Apple Reminds Everybody That It Controls The iPhone Ecosystem

from the from-the-do-you-have-permission-for-that?-dept. dept

Last week, when Apple announced version 4.0 of the iPhone OS, it also made a significant change to the license agreement for its iPhone developer program. One section of the agreement was changed to say that iPhone “Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine” — a move that blocks developers from using cross-platform development tools and third-party development environments. So, for instance, if a developer already had an app written in .NET, they can no longer use something like Monotouch to port it to the iPhone. There has been a lot of speculation that this was just the latest step in the ongoing spat between Apple and Adobe, since the latter company will soon release a Flash-to-iPhone compiler, triggering a “go screw yourself Apple” from an Adobe employee.

But this move is actually bigger than that: it’s Apple’s attempt to lock developers in solely to the iPhone. Steve Jobs claims “intermediate layers between the platform and the developer ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform”, and they do — from Apple’s perspective. By requiring developers to use Apple’s tools and follow its rules, the hope is that developers will follow along blindly and develop first for the iPhone, since it’s currently the best monetized channel to market for them, and then will develop for other platforms later, if at all. The issue for Apple, though, is that it’s not competing in a vacuum. Everybody and their mother are opening app stores, with other major smartphone platforms like Android and BlackBerry building theirs into viable competitors for the Apple channel. And as the App Store continues to get flooded with apps and becomes more competitive (and it becomes more difficult for developers to earn a living there), its position at the top of the pile is far from assured. At that point, heavy restrictions on developers and the closed ecosystem becomes a real burden for the company, not a benefit.

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Companies: adobe, apple

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Comments on “Apple Reminds Everybody That It Controls The iPhone Ecosystem”

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Mikecancook (profile) says:

Substandard Apps Should Take Care of Themselves

The shortsightedness of this is that substandard apps will take care of themselves. If an app is buggy, or has whatever problem, people will move on to a better app. If a cross compiler produces buggy apps, people will use better compilers. They will compete and continue to improve.

If I can write code once for many platforms I’d prefer to go that route. Programmers and developers, good ones at least are lazy and don’t like to keep building the wheel. That’s why these tools are so popular and exist for so many platforms. Any good programmer could use a text editor to create apps from scratch, but why would they want to?

mac84 says:

Re: Substandard Apps Should Take Care of Themselves

The shortsightedness of this is that substandard smartphones will take care of themselves. If an smartphone is buggy, or has whatever problem, people will move on to a better smartphone.

Guess what? If a consumer wants the wild west of open phones and software, it already exist as the android ecosystem. Apple is doing something different. Something that the majority of consumers has embraced.

Anonymous Coward says:

Part of Apple’s attraction is that they present their users with a sterile environment. Everything “just works”. In a system where non-Apple developers are producing code at the App Store, users will still percieve that it is Apple selling them the Apps, even if the developers do not work for Apple. The current set-up takes some control out of Apple’s hands. They reserve the right to give the final say on all apps sold in the store, but until this change, they allowed many kinds of compiled apps. By adding the native code requirements, Apple is taking more control back into their hands.

Lee Graham (user link) says:

Apple's Sucker Punch

I think I’m a soon to be victim of this sucker punch from Apple!

I’ve been a part of the Flash CS5 beta program and have two iPhone Apps created with Flash. I can say for a fact Adobe is committed to making this work, but if we get blocked by Apple we are screwed.

Apple == fascist bastards

Long live Android!

Brooks (profile) says:

Re: Apple's Sucker Punch

Have you *used* Android? The only parts of it that make any sense at all are the parts lifted directly from iPhone. Almost without exception, the things it does differently are terrible.

I’m working on an Android version of an iPhone app, and the Android version requires 12x as many graphic assets as iPhone because of the permutations of ldpi, mdpi, hdpi, and screen sizes. And still, there are devices it won’t look quite right on. It is a nightmare.

I’m with you, but until someone comes up with a decent competitor to Apple’s products (and by decent I mean easy to use, aesthetically pleasing, and appropriate for non-geeks), Apple has all the leverage.

John Nemesh (profile) says:

Re: Re: Apple's Sucker Punch

Have you looked at WebOS? I know Palm blew the launch, and the device is not selling as well as it should, but it REALLY blows away the competition. I have used a friends iPhone and my brother has a Droid, and I have to say that WebOS is VERY polished with respect to the user interface, the way multitasking is handled, and the ease of rooting/installing homebrew. I really dont understand why this OS is not getting any respect…its a GREAT product!

mjb5406 (profile) says:

App Store vs. Android Market

Apple’s control, of the iPhone ecosystem isn’t a new concept; it’s been like that since day 1, when Apple locked the iPhone down so only “sanctioned” apps could run (unless you jailbreak, of course). On the opposite side of the aisle, Google not only provides its SDK for both Mac and Windows platforms, but its market is wide open, leaving it up to the users to report whether an app is appropriate or not. Apple is saying “You develop on a Mac, using the iPhone SDK and Xcode, or don’t develop for us at all.” From that perspective, they are CLEARLY targeting companies like Adobe. But won’t this make more people want to jailbreak their phones, especially if a bunch of fantastic, cross-platform apps make their appearance on, say, Cydia? And, ultimately, won’t people get so pissed that they’ll either move to a different phone or, in the extreme, sue Apple for putting even more restrictions on a device the end-user OWNS? Steve Jobs’ ego has finally crossed the line, IMHO.

Jupiter (profile) says:

Job's way or no way

I was a PC user for years and the first bit of Apple software I started using a lot was iTunes. My biggest beef is the way iTunes tries to keep you away from the file system and manage everything for you. I struggled with it at first but eventually discovered that iTunes worked great – as long as you did everything exactly the way Steve Jobs wants you to do it. Now I work on Macs and can say that’s how it is across the board.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah! I wish everybody would just stop talking about it. And about everything. Hush child, don’t say another word. Complain no more. Quiet. Do you hear that? Silence. Golden. Perfect. I present to you the iSTFU. The greatest Apple product ever released. The iSTFU will revolutionize the way people talk about our products.

Or not talk about them.


Re: Corporations are all toddlers.

Except it’s not their bat or their ball. They sold those to me. I own those now. I should be able to use them any way I like.

“Strong copyright” isn’t just about them “preserving what’s theirs” but it’s also about them “taking what’s yours” too.

Far too many people are willing to make excuses for that sort of nonsense.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is quite short-sighted and will lose Apple any developers who were using these techniques. Apple isn’t alone in the smartphone apps market, not by a long shot (Android, Symbian, WebOS, Windows Mobile, Maemo…), and some of these platforms don’t restrict what languages you can use nearly so much. My phone supports programming in C, C++, Java, Python, Ruby, LISP, several javascript engines, and any other language developers care to use, and provides easy access to 3rd party application sources. That is tremendously empowering and has proved useful numerous times.

Michael Kohne says:

This is really got to be irritating to the developers

Apple’s right that other dev environments and toolkits CAN make apps crappier (remember the early days of Java on the PC? There were some truly craptastic applications back then), but since Apple reviews every app in the app store, they could just reject the ones that work badly.

No, this is just a control-freak move on Job’s part.

Jailbreaking: No, mjb5406, no significant fraction of the iPhone owners is ever going to jailbreak. If you actually need a phone that works, jailbreaking isn’t a good bet: Both AT&T and Apple would use the fact that you jailbroke the phone as an excuse not to live up to their end of any service issues.

James T. says:

Don't like it? TFB!

If these sucky developers don’t want to develop for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad ecosystem, they’re welcome to go elsewhere. That’s what Jon “Judas” Rubinstein did, and we all know how well that’s worked out. So, go ahead – walk away from Apple and let other developers have the wealth that could have been yours…


John Nemesh (profile) says:

Re: Don't like it? TFB!

What about Unity? Is that dead too? How about the dozen or so OTHER dev tools that will be blocked by this nonsense? Are they dead too?

I am SICK AND TIRED of hearing fanboys decry the worthlessness of Flash, when THEY ARE TOTALLY MISSING THE POINT!

The point is not buggy code, battery life, or even an ego trip against Adobe.


Apple wants you to program ON A MAC, with their tools, SO YOU CANT EASILY MAKE A PORT! They are tired of seeing their great apps migrate to Android (or even WebOS…there are some tasty game ports coming out lately). They want Apple apps to be ONLY on Apple, and this is one way they can make it harder to port over to another platform.

Next time, try to make an INTELLIGENT comment, instead of a fanboy rant!

EAH says:


I’m not a programmer and know very little about it, so forgive my ignorance with this question:

Doesn’t compiling a program vs. natively programming in the iPhone’s base language significantly reduce the file size and glitches in an a program? I always thought that writing a program that doesn’t need to be compiled was much smaller and faster and more efficient than one that was written in one language and compiled to another.

Again, I admit I know nothing about programming, but if this is the case, could this be a reason for Apple’s decision?

Aaron (profile) says:

Re: However....

In both cases here, with Adobe’s solution and the native iPhone language (Objective-C), the programs are being compiled into a binary. The native iPhone apps will be generally faster as they don’t have the intermediate layer of instructions being executed on the processor. Since I don’t know the specifics of how Adobe is doing their cross compilation I can’t say for sure that the apps produced with their tools will be much bigger or much slower. They could be, it’s a distinct chance, but not guaranteed depending on how they have implemented this. They might just be slightly slower and slightly bigger.

Aaron (profile) says:

As cross platform mobile developer...

As a cross platform developer who has plans to develop for Android and Blackberry for our product, I don’t find much of a problem here.

Saying you can only write in C, C++ and Objective-C leaves a whole heck of a lot of options open. C runs on just about every microprocessor on earth. Our main libraries for our apps are written in C and run fine on Android and iPhone with minor changes for talking to external accessories. Cross platform development for us is relatively painless compared to the alternatives for our goals.

Sure, I have to write different interface code for both apps, but I would do that with or without the restrictions. I am a firm believer that the native UI elements provide the best experience and the only way you get good native UI elements is to write directly against the OS’s standard UI libraries. I won’t disagree that you can get usable apps from an intermediate layer, but the effort required in achieving a slick, polished UI with an intermediate layer is next to impossible. It’s cheaper to just write directly against the built-in UI libs if you want a great experience… and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong! 😉

rwahrens (profile) says:


More crap about the supposed superiority of open systems, just because they’re open, coupled with Mike’s anti-Apple drivel.

Here’s Daring Fireball:

Jean-Louis Gassée Gets It ★
Jean-Louise Gassée:

Who, in his right mind, expects Steve Jobs to let Adobe (and other) cross-platform application development tools control his (I mean the iPhone OS) future? Cross-platform tools dangle the old “write once, run everywhere” promise. But, by being cross-platform, they don’t use, they erase “uncommon” features. To Apple, this is anathema as it wants apps developers to use, to promote its differentiation. It’s that simple. Losing differentiation is death by low margins. It’s that simple. It’s business. Apple is right to keep control of its platform’s future.

It really is that simple. That’s a perfect one-paragraph summary of the situation. His detailed analysis (and historical perspective — much of it first-person) is spot-on.


Here’s Jean-Louis Gassée:

…and a short excerpt:

There are calmer minds, however. In his highly-recommended blog, Daring Fireball, John Gruber explains why Apple changed the iPhone OS licensing agreement. It’s strategic, really: Apple doesn’t want anyone else to have control over which OS features the applications have or don’t have access to. I’ll explain in a moment why it’s rational for Apple to fend off cross-compilers, and why it’s not too rational for Adobe employees and others to criticize Apple for keeping control of its future.


Now it’s me again.

Not everything Apple does is some evil plot to screw the world. Apple makes a product (or a series of interconnected products) that require them to be pretty much Apple produced, and if someone makes a software product to work within that eco-system, they want them to use certain human interaction guidelines to keep the user experience as close to “Apple-like” as possible.

That does require them to exercise a certain amount of control. As a long time Apple customer (and shareholder of ten shares), I approve, since I have seen any number of crappily-written software packages that failed to adhere to those guidelines, and their experience sucked as a result.

Apple’s control obsession isn’t just for the sake of control, its there to protect their product and how it is experienced by their customers.

Apple’s market share is growing. They own the over $1000 computer market, an they bring in 60% of the profits of the ENTIRE computer market. iPhone sales are still moving up, an the new iPad is selling like hotcakes.

If their business practices were as bad as you say, I doubt that any of those figures would be so good, but customers just don’t seem to be bothered by Apple’s failure to embrace your concepts of open systems.

They seem to like having a product that works as advertised.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: crap

Although some people here seem to be saying this is just a control move, I don’t think Mike is. All Mike is saying is that this is a poor business move. It is going to send developers elsewhere at a time that others are looking for them. Embracing developers and allowing them some freedom is more likely to benefit Apple at this point. Opening up the system will, at this point, encourage growth.

The limited system at the beginning was the way to go, but competition in the market is making it more beneficial to start searching for a way to open it up. Closing it off more is probably the wrong direction to go.

Now, having met Steve Jobs, I can comfortably say that it is very likely that someone sat in a conference room with him and made this point. He then said something like “I don’t care what they want. This is MY app store and I make the rules.” He’s pretty arrogant.

rwahrens (profile) says:

Re: Re: crap

But Mike doesn’t understand how Apple’s business model works. I know Mike is an advocate for open systems, I’ve read enough of his stuff, and usually agree with him.

But he has a blind spot with Apple.

Apple adhere’s to open protocols and actively advocates for them, as with tcp/ip, open web protocols such as html5, etc. They always have, since these open protocols prevent monopolies such as Microsoft from turning the entire web into a proprietary mess.

What Apple is doing with the App store isn’t violating those principles. The app store is Apple’s store, they built it, they own it, they run it as part of their eco-system. As such, it has to support that structure, and letting someone like Adobe screw around with it through another proprietary product is insane.

IF Flash were an open standard, I’d agree with Mike, but it is not, it is owned, lock, stock and barrel by Adobe, so why isn’t Mike dragging Adobe over the coals for dragging THEIR heels in bringing Flash up to modern standards to work properly with Apple’s product?

Just because Flash is used by a large number of sites for ads doesn’t make it a standard, it just makes it widespread, like Office, or Windows. Apple has every right to fight that in favor of open standards such as html5.

rwahrens (profile) says:

Re: Re: crap

Ok, I forgot to mention one thing:

” …but competition in the market is making it more beneficial to start searching for a way to open it up.”

Oh? Since when? Is Apple’s market share slipping? Are the App Store’s numbers dropping? Are developers abandoning it for Android? Are customers leaving in droves?

The answer to all those questions is a resounding NO.

Mike would LIKE for your statement to be correct, but it isn’t. There is nothing in the current market to indicate that Apple’s moves are bad for its business, in fact, they are correct for what Apple is trying to achieve, which is open standards across the web for all to be able to use equally. That is best for Apple, as is prevents other companies from negatively affecting Apple’s use of the web as part of its eco-system.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: crap

The fact that Apple’s market share is still growing is important, but historically, the strategy they are using is likely a dead end. Locked up systems are often the best approach in the beginning.

Look at America Online as an example. This is how the internet worked for most people. There was a locked up, controlled system for accessing everything. More open-access providers started showing up and AOL continued on their business model with their market share growing because their system was “better”. And – it was. However, “better” is fickle – and entirely in the eyes of the customer. The open access models eventually grew into something that overtook AOL and it is basically dead now.

For more examples, look at the change in IBM’s strategies about open source software. Look at Sony (who has made the same mistakes repeatedly).

I believe Apple is the big game in town right now. They own the market. The have the best product. Nobody is close to them. However, if they continue to alienate developers and force customers to fit their model, they are likely to see their position slip. It’s not just standards that are important.

Don’t just focus on where Apple is. They have made the right moves up until now. However, they are at the tipping point where many companies in the past have made the mistake of keeping closed up systems too closed up.

rwahrens (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 crap

But AOL was trying to be the gatekeeper for then entire internet, and there were alternatives.

The others just had products that may have been sufficient for the purpose, but were expensive and weren’t really “good”, they were just good enough. As soon as other, better systems came long, yes, they failed, but not to open systems, just better systems.

Apple isn’t trying to be a gatekeeper to the internet. Their systems aren’t just “good enough”, but are stellar for the times. They attract attention, not because they are the only game in town, but they are just better damn products.

Others have tried to do the same thing, even Microsoft with all their billions, and have consistently failed. Why? Not because they were open or closed but because they offered poor customer experience. Apple’s iPod wasn’t closed, you could play songs on it bought from other online sources. Today, you can move songs bought in iTunes to other mp3 players.

Android has an open app store, but it hasn’t taken off like the Apple app store did. Why? In part because of the huge numbers of devices that exist to buy from the Apple app store, but also because Apple’s experience is better, and people notice.

Apple’s app store isn’t closed in the sense that only certain people can play. Anybody can plunk down that $99 developer’s fee and play. Sure, you have to play by Apple’s rules, but you can PLAY and are not prevented from doing just that. It IS closed in the sense that apps developed for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad only play on those devices. But Android has that same characteristic. The difference is that Apple is more strict in applying rules as to how those apps can be written, and they restrict certain content.

Those rules exist to enforce a user experience, and ensuring that experience is good for developers as well. The umbrella is wide and the sheer numbers of apps ranging from stupid to excellent shows that anybody CAN play, and a vibrant market exists to buy them.

I really think that as long as Apple has a superior product, as defined as their entire line of interconnected devices and eco-system, they will prosper. If they fail, it won’t be because their system is closed, but because it is supplanted by a better alternative.

Neither IBM nor Sony have failed due to competition from open systems. They failed because a better product came along and supplanted them in the market.

AOL didn’t fail because their competitors were “open” systems, they failed because they made bad business decisions regarding how they served their customers. Their competitors were also “closed”, in the sense that everybody required customers to cough up money to play. AOL didn’t prevent you from getting to the internet, they just cost too damn much and they failed to expand their physical plant fast enough to allow for a rapid expansion in the customer base of the industry, and customers had a bad experience with slow connections, dropped connections and frequent busy signals. They then failed to expand into DSL when it came along and people moved to ISP’s that provided a faster connection.

Whether their system was “closed” or not had nothing to do with it.

olumadu says:

Does MonoAppleLy Sound Strange

I believe there are statutes in law that prohibits these clear MONOPOLISTIC tendencies by apple. If Microsoft operated in the same fashion, it would have been nailed. Microsoft has been forced to open Windows, allowing third-parties to dwell in their ecosystem, however, the same forces have allowed apple to commit murder.

I believe in the end, apple will have to dish out loads of billions – in settlement – after a competent court nails them for their nefarious and anti-American ways.

Ohh, it is big business. If you can collect – with impunity, 30% royalty for the sweat of a poor programmer to build your illegal empire, it is american to continue until forced to PAYBACK. That payback will be loads of it, and Apple stocks, I will shy away from – THEY WILL BE FALLING THROUGH THE ROOF FOR THE AFOREMENTIONED SIN.

Mike says:

Re: Does MonoAppleLy Sound Strange

I don’t think you seem to understand why Microsoft was sued and convicted of being a monopoly.

At the time of the Justice Department suit Microsoft controlled about 97% of the desktop computing market. How did they get there? By using tactics that made if difficult if not impossible for computer companies to offer another operating system on their products. For example, every CPU sold had to have a copy of Windows licensed for it. Even if that PC was not going to even have Windows installed on it. So if you were forced to pay for a copy of Windows on the PC you’re selling, why would you pay for a license of another operating system? That would just increase the price of two computers with identical hardware and make the computer that ran Windows only artificially cheap.

Tactics like these are what made a company with 97% market share a monopoly. Apple has roughly 30% of the smartphone market and there are at least 4 other major smartphone makers/mobile OS makers for the consumer to choose from. Where is the monopoly there?

olumadu says:

Re: Re: Does MonoAppleLy Sound Strange

Apples narrow-minded policies restricted MAC development – the reason most choose Microsoft and Windows. The same short-sighted doctrine, will lead Google to take over the SmartPhone market, in the nearest future.

You can, as well, argue that the Mac was an option to Windows. Didn’t Apple kill the ONLY alternate Mac desktop maker with their draconian noncompetitive doctrine?

To control what I install on my iPhone/iPad and stealing 30% of app revenues is criminal and should not be allowed. Allow competition – allow the freedom to use flash; allow alternate AppStores and don’t punitively erase my mods in the name of upgrades. You sold the hardware, so let me use it (freely) as I see fit. That’s the American way.

Adobe is reportedly going to court to rightly protest the new SDK restriction in 04. Good – like I preempted their action.

Anonymous Coward says:

I see this as apple being apple. They’ve always embraced a closed or controlled system. Sure, anyone can play, as long as apple likes what you do. You can still get apps denied even following all their rules. Firing up opera this morning on my iphone I couldn’t help wondering why it was ok for safari to have a reserved spot on the homebar, and be able to play audio in the backround. Imagine if MS did this with IE on their products today! In the long run this will probably be a repeat of the earlier mac vs. pc years. Apple will do well for a while, but unless they really keep their hardware edge, they will stagnate as they alienate or fail to attract new developers. Right now their app store is tops, but android is still very young, and gaining ground. All in all I find the feud with adobe pretty hilarious, especially considering 10-15 years ago, adobe products were pretty much the only reason professionals used a mac.

Mike says:

Re: Re:

Umm, any app can be placed on the launch bar.. If you want to replace it with Opera you are free to do so.

The reason Safari can still play music in the background is because from iPhone OS versions 1 through 3 only Apple made apps could run in the background. This was to preserve battery life and prevent users have to manage there apps with a task manager. A task manager is fine for geeks but most people would respond to this in one of two ways: “Why do I need a task manager on my cell phone?” or “What the hell is a task manager?”

With iPhone OS 4 Apple has come up with a simple and elegant way to multitask. Opera will be free to continue playing music in the background if they so choose in the next OS.

One last thing, I don’t think you can defend the Android market in terms of being young. The App Store launched July 11, 2008. The Android Market launched October 22, 2008. I’d also take issue with the Android Market gaining ground comment. According to the iPad introduction on January 27 the App Store had 150,000 apps. According to the iPhone OS 4 introduction on April 8 the App Store had 185,000 apps. And that was with the removal of around 7 to 10,000 apps between those two dates. I’d argue that the Android Market isn’t gaining ground, rather, App Store growth is accelerating.

Anonymous Coward says:

True, the app stores might be about the same age, but the android store launched the same day as the first android phone, not with a pre-existing user base of several million. As to the growth you point out from Jan to April, yeah they tossed out a bunch of cheesy porn-lite apps, but they also introduced countless ‘XL’ or ‘HD’ versions of apps for the Ipad in that time, so I don’t think the 185,000 is understated in any way. Android had approx 16000 apps in December 09, 35000 on march 16th, and as of today Androlib has them at just under 45,000. This is comparable to numbers the apple store had last year in the same time frame, and not too far off apple’s growth in recent months.

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