From the time Steve Jobs first aired the iPhone at MacWorld, software developers have asked, "Where's the Apple software development kit to produce independent applications?" Apple's answer so far is: No development kit.
But the iPhone desperately needs third-party applications. And some third parties are talking about the tools they can use to produce them.
One of the changes that the iPhone brings to the cell phone market is an ability to pull down data from Internet servers and display it in a suitably sized Safari browser window. Apple needs third parties to develop applications that work with that data. It's unlikely Apple can produce lots of customized, localized, and niche applications itself to suit all customer needs and tastes.
If no third-party applications materialize, then it's possible the current wave of enthusiasm for the iPhone will play itself out without building long-term customer satisfaction. The iPhone is geared to work with AT&T's Edge network, which is slow and underpowered as a service for the modern Internet consumer. It will be too slow for video downloads and can't sustain much in the way of fancy graphics. But what it can do is support bursty exchanges of data between Internet servers and mobile devices.
That's where Ajax development tools come in. Ajax-based applications reduce exchanges between client and server to a quick burst of data. Users get the new data they need; the network is engaged only for an instant. The Ajax style of programming may save the iPhone from being an overpriced gadget on an underpowered network.
An early example of potential third-party applications can be seen at izoho.com, where iZoho Writer, Sheet, and Show can be activated in the iPhone's Safari browser.
That's why the developer blogger community is speculating that a handful of Ajax tools may emerge as the only entre for third parties to the iPhone, via the Safari browser window.
Likewise, Adobe's Air includes Flash and Ajax development tools. Whether Flash will run on the iPhone is still unclear. But Air can produce Ajax applications that manipulate data inside the browser window and don't require repeated, lengthy page updates to do their work.
Robert Scoble in his Scobleizer blog on June 11 protested that the iPhone doesn't appear to run either Java or Microsoft's .Net languages or Adobe/Macromedia's Flash Player. "It'd be nice for someone who has an iPhone to tell us what will run on it. I'll have mine June 29th, I guess, and will check what runs on it then."
But Ajax remains a sure bet, a programming approach that sidesteps dependence on an Apple software development kit and one that may allow workarounds to the Edge network's inherent slower speed.