What If Microsoft Had To Approve Every App On Windows?

from the playing-the-what-if-game dept

I’ve been pointing out why an open platform beats a closed platform over the long haul with regards to the iPhone, and linking to various stories concerning the arbitrary nature of being allowed (or not) on the iPhone. But, Harry McCracken, over at Technologizer, does a great job illustrating the point by playing the “what if” game, and thinking about how Windows would have developed had Microsoft similarly controlled every app. It doesn’t take long to realize how much slower innovation would likely have been on the PC platform (though, it might have opened up more of an opportunity for other platforms):

Would Microsoft have distributed Microsoft Office rivals such as SmartSuite or WordPerfect Office via its app store?

Well, maybe, in theory at least-after all, it doesn’t sell Microsoft Office as part of Windows, so it couldn’t use the “it duplicates functionality that’s already in the product” excuse. Call me a cynic, though, but I suspect that competitive office suites would have run into trouble if Microsoft had controlled all Windows software distribution. And hey, didn’t WordPerfect duplicate features in Notepad?

How about Netscape Navigator?

When Netscape first appeared in 1994, the current version of Windows (3.11) didn’t have a browser. Even Windows 95 didn’t have one at first–Internet Explorer was part of the extra-cost Plus Pack. Then again, Windows 95 did ship with the dreadful client for the original version of MSN, a proprietary online service which definitely did compete with the Web. That might have been reason enough for Microsoft to nix Navigator for duplicating Windows functionality. And once IE was part of Windows, Microsoft could have given Navigator the boot retroactively.

Safari? Firefox? Chrome?

They all appeared long after Windows got a browser as standard equipment. No, no, and no.

And it goes on from there. Fun thought experiment if you’re one of the believers that Apple’s closed iPhone system is somehow “good” for innovation.

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Companies: apple, microsoft

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Comments on “What If Microsoft Had To Approve Every App On Windows?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s pretty spot on.

The claim can be made that a Windows machine will run beautifully and never crash … as long as you never install any programs on it. It’s poor 3rd party applications that typically cause most Windows problems. If Microsoft had maintained a tight control on all applications that could be installed, then they could create an ecosystem that tightly monitored apps to give the best customer experience.

That is precisely what Apple is claiming to do. You get a solid, usable iPhone experience, because Apple is the gatekeeper to protect you from all those crappy apps that will crash your phone and bring about total world destruction.

But, in allowing the system to be open, then that allows 200 duplicate programs (which Apple’s App Store won’t allow … once a particular app niche gets filled with an unknown quantity of apps, Apple will start rejecting more apps with similar features) … and maybe the 200th version did things so much better.

It also means that people can do core OS features, and do them better. IE has been integrated into Windows since XP, and Safari is integrated into OSX on the iPhone … and Apple will not allow any other browser on the phone that does use the provided WebKit rendering image. So, no Firefox, IE, Opera, or Chrome on the iPhone that doesn’t Safari to render pages. Image if MS had that level of control for Windows. No other web browsers for you, because they have to protect the experience! And now, iPhone users are at Apple’s mercy for web browser upgrades, forever. No Flash for us because Apple feels Flash Lite is too small and Flash too big … the user gets NO CHOICE, because Apple decided that Flash wasn’t good enough for their users.

What will be interesting to see is how the Android App Store & Android App Ecosystem in the next year or two develops compared to the Apple App Store. Not in number of apps (as Apple’s App Store is mostly made up of an app with a book embedded in it, and not an original applications, so instead of an eBook reader, you get an eBook, and each eBook counts as a seperate app … so their numbers are inflated), and see who has a healthier variety of developers, apps, and users.

I dislike Microsoft more than the next person, but they’ve learned to play better with others lately, and Apple has been walling off their garden more and more. Owning an iPhone has actually completely turned me off from wanting a Mac computer.

My next phone will be an Android-based phone. I’m done with opaque, arbitrary App Store rulings and limited choice. If someone wants to compete with Apple’s built-in apps, they should … if Apple’s apps are better, then let people waste their time and let the users speak with not buying a different web browser or music player. If someone puts up adult content, they should … particularly when a web browser gives access to a world of adult content already. If someone wants to charge $1,000 for an app of a jewel, they should … if someone is dumb enough to buy it, then that’s their fault.

Essentially, I don’t need a set of parents telling me what I can & can’t do with my phone. I wouldn’t tolerate it on my PC, and I’m done with it on my phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“seems” != “is”
“is” != “will be”
“works now” != “will continue to work”

“what if”s are not a waste of time, but a way to take past experiences and build a picture of what may come based on those past trends. If you don’t play “what if”, then you’ll be playing on the sidelines before too long.

Jake says:

The first commenter does actually raise a good point. Screening for malware and apps so poorly-written that they’d screw something up is pretty sensible; I only wish CNET would filter out some of the dreck that gets uploaded there, and surely refusing to stock a product because it sucks isn’t going to dis-incentivise people from innovating! Where Apple are going wrong is that they’re trying to quality-assess everything themselves rather than letting their users be the judge, and deleting anything that gets a consistently low average user rating after a certain period.

Besides, given that the iPhone was marketed as a status symbol for idiots with too much money rather than a practical device for doing something useful with, I suppose I can hardly blame Apple for not trusting their user base to not screw their phone up and then whine to them about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It wouldn't make a difference

For now.

Until people get sick of being told what they can and can’t do, and an open system is able to deliver a compelling alternative system. And with not 1, not 2, but 3 NEW smart phone app stores (Google, Palm, & Blackberry’s), that are more open … in the next year or two is where Apple’s walled garden is going to have to defend itself.

Apple was first to market with a clean user interface for a portable multimedia Internet device, and they’ve reaped the initial rewards. Now it’s time to see if their closed system is going to stand against increased competition. It’s worked for them in the music player market, but customer frustrations in the phone market are gaining much faster because people want to do more, and keep getting told “no”.

Streaming movies from your home PC to your phone? Not on the iPhone! But you can with the others.

Google Voice? Not on the iPhone! But on every other smart phone.

Internet tethering? Not on the iPhone! Again, every other phone, even on the AT&T network, allows this.

Alternate web browsers? Not on the iPhone! Yet, other phone users have choices and options.


Adult apps?

Customizable text message alerts?


I mean, it took Apple 2 years to bring basic features like Copy & Paste when if you jailbroke your iPhone, you could have installed a Copy & Paste feature a year ago (I did). Apple’s walled system has prevented innovation for the iPhone and hampered the phone from excelling and being all that it can be. The jailbreak crowd has had more apps, more features, and a more advanced user experience over those who didn’t take the leap, which shows how much innovation happens when you don’t have a gatekeeper mandating what’s cool enough to be on someone else’s phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: It wouldn't make a difference

“Internet tethering? Not on the iPhone! Again, every other phone, even on the AT&T network, allows this.”

This is AT&T’s problem not Apple’s. Tethering is supported in the iPhone OS 3.

Apple will open the App store up more when they’re ready or the market actually forces them to. Apple doesn’t like to do things the Wild West style where everything is uncontrolled. Apple is about the whole customer experience. For now even though there are a lot of complaints they are still doing fine, and raking in boatloads of cash.

Does it hamper “innovation”? Maybe to an extent, but Apple seems to keep that going, and other companies “innovate” to keep up. These are all just progressions though. Are any of the Apps for any of these phones really innovative. That word is really overused.

calbo (profile) says:

Re: Re: It wouldn't make a difference

Hey they did get sick of it. They got sick of Microsoft saying this is the only option you have, if you wanted a smart phone for the longest it had to be a windows mobile phone. People got tired of being told they had to be some sort of tech wizard to operate their phones. People got tired of spending hours reading manuals before they could make a phone call. It about the experience. When companies get this they will understand that most of us don’t care how things work or how open the OS is. If we buy a device to do a task we want it to do that task and do it well. If you want to sit on the coach read a magazine or a book, play a casuale game, read a digital comic book, watch a movie on a plane… then guess what apple just annocunced the perfect product for that. It’s not a general purpose computer it’s an appliance. not once did Jobs ever refer to this device as a computer. I’m not upset that my coffee maker can’t make toast.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It wouldn't make a difference

I think it would make a difference. There would be more apps, many of which would be cool and useful. Is that not difference enough? Because there are good apps for the iPhone it’s OK to disregard other good apps?

Apple has done a decent job with developer tools and the whole app store, but limiting what is available is a horrible way to do business. Obviously it stifles growth and innovation. What if Apple said iTunes was going to stop distributing any and all explicit music, just because they don’t agree with it? Obviously they’re not going to do this, partly because they don’t compete in business against the music industry. But nevertheless, it’s OK for them to do it against Google, and lots of other independent developers, etc.

Not cool.

Ryan says:

Re: Re:

Yes…precisely. Windows and OSX allow the user to decide what to install on their platforms, whereas the iPhone does not. Speculating as to how Windows(apple) would have developed differently if it were closed off like an orange shows how the iPhone system ultimately hinders innovation. Apple obviously doesn’t care now, but the policy is clearly anti-consumer and it will lose in the long term to OSs like Android unless it adapts.

Adam Burrell (user link) says:

The iPhone Is Not A Personal Computer

Ugh…iPhone is a phone. It’s not a personal computer. Does Apple care to approve all apps for the Mac? No they don’t and it’s because it’s a computing platform, not an appliance device. Your phone needs to always be able to function as a phone. The same could also be argued for the iPod touch as it’s a PMP first and foremost.

The imminent tablet device? That’s a different story. I think we’ll see some marked differentiation in the distributed software model upon it’s arrival.

DJ (profile) says:

Re: The iPhone Is Not A Personal Computer

Good point. So let’s consider all of the previous arguments from that point of view.

That still doesn’t change the fact that all the little gadgets, gizmos, and features I enjoyed on past phones are now controlled ENTIRELY by needing a different app, which I may or may not need to PURCHASE.

Let’s just take Pix messaging for instance. How long has the ability to send/receive pics from your phone been around? To do that with the iPhone, you need to go find the app; and even then, there is still no app for RECEIVING. It can’t be done. How is this better?????

Spectere (profile) says:

Re: The iPhone Is Not A Personal Computer

My G1 is a phone as well yet I don’t have a problem installing my own software on it. I also don’t need to buy a Mac in order to develop for it. The same goes for any J2ME-based phone, Windows Mobile phone (though you probably do have to have Windows to develop on that you can freely install applications), or many of the new smartphones that are coming out. The iPhone is essentially bringing many of the restrictions that carriers put on their cheap phones into the smartphone market.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like the iPhone (it’s the standard business phone where I work), but saying that it should be a closed platform because it’s a phone is kind of a weak argument, especially since you generally can load your applications on a typical cell phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The iPhone Is Not A Personal Computer

“iPhone is a phone. It’s not a personal computer”

If that’s the case, it’s a pretty poor excuse for a phone — lower-end phones do the essential phone stuff much better than the iPhone does. The real draw is that it is a personal computer.

And as such, it is one I will never own or develop for, for two reasons: the fact that Apple has to approve all apps, and the fact that it locks me into a particular cellphone provider.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s actually funny. If you consider Windows (PC) versus Mac OS (MAC), they took two very different roads to arrive almost at exactly the same place. Apple was a very closed, hardware dependant closed box route, and Windows was the open do what you like “run what you brung” system. Today, they are two different but comparable products with different but similar software bases, running on similar hardware.

The same comparison done today with the Iphone to Windows might make you think that open is better all the time, but as shown above, we all ended up at about the same place in the end.

Mikael (profile) says:

Bad comparison

Like one of the commenters said, the iPhone is a phone, and Windows (that the article was referring to) is for a PC. They should’ve at least compared it to a Windows Mobile based phone. I can install an app for virtually anything I could want to do on my Tilt. ALL for free. On the iPhone if you don’t like the web browser, you’re stuck with it. On my winmo phone if I don’t want to use pocket IE, then I’ll just use MiniMo (early mobile firefox), Opera, or Skyfire. Skyfire, by the way, shows any website just like you’d see it on a desktop. I’m not limited to anything with this phone. I’ve considered getting an iPhone, but there are too many cons to outweigh the pros. I’ve always been able to do cut & paste (in any app, not just texts), I can use google voice, plus I can do a number of other things that you couldn’t do with an iPhone just because I don’t have some company telling me “You can’t do what you want with YOUR OWN PHONE”.

Oh…and to aguywhoneedstenbucks who said in the first post

“But it ensures quality and makes sure my iPod doesn’t slow to a crawl! Otherwise my iPod would probably catch on fire from all of the horrible applications that I unwittingly installed!

Dammit, I forgot that I jailbroke my iPod Touch for certain command line functionality. There went that argument.

Um…see that’s why you pay attention to what you are installing. I can install any app I want on my phone, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to install any and every program I can think of. I have a number of third party programs on my phone and it still runs great.

To the iPhone users here…Can you use RDP with your iPhone? How about remote controlling your phone from your PC? I don’t know if there are apps for that on the iPhone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bad comparison

To the iPhone users here…Can you use RDP with your iPhone?

Yes. Google is an amazing free tool. Check it out sometime. A search for “RDP iPhone” yields 1.3M results. This is the first result:

Of course, there are also VNC clients, and VMWare management tools as well.

How about remote controlling your phone from your PC?

What do you want to do? Bonjour is a pretty extensible protocol, and the iPhone can support it. Again, there are articles on this thing called “The Google” (Available for free at Google.com) that mention people being able to view webcams and transfer files between systems, print, and other things.

Spectere (profile) says:

Re: Bad comparison

Um…see that’s why you pay attention to what you are installing. I can install any app I want on my phone, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to install any and every program I can think of. I have a number of third party programs on my phone and it still runs great.

Pretty sure he was being sarcastic…

To the iPhone users here…Can you use RDP with your iPhone? How about remote controlling your phone from your PC? I don’t know if there are apps for that on the iPhone.

You can use both RDP and VNC with the iPhone. Both are also very usable, surprisingly, even over a cellular connection. The lack of a keyboard can prove to be a pain if you have a lot to type, but for most administrative tasks it works well.

I don’t believe there is any way to control the phone from the PC. Strangely, all of the cheap Motorola phones that I’ve owned offered that ability, as well as full tethering support. It all seems kind of backwards to me.

David Feldman (profile) says:

Game consoles: economically successful, very closed

A useful counterexample here would be the success since the late 1980’s of closed game systems.

Nintendo, Sega, Sony & Microsoft platforms all share a common characteristic: software developers need platform owner permission to do nearly anything, and all developers tithe back a fraction of their revenue to the platform. No ‘open’ gaming platform has been able to put a dent into this model, not even the well developed and otherwise successful PC-based gaming market.

In the balance of forces, the closed systems have sacrificed a large measure of innovation and diversity in favor of standardization, editorial control, and cross-subsidization. When performed skillfully, all three of these things add value for the consumer. For example, via their monopoly platform vendors force the few, chosen developers to invest particularly large sums into game production, sums that probably wouldn’t be feasible in a more competitive market. It’s central planning, to be sure, but in this limited case it’s been done well enough to defeat the open system competition, especially as the platform guys have proven themselves to be ‘fast followers’ to innovation coming from the PC side.

britmic (profile) says:

interesting "what if" but ultimately ...

… Microsoft Windows hasn’t innovated a great deal in its history. Sure, it slaps a functional GUI onto concepts that UNIX was doing decades before, but is doing something prettier really an innovation? Labour saving, yes. Most innovative 3rd party apps can trace their way back to 8-bit computing (VisiCalc, Word Perfect, BBS, etc) so Windows did not allow this innovation, it merely allowed ports of existing concepts to more powerful platforms IMO.

The Cydia store seems to be a hotbed of innovation by those standards, a staging ground before submitting to “the man”.

calbo (profile) says:

this is a realy dumb argument

Apple does not approve which apps run on OSX. Why are you comparing Windows to the iPhone platform. You should be comparing iphone OS to Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile has been around for decades and has done very little innovation. so along comes Palm and gives them a wake up call with the treo. I use to be a big Palm fan, but they got lazy stop innovating and continued to put out very boring phones. Then apple bitch slapped them with the iphone. What happens? It forced them to innovate and release a really cool device, the Palm Pre. If it were not for the iphone we would not be seeing so many cool and innovative devices running the new Android OS. I think apple should keep doing what they are doing because it forces companies like Microsoft, Palm and RIM to innovate or die, Which is what should happen in a free market society. Open or close platform? It really doesn’t matter because consumers make the finally choice. What apple did was give us a choice where as before we had to just deal with Microsoft. That to me was more restrictive than what you are trying to state in your post. I will be all over this iPad and i will keep my iPhone, Why? because for me no one has anything better.

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