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In a much-speculated move, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said Wednesday the company will open up the iPhone to software developers, allowing them to create native applications, a reversal of its previous policy that limited iPhone apps to those that run through its web browser. In a letter posted on Apple's website, Jobs said the company will release a software development kit [SDK] in February 2008. "Let me just say it: We want native third-party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers' hands in February," he said (full text follows). Apple's initial policy, that limited the iPhone to browser based apps in the name of protecting users from viruses and malicious code, prompted some software developers to claim Apple was wielding a too-heavy hand over the iPhone. Some developers found ways to circumvent the limitation, but Apple countered by saying that unauthorized software could 'brick' iPhones when future Apple software updates are downloaded. The SDK will also allow developers to design apps for the new iPod touch. Apple shares are up 1.1% in midday trading.

Full text of Apple letter:

Third Party Applications on the iPhone

Let me just say it: We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users. With our revolutionary multi-touch interface, powerful hardware and advanced software architecture, we believe we have created the best mobile platform ever for developers.

It will take until February to release an SDK because we’re trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once—provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc. This is no easy task. Some claim that viruses and malware are not a problem on mobile phones—this is simply not true. There have been serious viruses on other mobile phones already, including some that silently spread from phone to phone over the cell network. As our phones become more powerful, these malicious programs will become more dangerous. And since the iPhone is the most advanced phone ever, it will be a highly visible target.

Some companies are already taking action. Nokia, for example, is not allowing any applications to be loaded onto some of their newest phones unless they have a digital signature that can be traced back to a known developer. While this makes such a phone less than “totally open,” we believe it is a step in the right direction. We are working on an advanced system which will offer developers broad access to natively program the iPhone’s amazing software platform while at the same time protecting users from malicious programs.

We think a few months of patience now will be rewarded by many years of great third party applications running on safe and reliable iPhones.

Steve

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Source: Apple Opens iPhone to Developers