The Power of the Third Party.

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

The real Steve Jobs said today “Let me just say it.” Okay, go ahead, Steve, say it.

We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users. With our revolutionary multi-touch interface, powerful hardware and advanced software architecture, we believe we have created the best mobile platform ever for developers.

This is, of course, a very different sentiment than laying out an obstructionist approach: “they break in, we lock em back out,” rinse, repeat.

Jobs (and his company) may have had this general strategy all along—let’s see how much excitement there really is; let’s see just how many people are battering at the door.

Turns out, quite a few. Estimates of the number of people who have unlocked their phones to allow 3rd party apps onboard vary, but they’re large enough to constitute interest and enthusiasm.

Apple would have been foolish to ignore the sheer energy that comes from big crowds of youthful developers who want to craft coolness into the device they pull from their pockets to impress people at coffeeshops, airports, and meetings. Those enthusiasts are out there now, breaking down the door every time that Apple re-bars it, and I’m glad that Apple has decided not to waste that creativity and word-of-mouth buzz, juice, whatever.

So next February, they open the door, under some sort of (as yet still) mysterious parameters, they stand back, and oh yes, they will reap the rewards.

It’s not that Apple doesn’t have or couldn’t hire enough developers to create the amount of software that is showing up for this “best mobile platform ever”…but if piles of apps are just handed out from Cupertino, sometimes, dare I say it, the bounty gets taken for granted. Apple actually runs the risk of this with a steady release of new revs of all that iLife and iWork stuff. “Oh, yeah, I have those programs on my machine. Not sure what they all do, but yeah, they’re on there.”

If packages emerge (with some real sparks of new ideas) from the third-party community, that software seems to arrive encapsulated in a heightened, shinier quality of buzz, juice, spark.

Often, the development has been open. We’ve read about it in the land of blogs. Other 3rd party developers have enthused. It may even be open source, which may do exactly nothing for the end user but generates a whole other level of enthusiasm online.

And finally, of course, sometimes a small but powerful idea of uncommon originality will emerge and catch fire from completely outside the Cupertino mothership…and those more fragile, more important ideas are fanned into life more successfully in the nurturing environment of the third party world.

If Apple succeeds in constructively channeling this energy, well, then get ready for all kinds of multi-touch doohickies from the land of Apple that will work much the same way as the iPhone and the iPod Touch did…but in your car, on your kids’ school desktops, and so on.