Exec touts developing iPhone apps without the iPhone SDK

Until Apple opens up the iPhone SDK business, his company will likely use alternate technologies to build apps

There are more ways to develop applications for the Apple iPhone device than using the company's beta iPhone SDK. Through a combination of Microsoft and other technologies, developers can build a Web application for the iPhone, according to a speaker at the VSLive conference in San Francisco on Wednesday evening.

Developers can use technologies including Microsoft's ASP.Net, C#, and ASP.Net AJAX as well as WebKit extensions to build applications, said Jeffrey McManus, CEO of consulting firm Platform Associates. WebKit is an open source Web browser extension as well as a Mac OS system framework version of the engine used by the Safari browser.

The iPhone SDK, McManus said, is not open. Developers can access the SDK, but to deploy an application with it they need Apple's permission, he said. "This is something that I find kind of offensive," McManus said. "It's very unlikely that anyone from my company or me, in particular, will [participate in the] iPhone SDK business until they open it up some more," he said.

[ Learn all about using the iPhone in business in our special report. ]

The iPhone, though, is an attractive target platform. "This is the platform that has all the momentum right now," McManus said. Developers can build Web applications for iPhone and Apple is OK with that, said McManus. "As it happens, the iPhone as a Web application development target is actually very nice when it comes to the notion of these proprietary extensions," he said. Platform took advantage of custom markup and custom CSS when building its first iPhone application, said McManus.

Developers can use a reliable emulator for iPhone Web development in which they deploy a less-expensive iPod touch device for application-testing and use Wi-Fi to access their application.

Regardless of tools used, there are limitations in developing iPhone browser applications, such as the lack of Flash support and no viewers for documents downloaded from the Web. But iPhone does have a real browser and its JavaScript is better than what is on the Windows Mobile platform, said McManus. ASP.Net AJAX, a framework for building Web applications, also works fine on iPhone, McManus said.

IPhone Human Interface Guidelines are available, such as guidelines about avoiding clutter, unused blank space and busy backgrounds. Apple recommends using a fixed viewpoint for applications, said McManus. It is also recommended that text resizing be shut off.

McManus's company has put its Approver.com document management application on iPhone. "I found it to be easy to develop a Web application for the iPhone," said McManus. "I didn’t feel like we had too many problems in terms of having to learn new stuff or anything like that. There's a bunch of little details that you have to get right, most of which are spelled out in those Apple Human Interface Guidelines for iPhone."

On Tuesday at the conference, McManus talked about using .Net technologies for another popular new platform: the Facebook social network site. Sun Microsystems wants to enable Java applications to work on iPhone via porting of a Java Virtual Machine to the device. But there are questions about whether Apple stipulations would enable this to happen.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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