App Developer: Android OS Built For Piracy And Consumer Choice Sucks
from the and-several-other-wrong-statements,-too dept
The iOS versus Android debate is an ongoing saga that occurs at many levels, from Apple and Google duking it out to discussions amongst users over which operating system is superior. And if you follow it closely, the recent scuttlebutt amongst some application developers is that it's much easier to make money in the Apple App Store than through Google Play. That may or may not be true in the long term, but regardless, one app developer is giving Android an unduly hard time.
Matt Gemmell is an accomplished developer. His “About Me” page on his site says he's “an iOS (iPad, iPhone and iPod touch) and Mac OS X (Cocoa) developer and user experience/interface designer, based in Edinburgh, Scotland.” And, holy balls, does he hate the Android OS. After beginning a blog post entitled “Closed For Business” with an anecdote about some unnamed friend of his, the chief argument he makes is that the Android OS was designed specifically for piracy. He begins by comparing exactly the wrong things for the conclusion he wants to reach:
“Buying an app on the Android Market is substantially similar to how you buys [sic] apps on iOS: you search, find the app, click Buy, confirm, and it downloads. It’s not an unduly onerous process, and certainly not a barrier to the business model. This isn’t piracy due to frustration.”
See, he's comparing the process for getting the app through the Android marketplace to getting it through the iOS marketplace and then concluding that frustration isn't the reason for piracy. To do this, you have to ignore that “piracy” may be more convenient than either app store and that Android users and iOS users may not be equal—and also pretend that the only way to make money from an app is via direct charge for the download, and that all of these things mean that the platform is to blame because Android is “open”. Whatever, let's move on to where he states that developers selling their apps for 99 cents are trivializing the marketplace.
“Shame on you for pricing at $0.99 to chase the kind of customers who, well, think a dollar is anything but a trivial, throwaway amount of money that won’t even remotely get you a reasonable cup of coffee. Get some self-respect. Quit encouraging bad behaviour, and ruining the party for everyone else.”
If I'm reading that right, and I can't see how else to read it, now Gemmell is saying that not only is piracy bad, but buying 99-cent apps is bad too! As a consumer, I'm confused as to what good behavior might be at this point, other than resolutely smashing my smartphone to bits and getting one of those big rotary style deals installed on my kitchen wall.
So, just to keep score, the argument here so far is that the reason for endemic piracy on Android phones is not frustration due to inconvenience of the marketplace and price. Then he says this:
“Instead, this was the endemic casual piracy of convenience.”
Which is where normally my head would explode like that dude from Scanners, except I've been doing neck exercises just to prepare for this inevitable moment. Apparently convenience plays no part in piracy except when it does. Awesome. We then get the first iteration of the hard line approach to Google's OS:
“The system is designed for piracy from the ground up. The existence of piracy isn’t a surprise, but rather an inevitability.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Unbeknownst to us, Google designed their mobile operating system—from the ground up, mind you—specifically for piracy. That's the kind of sentence that you shouldn't think about for more than five seconds or blood will shoot out your nose and you'll wake up in an emergency room being prepped for “get the stupid out of your head” surgery.
Gemmell then goes on to explain that the reason piracy is easy is due to a “broken business model.” This may make you think that this story is going to have a good ending. But he’s not talking about the developers’ business models, rather that of the Android OS, which is apparently so broken that it's the best-selling mobile OS on the market:
“You can say what you like about handset share, or first-party/carrier development: that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Another piece is community contributions to the OS codebase. On the first point, iOS devices are doing just fine. On the second, a closed OS has only strengthened the brand, cohesion of direction, integration, usability and design standard of the product. The third factor is the software ecosystem…To have apps, you need developers. To have developers, you need enthusiasm and an investment of time and talent. Enthusiasm and effort can be driven by many motivations, but the most reliable and consistent of those is money. Yes, there it is: the m-word. It’s not a dirty word. You wouldn’t have your shiny handset without it, not because you wouldn’t have been able to afford it, but because it wouldn’t exist.”
This is nothing but a strawman. iOS is in second place in adoption, which may be “doing just fine,” but isn't an argument against Android. And while some folks like the cohesion of Apple's closed system, arguing for Apple in terms of community contributions to the OS codebase is an odd stance against an open OS like Android. Finally, who is suggesting that “money” is a dirty word, or that developers shouldn't like bills and coins? If you answered “nobody,” pat yourself on the back, because that's correct.
Then, after Gammell informs us that viewing advertisements is a form of “paying” for apps (because apparently that was a well-kept secret) he touts the benefits of having a “freedom from choice,” which can alternatively be stated as a “freedom from freedom,” which can then be stated as “bad Inception logic that makes no sense.”
“No-one stops to consider that “choice” is maybe a bad word. Consider that for a moment. What would you like Windows to do with this USB key? Just show me the damned files. Do you want to be warned when you view a web page with mixed secure and insecure content? No, go away. Do you want to pick the font for this text-editing field? No, just use a sensible default. Do you want a lot of after-market crap popping up on the desktop of your new PC? No, I want an experience I’m familiar with.”
Um, so just to run through his examples: 1. When my OS recognizes my USB stick, it asks me how I want to view those files (a window, a slideshow, media player, etc.) and apparently that choice is bad for me; 2. Hell yes I want to know if there's content on a web page that's unsecure, but apparently letting me choose to proceed or not is akin to puppy-murder; 3. Sure my word processor has a default font, but I also can choose to change that font at any time, which apparently sucks; and 4. I always have the choice of uninstalling the after-market stuff on my new PC and that's somehow a bad thing. Honestly…I just don't get his point.
We then get to his solution, which is to lock up the Android OS — which Google built specifically to promote both piracy and quite possibly National Socialism — just like iOS because the app business is hard and stuff.
“You can’t reliably have that revenue stream if the platform itself and the damaged philosophy behind it actively sabotages commerce. If you want a platform to be commercially viable for third-party software developers, you have to lock it down.”
Except that Android isn't actively seeking to sabotage commerce. The very notion is absurd. There are plenty of ways Android app developers can and do make money. If Android was everything Gammell says it is, there wouldn't be more apps in its marketplace than there is for iOS. And the idea that Google has to lock their OS down so that app developers don't have to think is…you know what? I can't come up with a phrase or analogy to properly convey how mind-bendingly screwed up such thinking is.
Never do the other ways to make money as a developer (connect with your fans so they'll want to buy from you, offer in-app purchases, advertising models that work, etc.) seem to enter the equation. No, we're just told that Android is built for piracy, that only iOS can offer you a comparatively sound way to make money via app development (despite at least some anecdotal evidence to the contrary), and none of this has to do with developers recognizing the difference between the two platforms, their users, and how their business models should differ between platforms. And apparently Google should do this to Android despite it being the leading mobile OS on the market.