Apple Says Hello To Fragmentation, But Goodbye To Porting

As you might have noticed on a few blogs here and there, Apple announced version 4.0 of the iPhone OS yesterday. Perhaps the most attention-grabbing new feature is that they've finally added multitasking, in the form of 7 multitasking services that developers can utilize to let their apps run in the background. It isn't “full” multitasking in the truest sense of the word, as Apple says enabling it through these services will allow developers to take advantage of the benefits of multitasking while protecting battery life and other system resources.

Other big news for developers: Apple has added a number of enterprise-focused features, including the ability for companies to host and distribute apps directly to employees' iPhones, bypassing the App Store, then manage them remotely. That's a pretty huge deal in terms of pushing the iPhone further into the enterprise.

Apple is also bringing some fragmentation into the iPhone ecosystem with the news that multitasking won't work on first-generation iPhones. This appears to be the only new feature of 4.0 that won't work, but it seems inevitable that it will be the last, and only, bit of fragmentation to enter the iPhone ecosystem.

Given that, it's perhaps a little ironic that in addition to the new 4.0 features, Apple has also modified its developer program licensing agreement to dictate that “Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine” — meaning that cross-platform development tools, as well as some other external iPhone dev tools, are now out of bounds for apps in the official iTunes App Store. Many people see this as a slap at Adobe, which will release a tool for developers to create apps in Flash, then package them as iPhone apps, soon.

One well-known iPhone developer says it's enough to cause him to abandon the iPhone and his developer resource site, as the shift to an “ask permission environment” that shuts down outside dev tools stifles innovation. Robert Virkus from Enough Software, makers of the J2MEPolish cross-platform development and porting tool, contends that developers should be free to make use of whatever tools they like, and that such freedom allows developers with previous experience and skill in other platforms to release apps for the iPhone. He also is getting together a “Porting Alliance” to rally for such developer freedom.

It's certainly a controversial stance. What do you think? Will it effect your work? How do you think it will effect the iPhone app world?

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