September 16, 2009, 5:29 PM — In one of my other lives, I write a blog about the Java industry, and let me tell you, after the App Store emerged for the iPhone, one of the biggest things Java developers liked to alternately complain and hand-wring about was the fact that Apple had no intention of allowing an iPhone JVM. Since then, the community seems to have lapsed into a more generalized despair waiting for the future after the Sun-Oracle merger, but it was an instructive moment. After all, one of the whole points of the Java project was to create a developer pool so large and influential that companies would be forced to allow Java on their various platforms, from servers to phones. But Apple stared them down and didn't blink, and yet there's been no shortage of iPhone applications.
One of the upshots was that, when a project emerged that sought to perform a number of different automated code conversions, the particular one that got all the attention was Java bytecode to Objective-C, because that of course would allow Java to run on the iPhone, sort of.
This is all relatively old news, but I thought of it because a couple of other stories emerged this week on other development communities that want a piece of the App Store pie without actually switching over to Objective-C full time. Splashiest is the MonoTouch project, which aims to transform Mono, the open source version of Microsoft's .Net framework, to Objective-C, essentially opening the iPhone platform up to C# developers. Somewhat less exciting, but still along the same lines, is a new JavaServer Faces development kit called TouchFaces, which will make it easier to create server-side Java apps with Web interfaces that look very much like native iPhone apps when viewed in the mobile version of Safari.
Sun (with Java) and Microsoft (with its various Visual Studio products) have both tried with varying degrees of success to achieve dominance with a developer-up approach. Sun had hopes that an army of Java developers, once out in the field and given purchasing power, would buy Sun products. Microsoft wooed developers to languages that guaranteed a Windows lock-in. But what we're seeing with the iPhone is less an emphasis on the language than the platform. Objective-C is no doubt a fine language, but it is no way the draw. The iPhone platform is the draw, and now a whole ecosystem is springing up to get you there, one way or another.