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Bill Brown

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This iPhone-related patent application just surfaced today. Combined with the rumor that Apple will unveil the iPhone App Store at the Worldwide Developer's Conference starting on Monday, it offers some tantalizing insights into what we might expect from the normally secretive company.

Here's two excerpts from the patent application:

The device supports a variety of applications, such as one or more of the following: a telephone application, a video conferencing application, an e-mail application, an instant messaging application, a blogging application, a photo management application, a digital camera application, a digital video camera application, a web browsing application, a digital music player application, and/or a digital video player application.

And also:

The wireless communication may use any of a plurality of communications standards, protocols and technologies, including but not limited to … voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Wi-MAX, … instant messaging (e.g., extensible messaging and presence protocol (XMPP), Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), and/or Instant Messaging and Presence Service (IMPS)), and/or Short Message Service (SMS)), or any other suitable communication protocol, including communication protocols not yet developed as of the filing date of this document.

Video conferencing? IM? Blogging? Digital video camera? SIP/VoIP? XMPP? These are all technologies that aren't in the current iPhone. So the question here is whether this is a carte blanche, catch-all sort of patent application or a revelation of Apple's upcoming intentions.

I am very conflicted about this report. On the one hand, having these applications built by the mothership means that they'll be more widely used and available. For applications like instant messaging and video conferencing, ubiquity makes them useful. On the other hand, by including them for free Apple would short-circuit developers interested in selling such applications at a time when there are exactly zero sanctioned, third-party applications. This, of course, is nothing new for Apple.

It's within their rights to offer whatever software they want on whatever platform they create. But if they're looking to grow their third-party application catalog (and make money off the App Store), they'd do well to emulate the Facebook platform or even their own operating system. Competition with their constellation of developers has a chilling effect and should only be engaged in rarely.

[UPDATE (6/9/2008): Apple appears to not be competing with iPhone developers. From the keynote, it looks like they're just adding features to their existing stable of apps and leaving IM et al. to third parties. I think it's the right decision.]