How Apple designs an API
Written by Ian Elliot   
Thursday, 26 August 2010
What exactly is the message of an Apple video about how it develops APIs? Watch it and see if you can figure it out.



This is a strange little video that has surfaced recently. The title is "Bertrand Serlet on using Apple's private APIs" but if you watch the video you will find that it's a description of how Apple designs and develops APIs. It's short and interesting but what has it to do with "private APIs"? This is a subject that any iPhone programmer will tell you is a sore point because Apple doesn't allow apps to use APIs that are classified as "private" and this arguably stifles innovation.




If you contemplate this short video for a moment and attempt to extract its message then you will come away with several ideas.

  • The best APIs are old.
  • To become old they have to mature in safety.
  • Private APIs used internally by Apple are in a safe and loving environment for APIs to grow.
  • We don't want you to use private APIs because we might tweak them and hence break your application.

What most other companies do is to issue the API as a beta or preview and let programmers use the API at their own peril. Arguably this isn't a good idea for a mobile phone platform because a change to the API might crash the app, which in turn might crash the phone.

However reasonable you think Apple's approach is  it still hurts to be treated like imbeciles who don't want to maintain our apps and who can't make choices for ourselves on the dangers of bugs. It also raises the question of how much confidence Apple has in its OS when it bans applications that might, at some future time behave badly. One of the first responsibilities of an OS is to contain any bad behavior and stop it from bringing the house down.


"Bertrand Serlet is Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering, and is responsible for leading Apple's Software Engineering group. Serlet reports directly to the CEO.

Serlet joined Apple in 1997, and has been a key player in the definition, development and creation of Mac OS X, the world's most advanced operating system. As vice president of Platform Technology, Serlet managed the largest part of the Mac OS software engineering group. Before joining Apple, Serlet spent 4 years at Xerox PARC, then joined NeXT in 1989.

Serlet holds a doctorate in Computer Science from the University of Orsay, France."



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Last Updated ( Thursday, 26 August 2010 )