Im in ur iphone, haxin ur safari...
August 27, 2008 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to create an iphone app that would read and respond to the subjects you're reading about?

I don't have an iphone, but I've been tasked with determining the possibility of creating a particular kind of iphone app. In a nutshell, I'm wondering if it would be possible to create an app in the realm of Adaptive Blue's Smart Links. The way it works is that any time it comes across a book or movie title (or author or director) in a block of text, it throws a little icon next to the title. If you click on the icon, you get a pop-up menu w/ links to amazon, imdb, etc.

The company for which I work is interested in such an app. It would be a little different, in that it would only look for particular businesses, CEOs, etc., to which it would throw a little icon after. But I assume this would be something that would have to work within iphone's Safari. Is this possible?
posted by nushustu to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, I don't think so. Mobile Safari doesn't allow plugins and no apps are allowed to run in the background.
posted by sveskemus at 10:02 AM on August 27, 2008

For commercial use it's definitely not possible because of the reasons sveskemus states. What I'm unsure about is how Apple is working with businesses for internal products. My thinking is that the SDK limits this approach outright and regardless of any loosening of regulation with the apps that are not put on the App store, there wouldn't be a way of building it in the current SDK. Now if they have an "Enterprise Internal SDK" that provides background support and communication with the native apps then that's a different story.

Then again I could be assuming there even is a wave of internal-only applications being made for Enterprises (I seem to recall them demoing stuff like this touting how much they love Big Business more than RIM) but maybe not, does everything have to go through the App Store?
posted by genial at 10:08 AM on August 27, 2008

You'd probably have to leverage iPhone-specific frameworks, but Safari is built off of WebKit, so it should be within the realm of possibility.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:12 AM on August 27, 2008

With Safari, no. As sveskemus said, they don't allow plugins, and apps are pretty tightly sandboxed.

What you could do, I think, is something similar to 1Password- they wanted to recreate their desktop auth management (read: auto-login) tool for the iPhone, so their app is essentially a customized version of WebKit (the open-source part of Safari) with their functionality layered on top of it.
posted by mkultra at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2008

If all the websites / email you're reading are passed through a filter/proxy, and have the icons (etc) added at that level, it could be pretty complicated, but should work. (I think?)
posted by inigo2 at 10:56 AM on August 27, 2008

As inigo2 says, you could build this as a proxy web service instead of as an iPhone app; it wouldn't really even very complex to build. The plus would be that this would be usable from any web browser (including the iPhone's). The minus is that it might be of questionable legality, since you're effectively modifying other peoples' content without their permission.

(Strictly speaking this would be true of an iPhone app as well, of course, but for some reason a client that modifies the content on the user's behalf seems like a safer bet than a server app that does the same thing. IANAL of course.)
posted by ook at 11:30 AM on August 27, 2008

I think so long as you allow users to opt-in to your proxy and openly declare what your proxy does I think you will have sidestepped the legality issue, but IANAL.
posted by cftarnas at 11:34 AM on August 27, 2008

If "works on Safari for iPhone" is a requirement, and you don't want to deal with a server-side proxy, then you're probably going to be limited to solutions in which a publisher voluntarily includes your product on their page via JavaScript. Think Snap Shots, Apture, Adaptive Blue Smart Links for content, and Vibrant Media or Kontera for straight advertising.

Some of these companies offer browser plugins so that you can get the same experience on sites that don't explicitly include their JS, but that's not likely to be an option for you unless Apple changes their tune. Plus there won't be a Firefox for iPhone, so you can forget about that too.

So, let's say you build an awesome JS product and you have some automated system that is aware of which CEOs you have special content for and ALSO which of your publisher URLs currently include mentions of those URLs. You convince some interesting publishers to include it on their sites. Let's also assume that these publishers don't have iPhone-optimized sites, and are only going to include your JS if it also provides utility for non-iPhone users. So now what?

You're likely going to have to maintain separate UI assets so that the product looks OK for all users. Code for desktop and iPhone versions will be different, for many reasons including iPhone event quirkiness (hover, etc.) which is not likely to do you any favors. The user interaction will likely be different between the different versions of the product and you'll need to come up with a way to drive user interaction.

Keep in mind that the users who are viewing this site didn't install your plugin, so the first time they come across your double purple dotted underlined link or your little company logo next to a CEO's name they won't have any knowledge of why they should interact with it. The likelihood of a random user triggering impressions is already low when you have mouseovers as a trigger, but an order of magnitude lower when you're requiring someone to tap their finger and "click" on some element.

So, is it possible? Sure. Is it worth your time at the moment? That's up to you and your company. :)

(For the record, I'm a lead developer at one of the companies mentioned above. Yes, I deal with this stuff all day long. Isn't it wonderful?)
posted by adamk at 1:08 PM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Too many TLAs! I meant "and ALSO which of your publisher URLs currently include mentions of those CEOs."
posted by adamk at 1:10 PM on August 27, 2008

Response by poster: Okay. It sounds like a filter/proxy would be more the direction to go. This would absolutely be something only done w/ the user's permission, as what it would do would be to point out the, um, shortcomings of particular businesses. So I'm pretty sure adamk's ideas won't work for us.

Although I might end up mefi mailing you for more info...

Thanks everybody!
posted by nushustu at 2:19 PM on August 27, 2008

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