From Closed To Open: iPhone App Developer Skepticism Highlights Platform Trajectory

from the closed-vs.-open dept

I've been getting into some interesting discussions with people lately concerning open vs. closed platforms -- especially in light of the supposed "success" of Apple's iPhone app store, which is a very closed platform. And the point that I've tried to make is that you have to understand the trajectories of these things over time. At any given time, it's never difficult to find a closed platform that is successful. In fact, I'd argue that if you are reshaping a market, often it helps to have a closed platform initially to drive that market in a useful direction -- though, this can really only be accomplished by someone visionary (Steve Jobs certainly counts). The question is how does this play out long term. And the answer is that you can't stay closed too long, or open solutions will catch up and surpass you. We've seen this pattern multiples times (closed AOL --> open internet?).

Where this gets trickier is that the open solutions are almost always substandard to the closed solutions initially. In some ways, this is by design. The closed solution is often much cleaner and slicker, and so it gets a lot of the initial use. But, overtime, the limitations of the closed solutions become increasingly clear, and as people bump up against those limits, frustrations increase, and more and more effort is put towards making the open solutions better -- even to the point that eventually they exceed the closed solution. It's a messy process, but the point where momentum shifts is often a subtle one, and the proprietors of the closed solution usually don't recognize it's a problem until way too late.

I believe that's the case with the App Store. The iPhone itself did an amazing job pushing the state of the mobile phone/portable computer market forward. There are some people who like to mock it as nothing special, but that's unfair. The device itself was a huge leap forward in demonstrating what a phone could be, and many others are just starting to grasp what this means more than two years after the original was introduced. That said, we're seeing more and more evidence concerning frustrations on the limits imposed by Apple's closed system, such as the arbitrary rejections of apps.

James points us to a worthwhile post from an iPhone developer, noting how the process is getting to the point where it's less and less worth it to develop for that platform. You have to put in a ton of work, and then you have to wait for quite a while just to get the app approved (or rejected), and the whole process is quite arbitrary. With that in mind, developers have a lot less certainty, and it shows a growing interest in other platforms.

To date, admittedly, such alternatives really haven't been very good. There are other app stores (some more open than others), but none has really been able to build up much traction yet on other devices. But there's a huge opportunity here if someone else can make this happen (or, if there were a way to standardize across some of the competitors) and start doing a better job serving both developers and consumers. The closed solution helps define the initial market -- but the open solution almost always wins in the long run.

Filed Under: app store, closed, developers, iphone, open, platforms
Companies: apple


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jul 2009 @ 7:48am

    Re: Re: Long run?

    Hah. Linux will unseat Microsoft. Linux developers write software for what they want. They write for the 1-2% that want that additional feature. Microsoft writes for a broader audience, around the 95% audience. Because Microsoft see their job as supporting the computing needs of the world not just Monster Energy drinkers sitting in their mom's basement. Oh sure, more people have linux now than 18 years ago. But millions more have Microsoft.

    Linux and Open Source community needs to understand that they have a place in the world of computers. Second Place.

    Linux developers are not usually ahead of the curve with features and functions, but they do great at hacking and copying other peoples work. Even if you lump Apple's adoption (non-open source versions) of Linux based OSes into Linux's category you still have less than 10% market share.

    Microsoft's pervasive market share may irk you guys, but by putting a computer in nearly every home and office in the world Microsoft has advanced the audience available for Open Source converts. Not to mention the Internet, e-commerce, home based businesses.

    Find me a box in any store that says "This computer part compatible with Linux only."

    Face it noone every gets a linux computer as their first computer. So at best Linux will always be Second Rate Computing.

    To change this Linux needs to do only one thing. Find a single market and develop everything that market needs, ignoring all others for a while. Get 100% of that market and let them take you home with them, doubling the linux market. Then pick another market and expand your offering to them.

    You would know this if Linux people did anything except complain about Microsoft. Because that is what THEY did.

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