These days it’s very easy to go after Apple’s business practices with iTunes & iPhone.
Unlike the Macintosh operating system where any developer can build an app, the iTunes App Store and iPhone has a specific limitation. Apple must approve your app.
The most high profile app drama is Google Voice. Apple has not given Google permission to run that app on the iPhone. This is on top of the other issues with the app store such as phoney reviews, odd or delayed approval process and other rules that don’t make sense to users or developers.
The reality is that the app store is only about a year old. Before Apple’s app store, the iPhone existed for about a year without any reasonable way to install 3rd party apps (yes, jailbreak showed us the way but most users didn’t do that).
And for the most part, I agree with all of the App Store critics. I wish the Apple App Store was open for all developers. It should work just like anyone can build a website that works with any standard browser and just like building apps for MacOS.
But as long as we are shining a light on Apple, let’s keep a few things in mind:
0 - Life before the App Store.
Before the iPhone and App Store there wasnt any reasonable way to install apps for mobile phones. Just spend 10 minutes with an experienced BREW developer for Verizon handsets. Ask them what that’s like. Before the App store, every mobile 1.0 entrepreneur I know didn’t want to touch client software. They wanted to either build mobile web services, cloud services and/or SMS related services. Some of them told me they were done building mobile software altogether.
You could argue that the carriers didn’t allow it but how did Apple convince AT&T while other titans of the industry (e.g. Motorola, Nokia, Microsoft etc) failed to make that case.
Apple changed all of that and raised the bar. In the past year or so, they have gotten it wrong with a number of things but they are mostly doing it right (ease of use, ease of payment, ease of discovery, etc).
1 - How about other devices? Consider games consoles.
Sony Playstation, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox are selling in huge volumes every year. And those hardware platforms are extremely powerful. They bring crazy computing horsepower and internet connectivity to millions of televisions around the planet. Sounds like an amazing platform for innovation.
But they are closed. Yes, there are loads of titles for those game consoles. But can anyone build any app and distribute on the PS3 or Wii or Xbox? Or does the game console manufacturer have final approval. You know the answer to that one.
2 - Set top box.
It’s beyond closed. Why can’t I connect an external hard drive to the DVR that Verizon or Comcast. It has a USB port. It wouldn’t be hard and that platform has been around forever. Certainly longer than the App Store. Why can’t third parties plug into the MSO’s video on demand system and provide new services and content. Why can’t I replace the guide with a better one? How about downloadable apps to the set top?
3 - Propriety codecs (Sony videocams, etc)
These are simply a few obvious examples. There are many others.
Yes, I agree with the Apple App Store critics. Apple needs to open that up and create a level playing field for all developers.
But let’s not let everyone else off the hook either. They should at the very least become as open as Apple.
(p.s. - small prediction: I believe the Apple App Store will open up completely within a year)