Service provider takeaway: Value-added resellers (VARs) who are interested in iPhone application development have ample opportunities in the upcoming iPhone 3G and 2.0 version of the iPhone software.
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How do you know when a product is innovative? When customers eagerly call you before it is released to find out how they can use it in their business. This is the scenario that has played out with customers who have been anticipating the release of the iPhone 3G. With hardly any mainstream marketing prior to the release of the original iPhone, Apple successfully created a cult following of nontechnical consumers who replaced their seemingly obsolete PDAs with the iPhone. As a result, a unique and lucrative opportunity in application development is coming to fruition for VARs -- for both Web-based and client-based iPhone applications.
Apple's support for Microsoft Exchange on the iPhone is likely to be a huge hit with business customers looking to leverage their investment in Exchange. With version 2.0 of the iPhone software, released the same day as the iPhone 3G, customers will be able to receive push email and wirelessly synchronize Exchange contacts and calendars. These are not revolutionary capabilities in and of themselves, but they are setting the stage for potentially powerful applications that can be used to mobilize information behind the customer's firewall.
Developing applications for the iPhone will of course require VARs to use Macs. iPhone-capable Web applications don't require the use of special tools. But client application development requires Xcode, an app dev environment included with all Macs, as well as the iPhone software development kit (SDK), which can be downloaded from Apple's website. The SDK includes an iPhone emulator, which can be used to test applications without the iPhone itself. Here's what's involved in developing each type of application:
- Client applications: Alternately, rich client/server applications can be developed using Xcode and the iPhone SDK. Apple uses Objective-C, a programming language similar to C++. All development must be done on an Intel-based Mac (the iPhone SDK is not available for older PowerPC-based Macs). Using the included iPhone emulator, you can develop and immediately test the applications. Apple is also including SQL Lite as part of the iPhone software to allow developers to store data in a relational database directly on the iPhone itself. Accessing data behind the firewall can be accommodated using Web services and standard TCP/IP communications. Apple is also including Cisco VPN capabilities in version 2.0 of the iPhone software. It might be possible to use the VPN to access data behind the firewall. Although the exact details are unknown, Apple is also creating a special "enterprise" development program, under which applications will be distributed and installed through iTunes.
iPhone application business opportunities
VARs that already have application development experience could leverage their existing resources and ride the wave of iPhone-hungry customers eager to use the iPhone in their business. The simplest way to test the waters is to take an existing Web application and create a derivative mobile website optimized for the iPhone. You could, for example, develop a site for your customers' employees who need to query databases or access documents like price or parts lists while on the road.
If you want to develop either client/server or Web-based iPhone applications but don't have the skills on staff to do the work, you could partner with a local independent software vendor (ISV). Another option, if you need application development skills, is to visit a local college and work with computer science students who are eager to put their software development skills to good use. Almost all colleges have internship or work-study programs for their students. Either of these routes provides a low-cost and low-risk way of extending service and support offerings by adding mobile software development for the iPhone to your product offerings.
About the author
Alex Zaltsman is a technology entrepreneur. He co-founded Exigent Technologies and over a 10-year period developed its IT consulting practice. He has worked with companies such as Johnson & Johnson, AT&T Labs, Lucent Technologies, Wal-Mart and Philip Morris, as well as many small businesses. Alex is also on the board of directors of the New Jersey chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization, and he maintains a blog at http://bizology.typepad.com.