OS X Widgetry And iPhone Possibilities

I do not currently own a Mac. I do not currently own an iPod.

I’m using a bottom-feeding Dell with a wee less than 1GB of RAM and a wee over 1GHz CPU. After having the machine turned into a fucking spambot, I’ve had to install many countermeasures. Suddenly, 1GHz does not seem like 1GHz any longer (which makes me hesitant to jump onto a 1GHz UMPC, like the lustful Samsung Q1P).

The last Mac I had was an LCIII, bought brand new from J&R for a whopping TWO GRAND as part of a special bundle deal that also included a modem and a cheery “So long, sucker!” from the J&R staff. It ran System 6. (By the time I really really needed System 7, the OS was further up in numbering and no 7 disks were to be found. Ah, that cruel world before ebay!)

So I come to Mac OS X widgets really really ignorant of what they are, how many there are, what they can do, etc.

But the recent post I did about the lucky Aussie journalist who got to fondle an iPhone woke me to the fact the iPhone uses widgets.

So today I go to investigate said widgets. And via Google (really, what else do people use?!), I find an Apple page devoted to them.

Now wait, let me back up less than 24 hours.

I was thinking, OK, widgets. Does such widgetry make full-blown apps possible? Could there possibly be widgets that would allow word processing and the like?

FF to now.

And there on the Apple page, just submitted Feb 2, is Google Apps Dashboard Widget.

Whoa.

And look at that: Docs/Spreadsheets.

And Docs is a word processor!

What I dearly want to know is how difficult it will be for existing widgets to find their way onto the iPhone? Apple is rumored to will hold its WWDC in June. I bet that will be The Topic. Update: Apple announces June WWDC.

According to Hands (and fingers) on the iPhone at Macworld’s website:

I would imagine that we won’t get any details about how Apple plans to address iPhone development until this year’s Worldwide Developer Conference at the earliest. However, I am intrigued by one subtle bit of language in the iPhone announcement: Apple talks about iPhone applications as well as iPhone widgets. Which makes me wonder: will developers be able to create widgets more freely than applications? In Mac OS X terms, a Widget is generally a bunch of JavaScript and some images, usually including Internet access. (Yes, you can embed code in Widgets too, but let’s leave that aside for now.) When I think about Widgets — and Apple’s new Dashcode development environment for building them — I begin to wonder if Apple will permit iPhone Widgets to be developed much more freely than iPhone applications. If Apple limits those Widgets to ones created in Dashcode, using only JavaScript and Internet connectivity, the iPhone would really benefit — and without the huge scrutiny Apple will probably give to more complicated iPhone applications.

And this is perhaps a clue too: The iPhone, Widgets, and VerifiedDownloadAgent.

And Some Deeper Thoughts On Apple’s iPhone offers this set of very intriguing possibilities:

Always-On Javascript Engine?
The widgets that were presented today appear to be almost mirror equivalents as those on my Mac OS X dashboard, and since those are fully based on XHTML/CSS/Javascript I can only imagine that these iPhone widgets are as well with some slight modifications. Klondike Mike’s prediction about Apple’s extensive use of Webkit was completely on point, and if the iPhone has a full Javascript runtime engine (that can be utilized by user-developed, uploadable widgets) I think it will be a monstrous event for web designers and developers. To be able to utilize the Javascript calls that we have already engineered for our web applications on a shiny new iPhone widget is monumental, and could open up a tremendous amount of possibilities for computerless content distribution. Moving the Web “off” the Web is the future, and if I can upload my homegrown widgets to my iPhone (or provide them for users to download) the possibilities are nearly limitless.

Which, at iPhone a Potential Boon for Web Developers, leads to the possible reason why the iPhone will seem closed:

Once I got over my slack-jawed amazement at the ultimate gizmo (what Gizmodo is ever-so-subtly calling the Jesus Phone), I quickly realized that Apple has created a platform in which web developers will be able to play a substantial part. With the inclusion of widgets, Apple has created one of the most accessible development platforms for data transfer and productivity apps to date on a mobile phone. All you need to know to develop a widget for Tiger’s dashboard is XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript. With the iPhone running OS X, I’m assuming the requirements will be the same.

There are hoards of people who know these technologies and now they have a new toy to play with. Current mobile development platforms such as Symbian, Windows, and Java are the playgrounds of uber-geeks. No more! Now a weekender with a book on web development, some tips on how to create a widget, and a data source can create a mobile application.

Emphasis added by me. Although I am very grateful to those who develop things for the love of it, I also know there are people evil bastards who develop things for the maliciousness of it (see spambotting of the Dell, above!). Won’t you feel safer having Apple vet these things first?

If creating a widget for the iPhone is going to be almost as easy as creating a HyperCard stack was, then the same temptation for evil will exist. But so will the same exciting possibilities.

See also: widgipedia

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