New iPhone enterprise developer program, $299; musings about iPhone app licensing

Companies and organizations that don't want to make their iPhone/iPod touch software publicly available through AppStore can now apply for a special $299 enterprise development license that entitles them to create and distribute custom software strictly for internal use. The application must be submitted by an individual empowered to make legal commitments on their employer's behalf.

This raises some questions in my mind. If you run a consulting shop that creates commercial iPhone software for clients' (say, government agencies') private use, does each client need an iPhone enterprise license? $299 is not prohibitively expensive, but some clients might balk at signing a contract with Apple as a condition of running the code you sold them. Commercial developers don't necessarily want to share their client lists with Apple.

I'll ask Apple how it works, but I'm hoping that the $299 program is the equivalent of an unlisted number. If the extra $200 buys the privilege of bypassing Apple's validation, distribution and customer registration systems, then it's the right approach.

You could argue that anyone who carries an iPhone is already registered with Apple when they activate their phone, so whatever secrets a user would wish to keep are already out. However, in enterprises, handsets are purchased and activated by the employer, not individual users (a purchase model which has, to this point, been denied iPhone buyers by AT&T). Once a phone is purchased as part of an enterprise deal, it should drop off the map where the handset manufacturer is concerned, and the wireless operator's role is limited to supplying the service and sending the bill. Which individual is using the phone, what for, where they work and what applications they're running should be nobody's business. Anything from personal security to trade secrets might be at stake. Once Apple picks up the enterprise baton, it has a lot to live up to.

iPod touch is a special case, and given my overall lack of enthusiasm for AT&T, my favorite case. touch can be used exclusively inside company, agency or a home's walls for any private use the purchaser has in mind. There is no carrier to protect. There is no requirement to sign up with iTunes or any other service in order to use iPod touch for applications. My first application for iPod touch will be to use it as a remote control for an iBootBar rack power controller. This has several network interfaces, but Telnet is the most versatile and will hide well under a GUI. This won't be a difficult first assignment. I'm more uncertain about licensing for personal applications than I am the SDK.

My read of Apple's signing and licensing requirements is that once you pay your $99 or $299 and are issued a certificate, you can start using iPhone/iPod touch units for development (prior to licensing, you can only use the emulator), permitting you to use real devices as develop and debug targets. I have a hunch that units are activated for development use individually (how and how many, I have no idea; perhaps an iTunes-like model) to prevent the use of the SDK as a means of distributing apps.

Where applications written for my sole use are concerned, do I have to sign my code, upload it to AppStore, wait for approval, and re-download it in order to use it? Do I have to re-sign and resubmit the app I wrote for myself every time I make a change (because the checksum changes)? So many questions.

Developer and user licensing will be the messiest aspects of iPhone custom development leading up to the public release in June. I'm going to try to snag a briefing with Apple prior to the release to go over iPhone/iPod touch certificates and licensing. I'll share those details with you.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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