Journey Through the Secret Life of Phones

You would think that with the iPhone 3G’s release last Friday, the posting of iPhone OS 2.0, and the final release of the iPhone SDK… that between these events, the NDA that prohibited public discussion of the SDK would be lifted.

And you would be wrong.

Apple has told publishers — including but not limited to the Prags, who are publishing the iPhone book that I’m working on — that the NDA was not lifted on Friday. And that they’re still working it out.

Ergo, despite having lots to say here and elsewhere about iPhone SDK details, I’m still sitting on my hands. Maybe I should start just banging out drafts in TextMate while the ideas are fresh, and mass-post them later when the NDA drops. If it drops. Yeah, it would be crazy to stay NDA indefinitely, but we’re already in CloudCuckooLand to be upholding an NDA on an SDK downloaded by over a quarter million developers worldwide.

Bill, Marcel, and I did do an interview last night with Late Night Cocoa, which summarized the major APIs of the iPhone SDK and gave our impressions of the development environment. Even edited down, it’s going to be a long episode, and at any rate, it’s going to be on the shelf until the NDA drops. Alas.

The App Store is, perhaps as expected, a highly mixed bag. Along with really slick apps — I’m very impressed with the Pandora Radio client, and will be buying Starmap before we head up to the woods of Northern Michigan next week — there is quite a bit of abject junk. You’ve probably noticed the hundreds of public domain books wrapped by a one-dollar reader app (as if users couldn’t just hit Project Gutenberg with Safari), the appallingly trivial game apps (perhaps ported to Obj-C from the original Fortran listings in Creative Computing… I’m looking at you, Handy Randy), and four different versions of an iPhone “flashlight” (i.e., a completely white screen, thereby turning your iPhone into a de facto flashlight). On the latter point, I’m sure that the one from Erica Sadun is good-natured and offered with the best intentions, since she’s one of the pioneers of third-party iPhone app development. But the other ones that cost a buck each… not so much. In fact, I believe this app requires no code and not even any work in IB: showing a blank view is kind of, well, default behavior.

By opening things up wide to all would-be developers, the App Store has the flavor of the podcasts directory: a wide variety of subjects and an equally large large variance of quality. Consider that the podcasts range from professional-quality audio and video to a kid in his basement talking into his laptop’s internal mic about how cool last week’s Naruto was. The App Store has pretty much the same jewels-and-junk mix, with the key difference that nearly all podcasts are free, while only a minority of the apps are.

I’ll admit — I had expected the initial app quality level to be higher overall than it’s turned out to be. Some of these apps could be written in a day, and might have been. The apps I’ve planned to do — once I get time away from editing and writing the book — are more ambitious than most of these (thnk “mobile podcast editing suite”, not frickin’ Nim), and now I’m wondering if I should take a shot at writing a simple app in a day, posting it, and seeing if anyone bites.

In fact, some of the paid apps duplicate programming examples we have in the book, like the generic shopping list app, a simple version of which I created as the example of using the SQLite database. So one thought I’ve discussed with our editor is that we might put one or more of the book examples on the app store for free, with an “about” link taking you to the book’s home page and the source. The pitch being: “Learn how to write apps like this!”

Of course, we can’t do that until the NDA drops. Tick, tick, tick.

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  1. […] to report on getting the book’s beta out, but Dave Thomas of the Pragmatic Programmers has posted a call for help on unblocking the iPhone NDA holdup. He also links to our iPhone book’s home page. […]

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