There's an interesting feature locked inside the code of Apple's 1.1.1 firmware/software update that, ironically (since this update has broken access to extant third-party native applications), may indicate that Apple plans to add sanctioned third-party development to the device.
The hidden feature involves SpringBoard, the program that you see whenever the iPhone's Home button is pressed. It serves as a launcher for iPhone applications, including the four major (Phone, Mail, Safari, and iPod) functions. Current iterations of the SpringBoard only have slots for 16 icons, 13 of which are occupied under iPhone software/firmware 1.1.1.
Under iPhone software/firmware 1.0.2 (the last release for which a public "jailbreak" -- necessary for third--party apps -- is available), any third-party application icons that are added to the device will occupy the remaining slots. After 16 apps, however, the icons fall off the screen and cannot be accessed.
As such, one of the first steps recommended in our third-party application guide is the installation of a tool like "SummerBoard," which allows more than 16 icons to be displayed and accessed. SummerBoard works by allowing the user to scroll up and down the board, revealing more icons.
iPhone software/firmware 1.1.1 includes a hidden, Apple-developed feature that allows multiple pages of icons to be displayed. The pages are represented by small circles at the bottom of the SpringBoard, and can be accessed by swiping across the screen or tapping the small circles (see image below)
The feature discovery was made by Nicholas Penree of Conceited Software, who goes by "Drudge." Conceited has been at the forefront of third-party iPhone application development, offering application repositories for Nullriver Software's Installer.app and developing many of its own third-party applications.
Penree developed a hack that unlocks the new feature. He's also been instrumental in the development of a successful jailbreak for iPhone software/firmware 1.1.1 -- paving the way for adding third-party applications -- which has not yet been made public.
"The paging springboard is actually a new feature in 1.1.1," Penree told iPhone Atlas. "(My) hack only removes Apple's tight grip on what apps can be displayed."
Without the hack, says Penree, you wouldn't be able to see any third-party applications that have been added to iPhones running 1.1.1. That's because Apple has implemented static checks in the Springboard application to make sure only the their applications (the WiFi iTunes Store and others) are displayed.
"It's kind of telling us that official third party apps of some sort may be coming," said Penree. "Who knows if it will be native apps or just offline Web apps."
It could also mean that Apple is simply adding accomodations for new, in-house developed applications that will be pushed to the iPhone with forthcoming updates.
Either way, the revelation makes it clear that new iPhone functionality is on its way down the pike.