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The iPhone is Now THE Platform for the Future of Mobile Computing

Steve Jobs has wonderfully liberated us with the advent of the iPhone SDK

Don Babcock's Blog

I'm a J2ME developer. From my perspective, Java has always been 'hampered' by the degree of difficulty in building robust and intuitive UIs. Steve Jobs has wonderfully liberated us with the advent of the iPhone SDK. I'm a Java/Windows developer moving to the Apple development world and while I'm intrigued by the idea of Java on my favorite mobile device, I'm not sure folks really realize the genius of the iPhone UI paradigm.

I'd go so far as to say that the iPhone is THE platform for the future of mobile computing.

I loved the combo of Netbeans and SDK's until I ran into the "brick wall" fortifications that the telcos have erected to deny the ability to develop for their platforms for all but the most well heeled "partners." Steve Jobs has wonderfully liberated us with the advent of the iPhone SDK.

From my perspective, Java has always been "hampered" by the degree of difficulty in building robust and intuitive UI's. You can easily invest the MAJORITY of your development time in the UI as opposed to the actual application code proposition. Any of the J2ME emulators/debuggers that I've looked at and used don't hold a candle to the ones built into the iPhone SDK.

From my perspective, it will be MUCH better to just learn Cocoa and the SDK rather than try to use Java. Java on the iPhone would be interesting for the underlying coding but the UI elements available to any of the J2ME distributions are woefully inadequate in comparison to those that are built into the iPhone. Understand, I'm a Java/Windows developer moving to the Apple development world and while I'm intrigued by the idea of Java on my favorite mobile device, I'm not sure folks really realize the genius of the iPhone UI paradigm.

I initially chafed at the idea of "safari only" development until I did my first iPhone app and had it in the web apps catalog in about ONE WEEK! Ther is no way that I could have repeated even that simple app and gotten it to market in SIX months, let alone one week given all of the NSTL/Code Signing/ etc. etc. barriers that all of the other folks put in your way. If you don't believe me, read the whole sorry saga at my blog where I chronicle the sorry state of the J2ME "real" world.

Thankfully, Jobs has stood up to the telco tyranny and we at last may see them "crack" under the huge competitive pressures brought to bear by the liberation of all of the frustrated mobile development talent out there. By the end of the year, I predict that iPhones will have eclipsed RIM and the BlackBerry, if not in total market share, then certainly in applications and developer mindshare. The latter, if you recall, is why Windows "won" over the likes of OS/2. More developers in the game means more apps.

As big a fan as I am of Java and J2ME, I'm not sure that it wouldn't be a "step down" compromise for the iPhone. Unless the J2ME can fully integrate with the emulator and be fully enfranchised in terms of the UI components so that you can't tell the difference, I'd be against it. I'm a Java fan but having experienced the richness and ease of use of the device for a few weeks now, I'd be very unhappy with a "plain jane" SWT Java app compared to the rich and visually appealing UI that you get with the Apple SDK. I think most customers would as well and the last thing they'll tolerate is something that brings their iPhone "down" to the level of all the others out there. I doubt that Sun has anywhere near the quality of SDK required to play in the iPhone world.

Lest you think me an Apple "fan boy", for the record I don't yet own a Mac. However, after watching the video of how the iPhone SDK works and since that SDK only plays on Macs, I'm going to drop a thousand on a Mac Book. It's well worth the investment just to play in the iPhone world.

The apparent quality of the SDK is so superior to anything out there in the ME world that I'll easily recoup the investment in development time alone and that includes learning from scratch Cocoa and Objective C (not that big a challenge for a Java jock.) Yes. I'd like to be able to code in Java to save myself a bit of learning curve but when you consider how much time is spent in UI coding vs the rest of the app, my gut tells me that being able to leverage all of the built in iPhone widgets and built in APIs (which is unlikely in Java) will more than make up for the little bit of Cocoa that I'll have to learn to do the things that are the unique value add of my code.

If you haven't watched the Apple iPhone SDK tutorials, give them a look and then compare them to what you know in the J2ME space. If you are like me, you'll want the full package and not some "slap a JVM into the iPhone so we can do SWT apps" solution.

More Stories By Don Babcock

Although Don Babcock blogs at, he now believes that "once you've seen what an iPhone can do and how easy it is to develop for it, you probably won't be able to bring yourself to go back to J2ME." As he says, now that the iPhone SDK is out, "It's over..for non iPhone devices and J2ME too in all probability."

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Most Recent Comments
Don Babcock 03/17/08 03:47:20 PM EDT

I will offer this addendum. Just this past Thursday I released my SECOND webapp (Allows for X10 home automation control using the iPhone - see for details) and submitted it to the Apple site. In ONE DAY they had reviewed it and posted it and it even won a staff pick (thanks guys). Imagine my surprise when I sold TWO copies the first day. That weekend I sold a bunch more and it hasn't even been a week yet. If this is any indication of how well the "iPhone App store" that Steve Jobs outlined on March 6 works, it will be fabulous. Back when I looked at doing J2ME apps with Cingular/ATT their deal at the time was a 60/40 split. Apples is 70/30 and that app store icon will be on every iPhone with the 2.0 software release. For years the J2ME folks have been promising that "huge" mobile device market but in reality the telco app signing/development process has all but killed it except for entertainment apps that don't need the locked up API's. Apple not only charges a more reasonable "cut" but they truly have a marketing plan that works, if the present webapp store is any indicator. I've made more real money in the last 5 days with iPhone webapps than I ever did with the my entire J2ME effort. I'm sold.

Don Babcock 03/17/08 03:35:26 PM EDT

I haven't gotten into the SDK yet because that takes a Mac and I'm still working on getting one. But from what I've seen of the API in the vids it looks like you'll have robust interface to your PIM stuff. If you've got your Mac, you can download the SDK and dig into it.

Jim Johnson 03/13/08 10:51:21 AM EDT

Hey Don,

Does the iPhone SDK allow developers to SYNCHRONIZE their iPhone applications with desktop applications on the Mac?

For example, one of our favorite things about the Treo is the 3rd-party programs we can purchase to synchronize our desktop Quicken files with our Treo's Pocket Quicken; our desktop memo pad to our Treo's memo pad; our desktop database program to our Treo's memo pad; etc.

Does the iPhone SDK allow any of this type of syncing ability?


Nick Dalton 03/13/08 02:09:20 AM EDT

The interest from companies in developing native iPhone apps is staggering. I’m fielding several inquiries per day from companies who want real apps built today. To help developers and projects find each other I’ve created a community called Post your resume or project.

Nick Dalton - Author of 101 iPhone Tips & Tricks

Rich Dominelli 03/12/08 07:39:58 AM EDT

I have to say I had the same reaction as you to the jobs position. I had been working on several Google android apps, but based on apple embracing the corporate exchange world, and the significant numbers they have been posting, I am making the switch.

Bought my first macbook last Sunday, and have been loving it. Learning Cocoa development is a little hampered by the Xcode 3 changes, (most tutorials are built using xcode 2 and the differences are enough to throw a newbie developer), but the concepts are pretty straight forward for folks with a Java background familiar with mvc.

Rich Dominelli
Former Windows Mobile, Android developer.

Arru 03/12/08 03:51:11 AM EDT

I think you've figured it out...everyone else will too, in a couple of years, and by then avant garde developers like you will be way ahead and making cash on iPhone apps (and probably on OS X apps, which, incidentally use Cocoa as well).

The most important point overlooked by the numerous people applauding an iPhone JVM is that of the lowest common denominator UI that is SWT. It's gonna be a mess, no one but Sun will really miss it by the time the app store is opened, and, notwithstanding all the above there is no way a standalone JVM would be allowed in Apple's app store.

Anyway, congratulations on your entrance into the mac developer world, with viewpoints like that I'm sure you'll love it (and incidentally the mac is great for java development too :)

Elder Norm 03/11/08 04:04:29 PM EDT

I would say that you have hit it right on the head. When I heard what Apple is doing and how they have set up the apps for the iPhone and the built-in debugging, well.... I expect the number of apps for the iPhone to EXPLODE as of June 30.

Will there be issues? .... Of course!! But they will be minor and quickly resolved. RIM is already running scared. They just announced that they WILL BE (future tense) coming out with 3 apps for the Blackberry and that there may be a touch screen Blackberry in the near future.

But they just do not get it. Everyone has a touch screen and that is not what is pushing change, its the SOFTWARE, dummies.

Anyway, enjoy your new Mac and let us know what you think of the Mac experience.


John E 03/11/08 03:26:50 PM EDT

very, very interesting. be sure to let us know by the June release of iPhone 2.0 how it really works out for you!

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