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.

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Filed Under: innovation, iphone, sdk, walled gardens
Companies: apple


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  1. icon
    GeneralEmergency (profile), 7 Mar 2008 @ 11:50am

    Walled Gardens Never Grow.

    To those of you who take issue with Lee's viewpoint here and claim that Apple is a business first, and how the SDK and App distribution system hobbling is a good thing, I say this:

    ANYONE who holds a uses an iPhone for even a brief period, realizes that it is a very powerful handheld computer connected to a data network. Inexplicably, there are those of you who can't seem to shake the "it's a phone and is somehow different because of that fact" nonsense out of your skulls.

    25 years ago the Personal Computer exploded onto the scene and set imaginations and busineses spinning with possibilities. The IBM PC, in particular, started a revolution in that it was built from off-the-shelf components and had openly published interface specifications. Over the years people have come to expect THEIR PERSONAL COMPUTERS to be expandable via hardware, software or both. When Apple presented the world with the iPhone, why were they surprised the MANY, MANY people immediately went to work to PRY OPEN THE GATES of the iPhone's walled garden internals (AKA: JailBreaking)? Why are you surprised, angry or offended about that happening? Is it because that somehow Apple is "magically" exempt from popular, normal expectations about what computers should be able to do?? Apple's walled garden approach will fail in the long run because iPhone lovers will continue to work around it via the AppTapp installer, or another, less greedy company, interested in just selling hardware, will deliver the openness that people expect from their p-e-r-s-o-n-a-l computers.

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