Already loaded with more than 25,000 applications, the shelves at the iPhone app store are about to get a lot heavier. A nifty software-development tool that makes it much easier to build applications for the popular Apple (AAPL) smartphone is expected to lead to a lot more personal finance programs, Jedi lightsabers and medical charting apps.
Perhaps even more important for Apple, the new flood apps could skew towards useful programs for businesses, an area where Apple has long struggled to gain significant traction against the dominant business software player Microsoft (MSFT). The new tool is called MonoTouch and it comes, ironically, from Linux company Novell (NOVL). "It definitely lowers the barrier to writing and porting iPhone applications because there are many more C# developers than Objective-C developers," said Daniel Leuck, CEO of smartphone and social media software development company Ikayzo.
Here's a bit more of the story. One of the biggest complaints from software developers about building code for the iPhone is Apple's insistence on basing iPhone software development upon an obscure programming language called Objective-C. The language is little used and hard to work with.
Until the arrival of the iPhone in 2007, there was little use in learning Objective-C. Then it became mandatory, but for many software developers, learning a new language on the fly is a chore. Ironically, this reliance on Objective-C probably kept the number of iPhone applications down. This is hard to believe, considering there are now tens of thousands of iPhone applications, far more than for any other smartphone.
Creating tools that make it easier to write code for smartphone platforms is a huge priority, as the smartphone market explodes. Another company, called WidgetPad (as reported by TUAW), claims that it can turn simple Web applications into iPhone applications without additional coding.
What MonoTouch does is make it much easier to write iPhone applications in the more commonly used C# programming language. This is a common programming language that is a favorite of business software developers who write applications for both desktops and smartphones.
It's also the language used for developing software designed for Microsoft, including its .Net software platform and its Silverlight interactive content system (which competes directly with Flash from Adobe). "It is a 'write once, read anywhere' tool for reusing existing libraries built for .NET code on the iPhone," says Miguel de Icaza, vice president of developer platforms at Novell and a key founder of the MonoTouch code project.
That means two things. First, a lot more programmers will be comfortable writing applications for iPhones, a clear boon for the already dominant platform. Second, software development companies with more business expertise are now more apt to offer iPhone services.
That could be another big boost for Apple, which has always struggled to make headway in the business-user market due to the dominance of Windows. In theory, MonoTouch will make it much easier for a Windows-centric software developer to build an application for Windows computers that can also run easily on an iPhone smartphone.
Another beneficiary of MonoTouch could well be Microsoft. The tool makes it easier for developers to build applications for iPhones that can easily be converted to run on Windows Mobile devices and vice versa. However, MonoTouch will not help Google's Android (GOOG) mobile phone software, which is written in the Java language. You never thought Bill and Steve would agree on anything, but MonoTouch may be that one thing.
Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL Daily Finance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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