Friday, September 26, 2008

Apple Poised To Screw Up (AGAIN)

Yesterday Apple killed the end run that one scorned developer did in order to sell his application after it was not allowed in the blessed iTunes App Store.

Alex Sokirynsky, creator of an application called Podcaster was shut down by Apple two weeks after his application was rejected for inclusion in the App Store because it duplicated features in the company's own iTunes software. "Since Podcaster assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes," Apple told Sokirynsky.

Yeah, right. So what's the big deal? The big deal is that Apple is about to royally screw themselves. Read on, dear reader, read on...

It seems that Mr. Sokirynsky did an end-run around Apple by selling and allowing people to install his software via the "Ad Hoc" mechanism that Apple created for people to beta test their software with actual users - and for enterprises that wanted to be able to distribute their apps to up to 100 internal folks.

So what Sokirynsky did was to create new "build numbers" of the application to get around the 100 person limit. He charged people $9.99 for the product and then had them send them the device's UDID (unique device identifier) code.

The UDID is needed by the Ad Hoc program to allow the install of the software without going through iTunes and thus bypassing the App Store all together.

Pretty ingenious!

Well, Apple, being the draconian institution it is - caught on and then just yanked his account. Done.

Yeah, good move, Apple! Bravo! That's a terrific way to motivate developers to spend time and money developing software for your platform. With the crepe paper still up at the new Android phone's coming out party - it would seem to me that it would behoove Apple to stop this kind of heavy-handed bullshit and just do what Steve Jobs said he would do at the Spring SDK event - and that's keep out the "bad" programs that crash, do malicious things, are just porn apps, or ones that are illegal or are bandwidth hogs.

Podcaster is none of those things.

And, I'm sure Mr. Sokirynsky is not the only developer hoping to bring cool, actually useful apps to the iPhone rather than just the 1,000 calculators and variations on to-do lists. What about things like other browsers like Firefox or Chrome?

And as Engadget's Ryan Block points out in his blog about this debacle - it all stems from a super restrictive SDK legal agreement:
Besides a few very specific callouts (like the no VoIP on cellular bit), all we've got to go by is one vague, gray, largely unspecific blanket statement: "No interpreted code may be downloaded and used in an Application except for code that is interpreted and run by Apple's Published APIs and built in interpreter(s)."

Basically, that means that you can't build anything that you haven't prescribed in its given tool and feature set. So if the iPhone already has something like, say, a browser (read: mobile Safari), and Google wants to port a mobile version of Chrome for the iPhone, Google's out of luck. And Apple's legal wiggle room is unbelievably broad. Is a Word / Excel editor a code interpreter? Is a BitTorrent client a code interpreter? Should one have to build a complete and fully functional piece of software just to find out?
Now I get the fact that Apple wants to protect the iPhone platform overall - but I agree with Ryan Block when he says:
Now, if you want to do the right thing -- the thing that may ultimately keep you out of some grumpy developer's class-action lawsuit, the thing that will take away Android's biggest consumer appeal right now -- you'll simply stop filtering apps based on content, and only look for the kind of code Steve specifically promised to protect users against in the first place: grossly buggy and broken, malicious, or otherwise evil.
Apple, PLEASE do not mess up this perfect opportunity to dominate mobile communications the way you completely screwed yourself in the OS marketplace! Allow developers to develop cool, meaningful, useful, business applications. You're the cool kid right now - do NOT let it go to your head - or your heart (and marketshare) will suffer - AGAIN.


PK said...

The Appstore offers something very attractive to all developers the ability to monetized their works. principles do not support one self much less the whole family. Even Sokirynsky is trying to cash in on his app. He was pissed because he was denied the ability to cash in on his app.
As some developers leave others will gladly join in to make a killing with the right app. I can't predict the future at the rate Apple is innovating, the iPhone can be very big or very small but why take chances and all it takes is to produce a few great apps a person can be set for life.
BTW the Steve Jobs of today is not the same as yesterday, you can judge him by his allowing the iPod on the windows platform. And if you have also notice the standard of service at Apple is second to none and they are doing everything to make the customers very happy.

Bob Cusick said...

Hey - thanks very much for the comment! I agree that Apple is trying to protect the platform - and I really don't have a problem with that.

The problem that I have is that they are going about it in a way that is (in my opinion) shooting themselves in the foot.

They should be encouraging EVERYONE and their dog to write apps for the iPhone - so that the developers won't get pissed off and just develop for the other emerging platforms.

I really want Apple (and me - as an iPhone owner) to win.

Eytan said...

Bob, your blog does not make much sense to me on this. Yeah, I am a developer and a consumer of the iPhone, yet some of the points you make really make no sense.
The iPhone is a new class of product. Everyone seems to be lost in the Windows mindset that a smartphone should be a miniaturized desktop or laptop (that is how we ended up with Windows Mobile). Why do I need a Firefox or a Chrome? How do I manage which is the default? Now who handles website coding for the different rendering engines? And even more important, how would they be different? Have the search box to the right instead of below (like Apple has done with 2.2)? The iPhone (and mobile devices in general) should not have feature bloat, and the Safari browser is a VERY basic interface on top of WebKit - Chrome? SO I really want something that is 99% the same with just a different JS implementation that is neither faster nor slower, just different? Could I really have Firefox Extensions on an iPhone? You get the idea...

Part of the beauty of the iPhone is its simlicity. Maybe if there was a more advanced class of portable devices from Apple much of this would make sense. But the point is well taken to handle the Podcasts in just one place. Did he try to make it a streaming only app? Had he, like his web based app (which I use) would Apple have made a stink? But they are right - the podcaster would accumulate large amounts of data as you download podcasts - and then you would have to manually manage where you listened and what you have deleted.

Look, I am NO fan of Apple's heavy handedness. I WISH I could go out and buy a book on developing for the iPhone instead of slogging through Apple's documentation and limited example set. But to criticize them over flagrant disobeying of the agreement (the profile trick is NOT for software distribution - Apple is clear there should be non other than the Apple Store) is silly. You may not like that they are trying to follow a different model, but I for one feel it makes a LOT of sense for a phone. This is supposed to be an appliance - as such, it should work as one and have expected behavior.

PK said...

Interesting statement - 'everyone and their dog' - you must be referring to the 'I am rich' app then this statement is true.

Believe me they will... this Apple is different from the one you knew and the appstore is a big money spinner and they will do everything to make sure things will cool down.

I too want them to win.

sfinder said...

Let's work through your argument. If I was a developer with an idea for a program, by now I would have a good feel for whether my program would pass muster with Apple or not. I may not be completely right but I would have a sense.

So I have this idea for a program that I would like to sell. So lets say that my choices are a) Apple and the app store or b) Android and the Google marketplace.

Let's see. Last I heard T-Mobile was hoping to sell 400,000 Android phones this year. There definitely weren't lines forming to buy the phone. I am not sure that anyone I know has even heard of Android.

Apple has already sold over 12 million iPhones or something like that. One developer reported making $250K already on a small game through the app store.

And the most important thing is that the end user, the one who pays the bills for everyone else, really doesn't give a darn about developer principles. They will buy what they like.

So self interest being what ultimately matters, it is really hard to see developers abandoning the iPhone for any other platform. I can't see someone giving up 5% of a 15M - 20M market for even 50% of a 500K market on principles. The smart developer will develop in both.

Only the stupid developer will leave the iPhone. Or the one who is programming for fun and doesn't really want to make any money.

Bob Cusick said...

Awesome comments - THANKS! I really look forward to how things shake out - and I really appreciate all your time, effort and passion!


Richard said...

I am getting tired of reading this sort of bs.
Apples "draconian" measures, vetting, protecting, or barring Apps in the App Store absolutely justified in my opinion.
I am an ex retailer and someone interested in keeping the MacOs and my iPod Touch secure. As a retailer of Apps in the Appstore, Apple has a duty to protect themselves and their users from malicious Apps. As a retailer, they may choose what they stock and sell. A developer should read all of the conditions before they start developing for the iPhone/Touch. If they do not and then find that some of these conditions are not what they expected then it is not the fault of Apple.
As the owner of the App store, Apple may change these conditions at any time. It may seem to be against the principle of encourageing developers and new software for the platform, but Apple has to ensure that, as much as possible, the experience that users have, both from the store and the Apps is better than any alternative.

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