Apple forbids competition against iTunes on iPhone platform

No matter how much Apple Kool-Aid you consume, you have to question Apple's recent policies in the App Store.  While some apps that could be construed as crude (iFartz and Pull My Finger) have been turned away, last week Apple denied a developer's app because it..

"..assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes." 

The app in question, Podcaster, does much more than just play podcasts.  It allows you to do so without syncing to your computer - which until yesterday was a 20-60 minute affair for some customers.  It also didn't store podcasts on the iPhone to free up space.

pocaster iphone application

Is this not worse than Microsoft's positioning of Internet Explorer vs. Netscape Navigator in the late 90's, which eventually crushed Netscape?  Imagine if Microsoft just denied Netscape to be installed on their Windows platform. Does the DOJ need to get involved for Apple to see it is wrong?

This isn't just bad for consumer choice, it is a dangerous and demoralizing precedent to set to developers who look to spend months of their time developing apps for iPhone.  And it isn't just for solo developers.  Imagine if you are a large company that wants to bring a product to the platform.  If Apple decides it wants to compete in this area, your App gets pulled and your revenue disappears.

To add insult to injury, the developers don't find out until after the work is done that their apps are essentially worthless.

Apple has already pulled an app that appeared to be within the bounds of Apple's app store terms of service (perhaps not some carriers') after it had already been on sale.  The app, called NetShare, allowed the iPhone to be paired as a Wifi modem for computers.

The Macintosh community is up in arms about this possibly disturbing behavior.  Now some developers are abandoning the App Store entirely.  Fraser Speirs sums up some of the developer outrage:

App Store: I’m out.

I will never write another iPhone application for the App Store as currently constituted*.

Writing software is a serious investment of time and energy. It also carries the opportunity cost of the other things you could have built. We live in a capitalist economy. Under capitalism, profit is the reward for economic risk. Without a reasonable expectation of profit, the sensible business-person will not invest. Without investment and risk-taking, there is no innovation.

Apple’s current practice of rejecting certain applications at the final hurdle - submission to the App Store - is disastrous for investor confidence. Developers are investing time and resources in the App Store marketplace and, if developers aren’t confident, they won’t invest in it. If developers - and serious developers at that - don’t invest, what’s the point?

You have to wonder if Apple wants the App Store to be a museum of poorly-designed nibware written by dilettante Mac OS X/iPhone OS switcher-developers and hobbyist students. That’s what will happen if companies who intend to invest serious resources in bringing an original idea to the App Store are denied a reasonable level of confidence in their expectation of profit.

Fraser offers some fixes before he's coming back.  They largely make sense:

  1. Publish clear and unambiguous rules for what will be accepted and what will not. I don’t even care if this is a long and detailed document, but it needs to be The Rulebook from which both sides play.
  2. Defend those rules against external pressure from carriers (NetShare) or the media (Slasher).
  3. Design a process by which developers can be given official pre-approval of their idea. Possibly a general nod, possibly conditional on certain criteria. If developers are going to go and borrow money to hire talent or build out services, they need more confidence than “call us when you’re done”.
  4. Loudly and conspicuously hire an App Store Evangelist. Preferably someone with an already high profile who does not already work for Apple. In fact, it might even be best if this person was not paid by Apple but an independent developer to whom Apple would give deep access to work with the App Store team. This is an investor trust issue.
  5. When controversies arise, let the Evangelist get into the conversation and lay out a clear rationale for Apple’s actions.
  6. Send the App Store Evangelist to every corner of the earth where iPhone developers gather. Unshackle them from the usual Apple constraints on public speaking. Get them on podcasts. For better or for worse, Apple has to start talking to the iPhone developer community.

As of now there isn't much competition to the App Store.  It has revolutionized the industry.  However, Google and Microsoft are both coming out with competitors for their mobile platforms. If they can offer a compelling choice with more options, developers will move to the Google platform, offering their customers more value.  

Apple needs to change its ways if the company wants to remain a leader in the mobile space. If not, they might see their platform marketshare decrease like their Macintosh did in the 90's.

Apple has already made it clear that it won't allow alternate browsers or Adobe's Flash on the App platform.  What is next?

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