When the iPhone was first announced, Apple was silent on the question of how developers would be able to develop applications for it. As the iPhone shipped, the developer story became slightly clearer: the iPhone has a Webkit browser, so you can write to that and everything should be OK.
Except when it’s not, like when the user flips the iPhone sideways (changing the screen resolution), or zooms in on the page. There’s no easy and accurate way to simulate this stuff on a PC — Safari can’t do the iPhone’s tricks, and iPhoney doesn’t act exactly like the real thing yet. And unlike most mobile devices, there’s no emulator for the iPhone, so until today, if you wanted to develop an iPhone application, developers had no development environment — you had to use an actual iPhone to develop your application.
With today’s announcement of the iPod Touch, the iPhone finally has an economical development environment. This is going to catalyze development of mobile applications that target the iPhone significantly now that the barrier to entry is $299 (versus thousands of dollars for a full-blown iPhone, when you factor in the pretty-much-mandatory two-year AT&T contract). This is the thing that is going to enable college kids (and small business owners like me) to develop mobile Webkit applications.
I spent some time last month helping Etelos to build an iPhone-capable application for attendees of this week’s Office 2.0 conference. Etelos’ platform for building applications like this is really terrific, but not having an iPhone to test it on drove me crazy. (Fortunately all their engineers have iPhones and they were able to take the application across the finish line.)
Because it has wifi and Webkit, the iPod Touch solves my problem 110%. I cannot wait to get my mitts on one. (It’s also going to be nice to use it to watch movies on airplanes, but I’m really looking at this as a business investment, really I am.)