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. identicon
    Johnson Rice, 7 Mar 2008 @ 3:13pm

    Re: iPhone SDK

    I have a question, do you understand that in business... the person that gives the customer what they want will ALWAYS win in any society with a measure of freedom? Take for example the fact that Android will now SMASH the iPhone and Microsoft's lead into 1000 peices. The first multi-touch screen that comes out that supports Android will blow everything else out of the water. I've got an iPhone, and I've been counting the days and watching the blogs for a true multitouch android device. The only thing that could PREVENT that competition is a restriction of freedom. IE: Government intervention - likely in the form of patent suits by thug lawyers at MS or Apple.
    We'll see how "stupid" a freedom oriented business model is in a few years - Apple has opened flood gates and depressurized the chamber with it's device, and there will be no closing the door now... the force of the flood is too strong. People now expect this level from their devices and expect to see MORE. Apple is not going to provide what people want... so they will be crushed mercilessly. I bet the end will come quite quickly, in fact, simply for the fact that people don't want to pay for text messaging, and would want to run an IM program in tandem with other applications. Plain, and simple. That alone is easily indicative of Apple offering up a large slice of failure. Expect ATT to offer free unlimited text messaging within 18 months to compete, or expect to see DRASTIC losses by apple over the next generation of iPhone.

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