iPad SDK Mining a Big Tease, But Let’s Stay Level-headed

After the rumor-fest surrounding Apple’s mystery device was stanched the moment Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, a new trend has emerged; SDK Mining. This is the art of digging through the iPad’s operating system to uncover clues about hitherto-undisclosed functionality.

Since the iPad and iPhone SDKs are so very close in core functionality, SDK Miners have been trying to unearth something (anything!) we didn’t already know about the iPad. I suspect most people simply glance over these reports, shrug, and move on without comment. After all, we’re a bit tired of tablet rumors by now, right? But looking at some of the comments in the articles (linked below), there are some people who take it all very seriously indeed. And that’s probably a mistake, as I’ll explain shortly.

Before I do, here’s a quick rundown of what we think we know so far from the SDK Mining that has happened in the last five weeks.

January 29

Engadget confirmed that the OS SDK contained support for Video Calling, File Downloads, SMS and even Handwriting input;

We’re told that there are hooks to accept and decline a video conference, flip a video feed (which suggests a front-facing camera) and — most importantly — run the video call in either full screen mode or in just a portion of the screen. That means you’ll be able to chat and do other things at the same time, which could mean there’s at least some type of multitasking going on here.

Engadget’s Nilay Patel adds in an update;

…there’s a spell checker with multiple dictionaries and user-added entries (huzzah!), much richer text support for apps, the ability to selectively draw to external displays (using the VGA or component adapters, we’d imagine), location-aware ads in Maps and possibly other programs that use the Maps API, file upload ability in Safari, a modifiable cut / copy / paste menu, and, most interestingly, prototype support for a “handwriting keyboard.” Maybe we’ll see some stylus action on this thing after all.

In all, Patel lists no fewer than 18 new discoveries, though many of them are pretty dry and technical.

After that, things fell quiet for a while, until just this week.

February 20

9to5Mac reported discovering a set of icons in the 3.2 SDK it believes are “pretty definitive evidence” for video calling functionality in a future iPhone or iPad device.

Image by 9to5Mac

It also found strings of code that refer to iChat, too, but didn’t speculate further. It did say;

While it is possible that Apple brought code over from its Mac telephony products, it is unlikely that they also built icons and compressed them into the iPad SDK for such a product if it weren’t being built for future release.

February 23

MacRumor’s Arnold Kim added to the fresh wave of SDK Mining reports with this graphic of the icons used in the video chat functionality;

Image by MacRumors

Kim writes;

It seems Apple built in API support to test to see if your iPad had a Front Facing Camera, Zoom and a Camera Flash. The front facing camera would, of course, be used for video chat, while Zoom and Camera Flash are often requested features for the iPhone’s camera.

Given the size of these buttons, they were intended for use on the the iPad’s screen rather than the iPhone. We’re not sure why these features were dropped…

And finally, just today, MacNN brings us news of (wait for it) advanced wallpaper options.

Image by MacNN

Well. Be still my beating heart. From MacNN;

In the current iPad simulator, users can now set separate lock- and homescreen wallpapers, reflecting the iPad’s ability to keep wallpaper active while navigating icons. In case the difference doesn’t matter, another button applies the same wallpaper to both screens.

The Disappointment of SDK Mining

While it’s fun to poke-around in the code (in the absence of an actual iPad to play with, it’s the next best thing!), SDK Mining often leads to disappointment. An operating system — even a ‘small’ OS like the one found on the iPhone or iPad — is hugely complex. It’s the end-product of years of development. In that time, as hardware and software prototypes came-and-went, functionality was added and removed, supported and dropped, many times over. This is common to any OS development process.

We need to be careful when reading breathless reports of “hidden” functionality in the iPad (or iPhone) SDKs. In the reports above, the code references camera features, proving that, at some point, Apple’s developers seriously explored that functionality. That doesn’t mean a camera is guaranteed to appear on the iPad. (For instance, just because I once learned how to ride a bike, it doesn’t guarantee I’ll become an avid cyclist.)

So let’s enjoy the speculation — but not get too worked-up over what it might mean. After all, it might never happen.