Monday, September 22, 2008

iPhone app troubles

The Mac Web was ever vigilant and focused oh these many days, while the rest of the media busily told the public to fork out for private industry or else while they silently moved their 401k into Yuan. No, the worst of it all came when Apple "capriciously" ( bits blog) rejected iPhone App Store programs that infringed on a realm of functionality of unknown extent which Apple seeks to control.

Possibly, Apple is wholly hamfisted. They built an App Store and are now prone to adding programs to it without due consideration, and then, after a few days, deciding to take them down, but capriciously and suddenly, without much actual deep thought, and then staying quiet after being "caught" (for the tenth time.) This same Apple has thoughtlessly allowed an NDA binding iPhone developers to remain in effect, squelching online discussion. They simply forgot to remove it, and now unthinkingly leave it in place.

I reject these conclusions, though countless sites, many of which are held in high regard among the Mac cognoscenti, paint Apple in these outlines. No, let's look at what Apple intends to do to remain "on a roll", or, making hit products into brands that last through iteration after iteration, like the iPod, iPhone, and Mac.

Apple's App Store decisions are not random or unstructured, but rather they follow a predictable pattern.

Thus far, Apple has blocked applications of a certain niche. Those apps which intend to move users away from any conduit for information with pre-existing 1st party analogs (albeit of varying quality.) Podcasts, or GMail e-mail, for example, are "Apple territory", even if all the desired user functionality is not part of Apple's package. If someone wrote an MP3 playing application that used the information in (or iTunes mobile?), but presented it to different functional effect, you would be trespassing, so to speak. Indeed, the Mozilla Foundation claimed it was impossible to get Firefox working on Mobile OS X. I believe Firefox was dropped for iPhone because it would not have been promulgated via App Store, and Apple told them so.

Applications that provide wholly-contained entertainment, like a game, or information Apple does not mediate "out of the box" are left alone.

It is no coincidence that Apple's NDA issue is the same one that daunt so many Nintendo DS and Sony PSP software developers just getting started on a better version of the boot OS, but works so well to create siloed, non-background-process-demanding games. Apple, in their marketing and store policies, clearly emphasize a portable computing platform devoted to 1st and Apple-avoiding 3rd party productivity and media/information processing applications, and third party web applications and games.

In watching the crisis unfold, it struck me how often an App was removed after it was initially posted for some time. Moreover, by registering the app hash, and not precluding it from installation/execution via Ad Hoc (samizdat carbon paper copies of source code fed through the dock cable no jailbreak needed...) Apple has tacitly endorsed these apps continued viability.  Indeed, by adding them to the App Store at all, and/or banning so few so "capriciously", Apple publicized them. Apple bans them only to keep their realm of the user experience homogeneous, in the face of intense power user criticism. Of course, it is just these users who will Ad Hoc around the issue easily. Hmm.

Finally, only Apple among the console makers has an additional open-discussion general purpose computing platform it does not protect with similar restrictions. The Mac is a national forest. Mobile OS X is a kids playground, and the adults are making decisions many can't understand. (I don't think Photoshop is coming out for Linux on PS3 anytime soon you Net Yaroze refugees.)

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