Will Apple open the new iPod Touch to developers?

With the launch of the iPod Touch, it would seem as though Apple has lost its main reason for locking down the platform and keeping independent developers out.

Chris Soghoian
Christopher Soghoian delves into the areas of security, privacy, technology policy and cyber-law. He is a student fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society , and is a PhD candidate at Indiana University's School of Informatics. His academic work and contact information can be found by visiting www.dubfire.net/chris/.
Chris Soghoian
2 min read

Apple upset a lot of developers when they released their much-hyped iPhone to the public as a locked-down, proprietary device. Developers could write custom Web-based applications, but those coders salivating at the thought of creating and distributing more heavy-duty, downloadable applications were left out in the cold.

Conjuring up the 40-year-old ghost of AT&T, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claimed that the reason for this was because they didn't want poorly coded apps to damage AT&T/Cingular's fragile wireless network. He told Newsweek, "You don't want your phone to be an open platform," meaning that anyone can write applications for it and potentially gum up the provider's network, says Jobs. "You need it to work when you need it to work. Cingular doesn't want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up."

Of course, this didn't actually stop a legion of Apple fans and anti-DRM activists from reverse engineering the iPhone platform. Apple's futile attempts to lock down their platform could probably best be described as an open hacking invitation to security geeks--something similar to placing a big red button on a wall and telling an inquisitive child that under no circumstances should he or she ever press it. Predictably, within days, hackers had found and exploited flaws in the iPhone. Since then, a wealth of cool, yet unofficial installable applications have been released for the platform.

Apple announced the new iPod Touch today, essentially an iPhone without the phone. It still has the sexy touch screen, the user interface, Wi-Fi capabilities and most of the same hardware under the hood. The question that must be on every developer's mind is: "Will I be able to develop real apps for the iPod Touch?"

If Apple's main excuse in locking down the iPhone platform was a desire to protect the wireless carriers' networks, that reason would seemingly not be an issue anymore. After all, the new device doesn't have the hardware to connect to those oh-so-fragile cellular networks. As Cory Doctorow has repeatedly noted, one of Jobs' gifts is being able to lock in his customers and blame it on others. Apple blamed the record labels for the DRM lock-in on the iTunes Store, and then passed the buck to AT&T for locking developers out of the iPhone platform.

Unfortunately, the odds are that Jobs will come up with another reason for keeping developers locked out of the iPod Touch, although who he'll pass the buck to is anyone's guess.