Apple opens up iPhone for lots more software coolness

Apple opened up the iPhone and iPod Touch for a wealth of new applications today. In a press conference at its Cupertino, California headquarters, CEO Steve Jobs revealed details about a software development kit (SDK) that will finally allow outside programmers to create new ways to use the popular handheld computers, one of which also happens to be a cell phone. The resulting applications will be easily downloaded via Apple's new iTunes App Store. This new capability will be part of iPhone 2.0 software, a free upgrade Jobs says will be available in late June.

So what are these "exciting new enterprise features" that the company teased in its hype? Apple would like to compete with the ubiquitous Blackberry, which is the leader in corporate use of smartphones. To respond to that, the iPhone will soon be able to be placed under central control — just what corporate types like. This means such things as email being pushed to the iPhone as it’s received, as well as calendar and contact information.

It’ll also have Microsoft Exchange and ActiveSync built in, popular formats for corporate users. The appeal for companies using Microsoft Exchange will be the ability to flip a few switches and all their info will begin to securely flow into the iPhone. And of course, its security will be beefed up for those paranoid suits with zillion-dollar secrets to keep, and if an iPhone is lost or stolen, there's even a way to erase all the data residing on that wayward handset.

Next, Apple execs invited all software developers to start writing custom applications for the iPhone. Web-based applications were possible from the beginning, but now Apple is opening up the innards of its programming routines for the iPhone, letting outsiders use the same tools Apple programmers use to create new ways to use the iPhone.

Beyond making it possible to write native iPhone applications, this software development kit (free, available now) will make the process of writing iPhone software a whole lot easier. Sweetening the pot is the iFund, a $100 million boatload of money offered by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Beyers, which the company plans to invest in promising iPhone application developers. What does this mean for users? This could be the beginning of an explosion of creativity, spawning applications for the iPhone no one has even thought of yet. Neat.