Apple iOS 5 and the Problem with Internet Innovation
By Daniel Tovrov | October 13, 2011 1:40 AM EST
Apple's iOS 5 will be released on Wednesday, and the new iPhone operating system, with its 200 new features, is already being hailed as one of the biggest and best innovations in mobile technology to date.
But, despite the amazing new developments, many Web designers and developers are troubled by Apple's policies, which some think stifle Internet innovation. While Apple's app development system has opened up the market considerably to new and up-and-coming programmers, their deserved dominance in the mobile marketplace has potentially set back innovation by years.
"On non-mobile devices, our lives are quickly shifting from native applications [i.e. coded for a specific computer or smartphone's operating system] to Web applications, but by Apple dominating the consumer smartphone market first, and executing it beautifully, they have started to set some really unhealthy precedents that the rest of the industry is copying while simply trying to keep pace," said Zeke Shore, the Co-Founder and Creative Director of design firm Type/Code.
In essence, Apple has become the middle man between developers trying to get their product to market and iPhone users. By forcing developers to work specifically with Apple's own coding language, Internet applications have fallen by the wayside.
Developer and blogger Joe Hewitt, the man behind Firefox and the Facebook application for the iPhone, made a similar claim after the release of the iPhone 3GS. Hewitt said Apple needs to eliminate the App Store review process in order to foster more diverse application development.
"There is this thing called the World Wide Web which already works that way, and it has served millions and millions of people quite well for a long time now," Hewitt wrote on his blog.
He also says Apple does little to actually check apps for bugs, which is already the responsibility of the original developers, and the review process is more about legal compliance and terms of service violations.
"They don't trust us, and I resent that, because the vast majority of us are trustworthy," he added.
Since making those comments, Hewitt has quit all of his iPhone development projects and gone back to Web development.
Yet, thanks to its popularity, the iPhone is in little danger of being replaced by a better system. It also does give those willing to cooperate a chance to share, and get paid for, their hard work.
"The app store is definitely a powerful marketing vehicle, and having your app listed in the top 10, or top 100 even, means a ... ton of sales to a mass market," Shore commented.
Apple's App Store has given the developers who get approved access to 40 million users and the iPhone is a huge platform for anyone trying to make their name in the business. There are currently 500,000 apps for the iPhone, many of them selling for as little as 99 cents.
The minuscule price tag -- especially compared to games with sell for as much as $60 for consoles like the Xbox -- has made apps accessible to thousands upon thousands of people.
But, some developers have lamented the 99-cent trend, which they feel is skewing new applications toward the quick and cheap.
In an open letter to the late Steve Jobs, software designer Craig Hockenberry said that he loves the competitive atmosphere that the App Store creates, but that he has found it difficult to sell a quality application at $4.99 or even $2.99, when so many go for a fraction of the price.
"We have a lot of great ideas for iPhone applications. Unfortunately, we're not working on the cooler (and more complex) ideas," Hockenberry wrote on his blog. "Instead, we're working on 99¢ titles that have a limited lifespan and broad appeal. Market conditions make ringtone apps most appealing."
Others, like Angry Birds creator Peter Vesterbacka, love the 99-cent model. Vesterbacka said at the Game Developers Conference in February that the price allows him to constantly update the Angry Birds game with new levels.
There are also deeper issues involved in Apple's App Store review process, and, although Apple is a corporation it is essentially censoring what users get to see.
"No porn apps might, subjectively, be a reasonable policy, but that gets really fuzzy in more artistic, literary, creative, experimental, political and satirical realms," Shore said. "Why does Apple get to decide whats OK for me to see?"
Maybe the biggest problem about Apple's App Store policy is that there is no other way in. If Apple decides something isn't OK, then users cannot have it, at least not legally. Android and other operating systems also regulate and approve applications, but they also allow users to download any program at their own discretion and peril.
Apple users can get renegade apps, but they first need to "jailbreak" their phone, which voids the warranty. A group of developers who were rejected by Apple opened an unauthorized App Store called Cydia, where one app maker made $19,000 in just two weeks of sales.
Type/Code has not made any native iPhone applications. It is mainly a Web design company, but that doesn't mean it isn't open to application development in general.
"We want the Internet to win over native apps," Shore noted. "Anything that can be a Web app rather than a native app should be, for a couple of reasons: so we have total control over it, so it doesn't need to approved, so we can roll out fixes and improvements instantly rather needing to be approved again, and so it doesn't get taxed 30 percent [by Apple], and more practically, so it doesn't need to be rebuilt on each platform."
Does all this mean that Apple should go away? Well, Shore, like 40 million others, owns an iPhone and isn't going to give it up anytime soon.
"I love Apple products. They are really [deleted] good," Shore said. "I love that everything I hate about them grew out them putting the user first, by resolving that they would settle for nothing short of perfection for users as a business model, and that great design is what got them to where they are now.
"It's because they are so good that they can define these dangerous paradigms, and the rest of the industry just follows."
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