If you've been holding off buying an iPhone until Steve relaxes his iron grip on what developers are allowed to do with the device, it might be worth looking again: Apple has announced official support for third-party applications.
Although iPhones that have been 'jailbroken' can already have third-party packages installed via Installer.app, Firmware 2.0 â€“ available in a limited beta for $99 of your hard-earned â€“ will have an official version dubbed the App Store.
Yes, you've picked up on the relevant word right away: the App Store. In case you hadn't guessed from the name, Apple is hoping that iPhone owners will shell out for software developed for the handset via an on-phone purchasing system. Once you've shelled out your cash, the applications can be downloaded and installed via WiFi or EDGE. If you'd rather pick and choose your software when sat at a comfy desk, you'll also be able browse and buy from the App Store via iTunes on your desktop.
The good news is that the price of applications sold on the App Store can be set by the developers rather than by Apple, and that 'free' has been confirmed as a valid price. Considering that developers will have to pay for the SDK in order to build these programs, it remains to be seen how many freeware and open-source authors choose to publish via the official method at personal cost and how many stick with the free unofficial Installer.app.
The new firmware comes with some other features, too. Enterprise users will be pleased to hear that the iPhone will have native support for Microsoft Office documents. This is due to Apple agreeing to licence ActiveSync from Microsoft, a move which also allows Firmware 2.0 iPhones to sync with a corporate Exchange Server and get copies of their e-mail, calendar, and contacts on their handset.
For the security concious Apple has also added support for IPsec-based VPN connectivity, allowing remote users to tunnel in to corporate networks from wherever they happen to be.
While the new firmware doesn't address all of the concerns people have with the iPhone â€“ there's still no sign of a 3G model â€“ it certainly addresses some of the major drawbacks preventing the device making much of a headway in the corporate world