhone applications aside from the limiting web-based ones that are currently supported.

Apple has jumped back and forth from its position on third-party apps since May, when it said it was “wrestling with the idea” of allowing them. In June, the company teased developers by authorizing only web-based applications, which meant any software not made by Apple had to run on the Safari browser, instead of on the iPhone platform itself.

Apple’s restrictive policy against third-party iPhone apps didn’t stop hackers from developing Jailbreak, an unauthorized program that “frees the iPhone” by opening it up to virtually any third-party software.

Unfortunately, hacks like Jailbreak are disabled after every iPhone software update, which pits Apple in a battle against developers, who scramble to recreate the modifications after each update.

Jailbreak and similar programs like iRingtoner and iToner made the iPhone as an open platform truly appealing. I think people like the idea that the iPhone could do almost anything if you open it up to third-party development. iPhone hacks were all the rage in August. In fact, my article on how to Jailbreak your iPhone was the most-viewed article in both August and September.

Perhaps noting increased public interest in iPhone applications, Apple unveiled a database of over 200 third-party web apps for the iPhone. Now Steve Jobs is talking about opening up the iPhone platform to third-party developers in February.

The platform won’t be “totally open” because applications will be screened for security, but Jobs says he believes Apple is headed in the right direction, and I agree.

I wonder whether plans to open up the iPhone platform would have come about so soon had it not been for the active iPhone hacking community, which sparked a lot of interest and debate about the iPhone development platform by working hard to free the iPhone and to build hundreds of great applications.

I can only hope that Apple’s application screening process is free of bureaucracy, and that only apps that threaten the iPhone’s security are rejected. Would you be concerned about security if Apple allowed ANYONE to create iPhone applications and distribute them? Do you think it’s necessary for Apple to screen the apps for approval?

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