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Apple to permit native third party apps for iPhone, iPod Touch

Apple boss Steve Jobs posted a note on Apple's Hot News section of its Web site this morning in which he changes the company's position on allowing third party applications to be written for the iPhone – an issue that prompted many of the controversial iPhone hacks.

While this issue has not been as contentious as the ability to unlock the iPhone for use on other cellular networks, it nevertheless had irked many, if not more, iPhone customers. This change will take the iPhone a big step closer to realizing its potential as an ultra-portable mini-computer.

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It should also help repair Apple's relationship with those upset over the closed nature of the iPhone, although I doubt the people who had already hacked their phones – and had them "bricked" by Apple's recent software update to the device – will forgive the company any time soon. (I know many feel such people created their own problem by hacking the phone in the first place, but most of them blame Apple. Sigh.)

Some may still grumble because the iPhone SDK (software developers kit), the tool developers need to write programs for the iPhone, will not be available until February. In his statement Jobs counsels patience "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."

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Jobs also responds to critics who had ridiculed his previous explanations about why the iPhone was a closed platform: "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."

I personally can't speak to how easy it might be to create malware for a mobile device like the iPhone, but in the brief time it has been publicly available many determined people have managed both to unlock the iPhone and create unauthorized third party applications. So I think Jobs' caution is justified.

In a "P.S." note tacked on the end of his statement, Jobs mentions that the SDK will work with the iPod Touch, sort of a "one more thing" like those he so often drops on audiences at his keynotes. That should please many iPod Touch owners, who hadn't been nearly as vocal about this issue as had iPhone owners.

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