Apple releases free FireWire SDK

Apple Computer on Wednesday made available the FireWire Reference Platform 1.0, a Software Development Kit (SDK) for embedded use in FireWire devices. The development kit is not OS specific, so developers on a variety of operating systems can use it.

The SDK released Wednesday is based on technology obtained from the acquisition of Zayante Inc. by Apple on April 4, 2002. Targeted to device manufacturers, Apple released the kit so developers could add to the variety of peripherals and consumer electronic products available to consumers today.

"What we want to do is enable people to quickly develop new applications for FireWire and take the fear out of FireWire and the software development that goes along with it," Jon Rubinstein, senior vice president Hardware Engineering, at Apple said. "This includes some of the rich capabilities that FireWire has like bus management, configuration, real-time transfer, as well as additional layers of support such as SDP2."

While Zayante used to sell this technology to companies that wanted to make peripherals or electronic products, Apple is giving it away for free. Apple did the same thing when it released an SDK to developers after it adopted the USB standard with the iMac.

Market research firm In-Stat/MDR expects FireWire-based products to grow by 21 percent this year. While digital camcorders and cameras are popular right now, researchers expect the technology to see more exposure as it expands to other consumer electronic markets and the automotive industry. Currently there are over 50 million FireWire-equipped PCs according to Apple.

"There's been an increasing widespread use of FireWire solutions outside of the realm of the Macintosh, lately," said Tim Deal, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "When it comes to digital video, for example, you are not going to download video using USB 2.0 -- cameras are equipped with FireWire and if you do any video editing you will use a desktop or laptop that is FireWire enabled."

Picking the right technology for the job Apple has been on the leading edge of technology development or adoption for many years. Right now, Apple's machines are equipped with a plethora of technologies that allow them to handle most peripherals and devices on the market today. Ethernet, USB, 802.11b and FireWire come standard on all of Apple's computers -- Bluetooth, with the use of a separate USB device available from Apple, can also be used.

But Apple doesn't choose its technology without knowing where they are going with it; part of Apple's success is picking the right technology and using it the right way.

"It's not just a matter of choosing the technology and putting it on the logic board, but what do you do to make its success grow," said Greg Joswiak, senior director of hardware product marketing at Apple.

"We have a very clear picture of our use for each technology," said Rubinstein. "For example, we see Bluetooth as wireless USB and we see 802.11 as wireless Ethernet, so each technology has a sweet spot for its utilization."

FireWire vs. USB 2.0

The debate about which technology is better -- FireWire or USB 2.0 -- has been going on since USB 2.0 was announced. While most people, including the USB 2.0 and FireWire technology forums, see the standards as complementary, some still see them as competing technologies.

"The only confusion comes from the fact that because the bandwidths are similar some people think that the technologies must be competing with each other. In reality, most people expect them to co-exist," said Jozwiak.

While Deal agrees, he still thinks certain devices will still cause confusion for some consumers in the marketplace.

"There are certain complementary aspects of the technologies, but we are still going to see people in different camps over devices that could be either/or, such as hard drives or MP3 devices," said Deal.

A new version of FireWire will be released in the near future that will double the speed of the technology.

"FireWire b has been ratified and I expect to see that coming soon. FireWire b is actually more efficient, performance is better and it's cheaper -- there's a lot of good things coming shortly from FireWire," said Rubinstein.

Apple would not say when, or even if, they would adopt USB 2.0 in their computers, but they are watching the technology.

"What our customers need to do today is covered by those interfaces [Ethernet, USB, 802.11b, Bluetooth and FireWire]. There isn't a tremendous need we see right now to change that," said Joswiak.

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