CARLSBAD, Calif. — Answering one of the big questions about the iPhone that’s arriving in late June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the company will allow third-party software developers to write programs for the device later this year, after the company sorts out the balance between securing the phone and opening it up to developers.
“Sometime later this year we will find a way to do that,” he said.
But in a conversation with Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg, Jobs didn’t provide any more specifics about when the phone will be released, other than to reiterate “late June.”
The chat also showed off Mossberg’s influence. He jokingly said he heard that Apple has a new phone. Jobs said “I’ll send you one.” “Thanks,” the columnist replied.
Later, Mossberg asked if Apple will turn away from building computers as it pushes further into consumer electronics. Jobs said the company remains “totally” committed to its computer business.
Jobs also declined to say anything about when and how Apple will next overhaul the iPod line. His vague comment could have applied to the iPhone — which Apple considers to be its latest iPod as well as a phone and Internet device:
“All I should really say is that were working on the best iPods that weve ever worked on and they’re awesome.”
The phone made a brief appearance when Jobs pulled one out of his pants pocket and held it up for a few seconds, but he didn’t turn it on or give a demonstration. Nor did he announce any new features.
Jobs did talk up its three key features, particularly the high-quality browser. That’s probably a preview of the marketing theme since it echoed the way AT&T’s point man on the iPhone, Glenn Lurie, described the device to me last week.
Jobs also shared his perspective on why AT&T (then Cingular) took a leap of faith with Apple on the phone project and agreed to partner on a device it hadn’t seen yet. He thinks the company made the deal for two reasons — first, “music on phones hasn’t been successful so far” and, second, because it wanted to find a way to improve the Internet experience with phones and make better use of its high-speed network.
“They along with everyone else in the business have spent or are spending a fortune to build these 3G networks,” Jobs said. “So far there ain’t a lot to do with them. … People aren’t signing up to use bandwidth.”
So that’s why AT&T will require iPhone buyers to sign up for unlimited data plans, as Lurie told me last week.
But Sling Media Chief Executive Blake Krikorian called Jobs on his 3G reference. The iPhone actually works on a slower network, AT&T’s EDGE, that’s considered 2.5G, he pointed out.
Jobs replied by pointing out the phone also has Wi-Fi, which is faster than EDGE, and the phone automatically switches to Wi-Fi when in range. He also noted that there are lots of Wi-Fi networks around, especially in Palo Alto, Calif., where he lives.
“Some of them are people’s personal ones you can just take a ride on,” Jobs said, adding that “there’s like 10 times more Wi-Fi out there than even I thought there was.”
Hmmm. I guess that’s one option some people may take. (Jobs’ other options weren’t discussed.)
Mossberg repeatedly joked about delays in Apple’s upcoming “Leopard” operating system, but Jobs never took the bait and said anything about the timing or cause of delays.
Indirectly acknowledging Apple TV hasn’t caught the world on fire yet, Jobs described the device for streaming media from a computer to a television as a “hobby” instead of a real business for Apple.
“The iPod started this way. The iPod’s a really great phenmenon, today it’s a great business today, but it started off a lot smaller, it started off feeling like this.”
A new feature he announced today was nifty but probably won’t have people rushing out to buy Apple TVs. Jobs showed a new “YouTube” menu item that lets people search, select and play videos from the Google-owned video-sharing site.
Mossberg asked why Apple didn’t include a video browser so users can play content from other online video sites. Jobs said he thinks “a normal Web browser is not what people want to see in living room.”
I wonder if the feature design was influenced by Apple’s growing relationship with Google, whose chief executive sits on Apple’s board and whose Web applications are among the first non-Apple programs that will run on the iPhone.
The obligatory nasty Microsoft comment came when Mossberg pointed out that the free iTunes jukebox is one of the most widely used applications on the Windows platform.
“We’ve got cards and letters from lots of people saying iTunes is their favorite app on Windows. It’s like giving a glass of ice water to somebody in hell.”
“There’s that humility, that Steve Jobs humility.”
Offsetting that a little bit was Jobs’ acknowledgement that he sometimes reads “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs,” a parody blog that pokes fun at his style and personality.
“I have read a few of the fake Steve Jobs things lately and I thought they were pretty funny,” he said.