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iPhone apps hit the racks at the iTunes store

Worth the 18 month wait?

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Not only does today see the launch of iPhone v2: This Time It's 3G, but Apple has also flung open the doors of the iTunes Application store, meaning punters disinclined to hack around with their handsets can now purchase legitimate applications.

Apple originally intended the iPhone to be restricted to running applications supplied by them, with third parties limited to creating downloaded scripts. But such scripts have distinct limitations, so now the company has decided that third parties can create native applications, as long as Apple get to approve them and sell them through the iTunes store.

Today the store opened, with a quoted 500 native applications available, 95 of which are free. That figure of 500 has to be taken pretty lightly - 42 are beyond-copyright books (each comprising a separate application, apparently), and another 30 are reference books or bibles. But quality is more important than quantity in software provision.

There is quite a range of titles available, including lots of cheap tweaks and eye-candy amongst the real applications. Free apps include an AIM client as well as mobile versions of Facebook and MySpace. Business apps include expenses management, budget planning and so forth, and there are lots of reference works bulking out the catalogue. There's a surprisingly small selection of games - a mere 40 - but with all the popular genres covered.

Very few of the applications genuinely need to be native, though in some cases producing a native version is easier - a to-do list can be done through a website, but it's easier for the publisher to manage a stand-alone version.

Apple's change of approach was largely driven by the number of iPhone owners who hacked their handsets to be able to run third-party applications without Apple's approval, and despite the lack of revenue stream many people have created unapproved applications. Some of those will now turn to the approval process to make some money, but others won't find it so easy.

The restrictions that Apple places on applications are significant, such as the restriction on emulators, meaning no Java Virtual Machine, or an iPhone version of StyleTap's Palm emulator - at least not yet.

So the question now is whether or not the iTunes Application Store will negate the need for customers to hack their handsets, a process which Apple reckons will now be significantly harder. With the majority of applications available legitimately, punters might prefer the benign rule of Cupertino to the risk of dodgy software downloaded to a hacked handset. ®

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