Issue #44: Mobile,  Library

Erica Sadun

iOS developers new to the platform are completely (and thankfully) unaware of its rocky start during its initial years. The first iPhone was announced on January 9th, 2007, and was released in the United States on June 29th that year. The iPhone SDK was announced by Steve Jobs in October 2007, and released in March 2008. But even before the official SDK was first announced, people were already “jailbreaking” the device, and thereby making applications for the iPhone. First-generation iPhone and iPad developers will surely chuckle when reading the words “PwnageTool,” “JailbreakMe,” and the name of the first App Store, also known as “Cydia.”

I will wait until you stop laughing (or crying).

These were the times of Justine Ezarik opening a box containing the 300 pages of her first AT&T bill. Of Joe Hewitt releasing the first iteration of the iUI framework. Of Steve Ballmer just laughing at the iPhone. Of James Duncan Davidson‘s iconic photo of the iPhone inside a glass screen.

The iPhone SDK and the App Store did not come alone, though. They were accompanied by an infamous NDA that lasted until October 2008. Said NDA prevented developers from discussing in public about the iPhone SDK features; among other things, this meant that nobody could ask questions about it, not even in this new website called “Stack Overflow” that started operating in September 15th, 2008.

On November 21st, the first edition of “Beginning iPhone Development” by Jeff LaMarche and Dave Mark went on sale and became an instant hit; this one is often mentioned as the first published book explaining the iPhone SDK. Well, not really. A few weeks before that date, on October 13th, 2008, probably the same day the NDA was dropped, Erica Sadun’s first magnum opus hit the shelves: The iPhone’s Developer’s Cookbook.

Erica Sadun was already well known in the jailbreak online community, patiently and painstakingly dissecting every new release of the iPhone OS, and dumping class headers for all developers to use in their own applications. She was referred to by Engadget as “one of the soldiers heading up the fight to break Apple’s stranglehold.” Such a title carries the sentiment the developer community regarding the close nature of the iPhone; and which would play a tremendous role in boosting Android as a developer-friendly alternative, in the period from 2009 to 2012.

Erica has stated in an interview that in this book she tried to write “the kind of reference I wish I had when starting out.” One of the most interesting aspects of the book is that it navigates, not without controversy, the rough, uncharted waters of the private APIs; those that no developer is allowed to touch for their code to be allowed to hit the virtual shelves of the App Store.

And in this book, well, we get a glimpse of various of those. Let us mention some honorable examples: the hidden HTML editing support in the UITextView class in page 253; the UICalloutView API explained in page 258; the instructions to add text input fields to an UIAlertView in page 113; all of the undocumented CATransition animation types in page 67; a complete chapter about UICoverFlowLayer at the end of the book; and, yes, a warning against using all of this knowledge in applications targeting the App Store, very early on page 34.

Apple longtime loyalist John Gruber was understandably aghast and vocal, going ballistic against this book and its contents. Thankfully, Erica Sadun has kept working on the platform, to the delight of the rest of the community, in spite of such attacks; even becoming an important voice of the Swift community, after the language was released in June 2014. Fifteen years later, the App Store policies are still a matter of major debate and controversy, and this, even at the highest levels of the European Commission, through the Digital Markets Act.

As a personal note, unusual in this magazine, I would like to send a warm salutation to Erica, who helped boost my activity as an independent iPhone developer, by promoting my obscure nib2objc tool through an article she wrote in ArsTechnica in April 2009, and even mentioning it in later editions of her book. The surprise and reach of this article is still one of the highlights and major prides in my career.

Cover photo by the author.

Adrian Kosmaczewski is a published writer, trainer and speaker, currently in charge of Developer Relations at VSHN AG, Zürich, Switzerland. He holds a Master's degree from the University of Liverpool.