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The developer blogger community is speculating that a handful of Ajax tools may emerge as the only entry for third parties to the iPhone, via the Safari browser window.

Charles Babcock

June 29, 2007

3 Min Read

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.

The iPhone's Safari browser can run HTML and JavaScript, one of the main components of Ajax. But building Ajax applications is time-consuming, if you don't have tools that recognize how JavaScript behaves in different browsers. And many developers have never produced a Safari application before.

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.

A leading candidate is Google's Web Toolkit, which includes cross browser capabilities with a substantial set of user interface components and JavaScript code libraries. Google is eager for developers to use its open-source toolkit for applications on the iPhone, which is already tuned to make use of Google Maps. Something that looks a lot like Google's Web Toolkit is Morfik's WebOS AppsBuilder, and Morfik claims it has optimized its AppsBuilder environment for developing to Safari on the iPhone screen. The Morfik tool converts Java and other languages into JavaScript. Morfik shows a sample chess game for the iPhone screen at http://ichess.morfik.com.

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.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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