The wild west of third-party iPhone development

Non-Apple iOS dev tools are thriving, but Apple's stance against Flash and Java has at least one provider on edge

While Apple has been unequivocal in banning Java and Adobe's Flash from the iPhone and related devices, third-party iOS application development tools have been allowed to flourish. Uncertainty over Apple's stance toward third-party toolmakers, however, has left at least one such vendor -- Novell -- anxious about the future of its iOS development platform.

At issue is Apple's emphasis on Mac OS X-based Xcode tools as a mechanism for building iOS apps for its iPhone, iPad, and iPod devices -- as well as the company's historical fickleness when it comes to approving iOS apps.

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Applications developed using tools from Novell, Appcelerator, and Rhomobile -- each of which offers an alternative iPhone development platform -- have been accepted into Apple's App Store for iOS distribution. In fact, users of Novell's MonoTouch can claiim more than 100 applications accepted by Apple, says Joseph Hill, product manager for Mono at Novell.

One such application, Cracklytics, developed by Eduardo Scoz, enables iPhone users to check the status of their Google Analytics account. Scoz, a software architect at Redpoint Technologies, hailed MonoTouch's .Net capabilities, which he said make a lot of hard work disappear for developers.

"The main selling point is that it uses C# and the Mono framework, which is a copy of .Net," Scoz said.

MonoTouch, which enables development of iOS applications via Microsoft's .Net software development platform, leverages Novell's Mono runtime. It is this reliance on Mono, which enables applications built with Windows-based development technologies to run on non-Windows systems, that may present problems down the road. After all, Apple has already marked its territory against other third-party runtimes, banning Flash and Java on its iOS-based systems.

Novell, however, does not believe MonoTouch presents the same problems that Apple has had with Flash.

"We don't think that MonoTouch is in the same class of tool as Flash, as Flash presents users with a new non-iPhone-looking UI, whereas MonoTouch exposes all the features of the iPhone," Hill says. "The Mono runtime gets compiled into your application and the whole thing becomes a native application [on the iPhone]."

That said, it remains unclear to Hill what Apple thinks of the manner in which Novell is leveraging the iOS application development space.

"They haven't [brought] the hammer down on us [but] it's still a problem. There's a lot of uncertainty out there and they haven't taken any steps to clarify it," Hill says. "We don't have a relationship with Apple."

Representatives of Rhomobile and Appcelerator, however, say their tools work in harmony with Apple's own software development tools.

"We don't have any runtime like Flash or Java. There is no runtime. It's all a native executable," says Adam Blum, CEO of Rhomobile, adding that the company's Rhodes mobile technology has been used to develop numerous applications that have been accepted by Apple.

Rhodes, an MVC framework featuring HTML views and Ruby controllers, generates an Apple-compliant XCode Objective-C project when used for iOS.

Moreover, Rhomobile is in regular contact with with Apple about Rhodes, according to Blum. "We definitely comply with the terms of service," Blum says.

Appcelerator's Titanium platform enables Web developers to use JavaScript and Web languages to build iOS applications, albeit in conjunction with Apple tools.

"You do have to use Xcode. All developers have to use Xcode," says Scott Schwarzoff, Appcelerator vice president of marketing. Applications developed with Titanium are compiled via Xcode into native Objective-C.

Appcelerator cites 2,800 Titanium-built applications accepted into Apple's App Store. The company emphasizes that its multiplatform development technology offers a native user experience.

Ultimately, however, the power rests in Apple's hands. The company, which declined requests for comment on the issue, has thus far been permissive when it comes to use of third-party development platforms. Meanwhile, developers creating client-specific applications, rather than those aimed at commercial distribution, have little to worry about.

As Redpoint's Scoz points out, homegrown apps for client use do not have to be submitted for inclusion in the App Store.

This article, "The wild west of third-party iPhone development," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter and on your mobile device at

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