Simplicity and Clarity by Design

Apple iPhone SDK — Catch-22 for Developers

Way back on March 6, 2008 I signed up for the Apple iPhone SDK along with many other developers. Everyone watched the Apple announcement by Steve Jobs about the SDK and iTunes Application Store; everyone heard about the $99 enrollment fee for the developer program; everyone heard about the 70/30 split on application sales through the store; and most important of all, everyone heard that the store would go live toward the end of June. That was a clear signal to all developers hoping to sell applications for the iPhone or iPod Touch. The message was Start developing your applications now so they are ready in time for the grand opening.

Sadly, the reality of the iPhone Developer Program for many developers has been very different. What has actually transpired is essentially a Catch-22 for independent software developers wishing to build applications for iPhone/iPod Touch.

Many (possibly most) developers who signed up for the program on the 6th were greeted with the following message after the multi-step enrollment process:

Thank you for submitting your information.

While we process your information, please visit the iPhone Dev Center to download the iPhone SDK and access a wealth of technical resources. Please note, the iPhone Developer Program will initially be available to a limited number of developers and will expand in the coming months.

Next Steps

You will receive notification of your enrollment status. Enrollment ID: xxxxxxxxxx

No additional information was provided. No channel for posing questions about the progress in letting developers into the program was provided. No means of determining if you would even be accepted into the program before June. Nothing. Apple is dead quiet about the status.

The lucky few developers who have already been selected by Apple are all under NDA, just like everyone else who is trying to join the program. This means there is little if any information being shared by these developers regarding what Apple may be telling them about the June launch of the store.

Apple is asking us to all download the SDK and begin developing our applications using the iPhone Simulator. They are asking us to blindly trust that once we invest significant time and resources into developing these applications that we will someday be able to test them on actual devices and eventually be able to sell them in the store.

Back on March 6, 2008 Apple indicated that the number of developers in the program would expand in the coming months. It is now roughly one month before the application store is projected to “go live” and many developers still do not have the ability to test their applications on actual devices.

Apple is asking all independent software developers to risk a lot of their own resources while the developers remain in limbo. We don’t know if/when we will have the opportunity to test our applications. We don’t know if/when we will be able to get more details from Apple regarding the store. We don’t know if/when we will be able to submit applications to the store for sale.

And, to rub salt in the wounds of developers everywhere, a few days ago Apple reminded all of us that the deadline nears for submitting your iPhone applications for consideration in the 2008 Apple Design Awards held at this WWDC this summer.

You might say “So what, just submit the applications you build with the iPhone Simulator”. That would be a perfect solution but for one small problem. In the release notes for the SDK Apple mentions that some portions of the SDK code cause crashes on the simulator. They offer two methods to work around the issue. First, you can forgo using the Interface Builder tool and place your controls on the screen manually. Second, you can just do your testing and debugging on the actual device. That would be the perfect solution except we cannot load applications onto the device because we have not yet been accepted into the iPhone Developer Program.

Steve, please level the playing field for independent software developers everywhere who want to develop applications for this fantastic new platform you built. Continuing to ask independent developers to sholder so much risk and uncertainty is not what we expect from the company that asks us to Think Different.