SAN FRANCISCO (Dow Jones)- 06-21-2007 03:29:00 PM -As it has done with its computers, Apple Inc. ( AAPL) is counting on a wide variety of interesting features developed by outsiders to demonstrate its iPhone cellphone's capabilities.
However, because of the company's hesitance to share necessary details about the phone, developers outside Apple now working on iPhone programs say they really have only been able to create glorified "skins," or scaled-down versions of existing Web sites for the phone to access.
Just what this means for Apple remains to be seen after the iPhone goes on sale June 29. For instance, early buyers could experience a letdown and reviewers may highlight this aspect, potentially spoiling some of the word-of- mouth buzz Apple's counting on to sell the device.
To be sure, the iPhone will contain a lot of gee-whiz features, which have been developed by Apple and loaded onto the phone. The company's ads highlight many of them, such as the ability to search for a particular business in the area, find a map with its location and dial it up on the phone.
There will be no shortage of features developed by outsiders as well, who in just eight days have already created scores of iPhone applications.
But when iPhone owners look to expand beyond the device's built-in capabilities, they'll find some features that will surely pale by comparison.
Typical of what they'll encounter is the work of Keith Hunniford, a software developer in Denver.
So far, and for a variety of reasons outside his control, all he's really been able to do is offer an iPhone-compatible version of an Internet-based shopping list maker that he's already created.
Hunniford, like other developers interviewed for this report, says as a result, iPhone owners should temper their expectations for what exactly they'll be able to do with the device, outside the few Apple-built features included with the phone.
"Mine and a lot of other things I look at are really just mini-Web sites within a Web site," Hunniford said. "The difference really is how much effort someone's put in to make things look 'Mac-ish.'"
To be sure, developers are falling over themselves to create iPhone features, which is certainly good news for Apple. The computer maker has touted the iPhone's Internet connection and computing abilities as an advantage over other high-end phones.
Apple is counting on a wide collection of interesting programs from outside developers to prove its point, and keep those spending up to $600 for the device satisfied with their purchase.
Apple has good reason to think this way. It has applied this practice in the past to its line of computers. There are now thousands of so-called "widgets" that are rich in complexity and have helped keep Mac fans happy with their purchases.
Shot In The Dark
Yet, so far it's a different story for the iPhone. Developers interviewed over the past few days say the problem is primarily that there's no way of really knowing if their programs will work. So what developers create is, in essence, a shot in the dark. In these instances, simpler is safer, they say.
Meanwhile, Apple has frustrated developers by not offering much help to ensure their programs will actually work on an iPhone, developers say.
For instance, Apple's not providing anyone with an actual phone in order to test their features. Developers that want to give their work a dry run on an iPhone are turning instead to Web sites that Apple fans have created to try and simulate an iPhone in operation.
"Developing for the iPhone is kind of just guessing; we're hoping it all works," said Steven Schopp, a 27-year-old software developer emerging as an early leader of the iPhone developer community.
"People are trying to keep safe, not go too far, not be too experimental now," he said.
He has, on his own, created a Web page where developers have been uploading their applications. It's been visited 100,000 times so far.
When asked about the developers' sentiment, an Apple spokeswoman referred to a statement the company issued a week ago in which it said outside developers will be allowed to create and distribute iPhone features.
"Developers and users alike are going to be very surprised and pleased at how great these applications look and work on iPhone," Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive, is quoted as saying in the press release.
Despite the hurdles, developers are moving forward.
One of the most ambitious of the new iPhone features to come from developers outside Apple is called iPling, a social network feature.
But there's a reason it stands above the rest. According to its creators, iPling, has been built in conjunction with Apple's developer team, which explains why it's more complex than most.
More representative of what iPhone owners will experience are features like PhoneDango, an application especially designed to look up movie listings on the Fandango Web site, and iDigg, which provides a similar connection to the Web site Digg, a news aggregator.
There's also iNews, which searches news available from the Yahoo Inc. (YHOO) and Google Inc. (GOOG) Internet search engines; OneTrip, another shopping list feature; iBookmark, a bookmarking feature; and a shrunken-down version of the online game WordBreaker.
Of course, the situation may change and developers will indeed make more complex tasks for the iPhone, especially after they get their hands on the phone and learn its secrets. But for now that won't be the case.
"I believe we will see much more advanced iPhone apps being released soon," said Schopp. "Since the platform has only been released a week ago, the advanced applications are probably still in development."
-By Ben Charny, Dow Jones Newswires; 415-765-8230; firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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