The iPhone as a platform can only now follow the rest, and fast.

The environment that allowed the iPod to flourish as it did is very different from the one the iPhone was born in. In both cases Apple’s vision and ability to execute were masterful, but what also helped a lot is that the industry by and large mocked and dismissed Apple’s move until its success was well established.

Having learned some lessons from the iPod experience, when the iPhone came along to the acclaim we all know, competition took good note and immediately sprang into action. With the iPod, Apple was able to wait for the platform to mature and was virtually free to decide on the next course of action. With the iPhone, competition is already catching up fast, so it’s a level playing field this time and that calls for another strategy. It seems that no single vendor will be able to totally control the smartphone market (or whatever you call that thing that can do it all: a phone, an internet device, a media player, a media recorder, etc).

Either Apple is content to see the iPhone live in a niche market (why not?), or they’d have to take a few actions such as:

  • make the development platform available on Windows and Linux (to broaden the reach), just like they did with the iTunes client
  • develop support for another language such as Python or Ruby (they really don’t like Java, don’t think C# would be accepted either)
  • spend some of that iFund in nurtuting a business partner ecosystem

If I were starting today with developing applications for smartphone app stores I’d be very cautious indeed. Nokia seems to be bullish, not too concerned about ruffling some feathers in the process perhaps. Palm’s WebOS is an interesting attempt, though I wonder why they didn’t join forces with Nokia. Windows Mobile and Android will probably keep their ecosystems. I have yet to fully explore these other development environments, but that’s also the point: why would I take the trouble if I can’t be sure it would be worth the trouble?

As a developer, learning a new platform is an expensive undertaking and I would want to ensure I get the quickest returns and the broadest reach. In this respect Apple’s tool chain is superb and possibly leads the pack for the foreseeable future. And maybe that’s what they’re betting on. But Xcode is not available on Windows or Linux, forcing all developers to also migrate to the Mac makes it an expensive proposition for applications that probably only sell a few dollars apiece. Not every app will pull the trick of iFart or iAmRich.

It’s wait and see. In the mean time I would save my precious crisis-era dollars in web apps that can serve all platforms. For native mobile apps I would also invest in iPhone App, Windows Mobile and Android. Amazon’s Kindle being released in Apple’s AppStore is perhaps a good example that the established platforms deserve some respect in these early days.

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