Eliza Block, a 31-year-old philosophy student at New York University, wanted to fit her New York Times crossword puzzle in her pocket. Instead of folding the Times’ foot-wide paper into a smaller square for convenient subway solving, she decided to take it on the go by concocting a new application for her iPhone, Apple’s revolutionary mobile phone and Internet device that has become a must-have for gadget obsessives (and, well, the rest of us). Ms. Block queued up the Apple site and downloaded the Software Development Kit (SDK) for the iPhone, which includes instructions, how-to videos, sample coding and even a computer-based iPhone simulator for testing. Within four months, she created 2 Across, an iPhone application that allows users to download and solve crossword puzzles from The New York Times, USA Today, The Globe and Mail and other sources.
There is a free Lite Edition of 2 Across available in the App Store, an exclusive shop on the iPhone where users can download applications, but the full version costs $5.99 and has been on sale since July. Apple gives its freelance developers 70 percent of the revenue from each download, and Ms. Block has been able to double her income as a graduate student, making as much as $2,000 a day.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” Ms. Block told The Observer over the phone. “I just made this application for me so I could take the puzzles with me. But I was really surprised by how many people were downloading it.”
The iPhone platform has become a creative (and sometimes lucrative) playground for developers. Since Apple released the device in June of last year, everyone from Facebook to tiny start-ups and tech freelancers have been developing new applications to take Web sites, services and games on the go. At Apple’s press event last week, CEO Steve Jobs said that users have downloaded more than 100 million applications onto their iPhones. New York seems to be the perfect incubator for application ideas. New Yorkers wait in line a lot (whether for security checkups or Jamba Juice); get bored on the subway; and are simply out of their homes a lot, away from their primary computers. There are endless possibilities for developers to tap into our particularly busy lifestyles.
Daniel Budiac, a Web developer who lives and works in the East Village, created a Web-based application so he and his fiancé could keep track of when his dog, a 4-year-old puggle named Beta, went to the bathroom. They answer two questions, “Did she pee?” and “Did she poo?” and then finish the entry by pressing the “Good girl!” button. A note appears on both of their iPhone screens letting them know when and what Beta did on her last walk, and also posts the updates to the short-form blogging platform Twitter so that they’re both aware of her … bowel movements.
Mr. Budiac told The Observer that the application took an hour to create.
DESIGNING FREE, one-off Web-based applications like Mr. Budiac’s Walk a Dog are usually cakewalks for developers. They just need to make a special Web site designed and scaled for the iPhone, which can then be accessed through Safari, and voilà! But applications like Ms. Block’s 2 Across, which must be downloaded onto the device, are slightly more complicated. Apple is confounding developers further by gagging them from sharing details about their code, which is comparable to a bunch of cooks working on similar recipes for tomato sauce, but not being allowed to discuss their ingredients.
Here’s what happens: Before developers can download the SDK, they have to agree to the terms of a restrictive nondisclosure agreement (NDA), which legally bans them from sharing programming tips, discussing code or asking questions of one another in forums, on blogs or over e-mail.
“There’s a lot of new information to process all at once,” Ms. Block explained over the phone. “You think, you know, how can I make it do this? And if you can’t find it immediately in [Apple’s] documentation, there was nowhere to go. It was impossible to figure it out.”
When Apple released the iPhone, developers were immediately inspired by the new platform. But Apple initially decided to close the platform—they could write applications that would run on the iPhone Web browser, but not applications that could be downloaded onto the device itself. This meant that iPhone users without Internet access—on the subway, say—would not have continuous access to applications.
On March 6 of this year, after an uproar from developers, Apple CEO Steve Jobs stood in the company’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters and announced that the company would open the iPhone to developers and release the SDK. In his signature black turtleneck and baggy jeans, he warned that there would be some restrictions to what Apple would allow into their new App Store (no porn or “malicious” applications) but noted that “we have exactly the same interest as the vast majority of our developers,” he said, “which is to get a ton of apps out there for the iPhone.”
Developers were required to accept the terms of the NDA before they could download the software needed to create applications. NDAs are typically issued in software development when products are in the early stages, to fend off media speculation and competitor copycats. Developers expected to be free of the NDA once Apple released their new version of the iPhone, with the App Store installed, in July. But infamously tight-lipped Apple has kept the restrictions in place and hasn’t explained why.
After several e-mails to Apple, a representative called The Observer and said the company has no comment. “We don’t discuss the NDA,” he said.
But developers certainly are. “Fucking NDA” has become a battle cry on Twitter.