Apple's Walled Garden Will Hurt iPhone Innovation
from the barriers-to-entry dept
The release of Apple iPhone SDK got a ton of attention on the blogosphere. Personally, I found the announcement to be a huge disappointment, because the rules for getting applications on the iPhone are chock full of restrictions. TechCrunch notes some of the major ones: No VoIP over the cell network, no exchanging data between applications, no multi-tasking (third-party apps quit when you switch out of them). But the more serious problem isn't strictly technical, but contractual: the only way to get third-party applications onto the iPhone is through Apple's "App Store." And Apple plans to carefully monitor the apps available through the store. Apparently "porn, privacy-breaching tools, bandwidth-hogging apps, and anything illegal" are examples of what will be off-limits, but that's not an exhaustive list.
The problem here goes beyond the mere possibility that Apple might block apps that some users would find useful. The more serious problem is the effect that the approval process will have on developers. Given how vague the rules are (what counts as bandwidth-hogging?) and that Apple is free to change them at any time anyway, it's going to be risky for a developer to start developing an iPhone app that Apple might reject. TechCrunch wonders, for example, if Apple would allow an app to download songs from Amazon's MP3 store. To avoid a nasty surprise at the end of the development process, any serious developer will want to talk to Apple ahead of time, but negotiating the feature set ahead of time could delay the product by months.
Perhaps most importantly, these barriers are going to be a serious disincentive to casual tinkering. Some of the greatest applications on the Internet -- including email and the Web -- were developed by one or two guys without the support of a large organization behind them. They were able to deploy their applications because the Internet (and the ARPANET in the case of email) didn't have any kind of approval process. You could just install your application and start using it. On an open iPhone platform, the killer mobile app might have been developed the same way. But if a developer has to spend a lot of time arguing with Apple's iPhone bureaucracy, they're likely to give up and develop the app for an open platform like Google's Android instead.