Daniel Eran Dilger in San Francisco
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The iPhone Store Impending Disaster Myth

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Daniel Eran Dilger
According to the predictable opinion scribes, Apple is risking disaster in the iPhone App Store by imposing critical authority over the mobile software it chooses to sell. If it doesn’t stop turning ideas down, all that creative energy will abandon Apple and prop up other mobile platforms. They’re wrong, here’s why.
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Critics charge that Apple’s rejections are arbitrary. They also say Apple has no business choosing what software customers have access to, and that the company should instead allow the market to decide. The third major argument is that Apple is being unfair in voting down titles that may compete with its own offerings. Everyone is saying the same thing, so here’s the facts they’re missing about why Apple is taking the actions it is.

Developers, Developers, Developers.

Before taking on these three ideas, take a look at Apple’s third party development philosophy compared to the biggest platform on Earth: Microsoft’s Windows monopoly. Ostensibly, Microsoft rose to power by attracting developers to its platform and keeping them happy. That’s why CEO Steve Ballmer danced on stage in a sweaty fit screaming his famous “developers” chant.

Ballmer might actually believe that, but history tells a different story. Developers certainly helped DOS take off, but the first killer app in early home computing was actually VisiCorp’s VisiCalc on the Apple II. That software title did so much to boost Apple’s sales that the entire industry took notice. Obviously, third party software was going to be critically important in selling hardware.

At the same time however, VisiCalc on the Apple II only mattered until IBM cast a shadow over the infant computing industry with its PC in 1981. Apple’s killer third party app was eclipsed by Lotus 1-2-3 on the PC, not because Microsoft or IBM was catering to third party software developers better than Apple, but because developers were attracted to the PC as a more viable platform that would make them greater money with less risk.

Once Lotus began printing money by selling its software to PC users, competition to the PC platform began to quickly dry up. Alternative home computer platforms either filled a specific niche or evaporated. At the time, Apple’s strategy was to create a superior platform that would attract more attention using sophisticated technology, while IBM, Microsoft, and the PC cloners were working to sell third rate, old technology at low prices.

Office Wars 3 – How Microsoft Got Its Office Monopoly

Macintosh vs the PC

Apple’s first stab at delivering its high road strategy was the Lisa, which shipped just as Lotus 1-2-3 was taking off on the PC. It was too expensive to find a mainstream audience, but Apple knew that. The goal of the Lisa was to be first to market with new graphical technology. The Macintosh project was aimed at making that technology affordable.

When the Macintosh shipped the next year, it put a new burden on developers. They had to follow Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines or their software wouldn’t sell. They also had to master a new way to program, making calls to Apple’s own toolbox libraries to build their software. In exchange for this, developers got prebuilt functionality “for free” and could work within a framework that took care of many of the details that PC developers had to write on their own.

Steve Jobs’ Mac team worked make the new machine as cheap as possible while they crammed in as much forward thinking technology as possible. Their main competitor was Apple’s CEO John Sculley, who tacked on a $500 (or 25%) tax, roughly $1000 in today’s dollars, to fund the Macintosh’s ad campaign. This last minute price hike deeply impacted the appeal of the new Mac, which called into question the platform’s viability to potential developers.

Jobs wanted Apple to push the Mac hard in business, and to continue to invest in making it a more attractive platform by harnessing new technology, including laser printing and easy to use networking. Instead, Sculley followed a conservative plan of pushing the systems that were already earning Apple money. In 1984, he famously declared “Apple II forever!” and within two years, had managed to successfully push Jobs out of Apple.

Without Jobs, Apple made minimal efforts to push the Mac platform ahead or to deliver the technology advances that would make it more broadly attractive to users. While Apple leisurely took money for past products, the PC platform grew at an astounding rate, leaving Apple behind as a marginalized alternative with increasingly less allure to users, and subsequently to developers.

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Jean-Louis Gassée Returns from Obscurity… to Talk About MobileMe

Mac vs Windows vs NeXT.

Jobs left to found NeXT, where he continued his strategy of building a superior platform that would attract more attention using sophisticated technology. Apple actively thwarted his efforts by suing NeXT to stop it from entering the consumer market. Apple also sued Microsoft for appropriating the technology fields it had left fallow in order to collect Conservation Reserve Program checks.

Microsoft’s strategy to sell third rate, old technology at low prices stayed intact, too. The company had successfully resold CP/M from the 70s as DOS during the 80s, and was now preparing to sell the Mac desktop from the 80s throughout the 90s.

Rather than competing, Apple chose to stop Microsoft in the courts, a wildly ineffective strategy given the massive growth and profits Microsoft was earning. Even if Apple had won, it would have still lost due to the staggering opportunity costs of failing to compete.

NeXT also failed because it simply lacked the resources to stay in the game. By 1990, NeXT was delivering the software Microsoft announced it would eventually copy, but NeXT didn’t have the market power to sell it.

Why OS X is on the iPhone, but not the PC

Microsoft’s DOS Developer Massacre.

Meanwhile, the supposedly developer friendly Microsoft was formulating a plot to not just steal Apple’s first party desktop operating system, but also the third party software market from Lotus, WordPerfect, and other top DOS developers.

Microsoft convinced its DOS developers to go to work building apps for OS/2, which Lotus and WordPerfect dutifully began to do in the early 90s. The company then took the Mac software titles it had ported to Windows during the same time period and tied them together in a marketing coup that choked off DOS competition, third party app competition, and Mac competition all under the banner of Windows 95. New PCs would now be sold with a Windows 95 license and in many cases, a bundled license for Word and Excel as well.

Within a very short time, the largest DOS third party developers were strangled to death while Apple was left stabbed in the back by its own platform technology. Microsoft had succeeded in selling its old Mac Office from the 80s to PC users in the 90s by using its DOS PC monopoly power to crush its own third party application developers. For the next decade, Microsoft would sell reheated versions of the same stuff over and over again with nearly no competitive pressure. Windows actually got even more expensive.

Office Wars 4 – Microsoft’s Assault on Lotus and IBM

Apple’s Developer Strategy.

When it bought NeXT in its final gasp of breath in the last days of 1996, Apple paired the scant remaining market power it controlled with the technology NeXT had developed to create a superior platform. With Jobs at the helm, Apple raced back to health and pleaded with its third party developers to support its new platform. They refused.

Apple was ultimately only able to string along Adobe and Macromedia and Microsoft by investing in efforts to keep their old software running on the Mac. That was enough to get Apple into the new decade, where it rapidly began developing its own apps, from Mail, Address Book and iCal on the desktop to its iLife suite, Pro apps, and iWork software. Apple is now the primary developer of the most important Mac apps for consumers.

More importantly however, Apple’s investments in building a superior platform that would attract more attention using sophisticated technology finally began to pay off, and increased visibility of the Mac platform has drawn more developer interest that any amount of begging ever could have.

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The iPhone Money Machine.

With the iPhone, Apple similarly built a superior platform designed to attract attention using sophisticated technology. It didn’t even open the doors to third party developers until a year after launch, at which time there was already pent up demand from a large installed base of iPhone users, a preexisting expectation of what “iPhone software” was, and a well oiled machine for distributing new software and collecting micropayments for it.

The first thirty days generated $30 million in software development funding paid for by willing iPhone users. In just a few months, Apple’s technology and the potential for developers to make money at little risk had sucked the air from the sails of established mobile platforms, including Palm and Windows Mobile.

Developers’ contributions to the iPhone software market attracted new iPhone buyers who in turn funded new development. The iPhone was Jobs’ original vision for the Macintosh and what his team had attempted to introduce with NeXT. This time, Jobs had the market power to deliver the platform he envisioned, and kept it going until it could attract a critical mass of development.

Apple’s efforts were not easy, but were simplified by the fact that all of its competitors were following the conservative Microsoft strategy of selling third rate, old technology at low prices. Symbian is a creaky old PDA OS from the 90s, as is the Palm OS. RIM sells a creaky old pager OS from the 90s. Microsoft sells a poor copy of Palm and the Newton. The roots of the iPhone OS can be charted back into the 80s at NeXT, but in reality, its value comes from new technologies, including a Core Animation interface and a brand new set of mobile human interface guidelines.

Origins: Why the iPhone is ARM, and isn’t Symbian
The Egregious Incompetence of Palm
The Spectacular Failure of WinCE and Windows Mobile

Why Platforms Win.

if you were taking notes, you’d notice that Microsoft didn’t come upon its fortune by reaching out to developers, but by winning market power in the IBM DOS lottery and using that influence to destroy its own developers to sell its software in their place. I didn’t recount the history of Microsoft’s use of Windows to destroy competing Windows utility developers such as Stacker or todays antivirus vendors, Windows web browser developers such as Netscape, Windows media developers such as Apple’s QuickTime, or similar attacks on any other segment of the market Microsoft wanted to own.

You probably also noticed that Apple didn’t win when it pleaded with developers to support the Mac, or when it pleaded with developers to support Mac OS X, or when it offered open source alternatives such as mkLinux or Darwin, but only when it delivered a platform that developers were profit motivated to invest their efforts in.

Also notice a complete lack of openness or egalitarian market freedom in the success of any computing platform. Now look at every other success in business, and note that whether following the Microsoft strategy of selling third rate, old technology at low prices (such as Walmart, Ikea, or McDonalds) or the Apple strategy of delivering superior platform designed to attract attention using sophisticated technology (Amazon, Google, or BMW), success has a lot to do with attracting buyers and very little to do with sucking up to third party partners.

Now let’s hammer away at the sappy pleading on behalf of developers who want Apple to cater to their whims due to the attractive populist concept of fairness in doing so.

Arbitrary

If you made it this far, you may have forgotten that the first argument against Apple vetoing apps from the iPhone app store is that its decisions are unpredictable and arbitrary. In outlining how the Apps Store would work this spring, the company presented “porn, privacy, bandwidth hog, malicious, illegal, and unforeseen” as factors that would cause Apple to deny the title. That did tend to leave things open.

Jobs said, “so there are gonna be some apps that we’re gonna say no to, but again, we have exactly the same interest as the vast majority of our developers, which is to get a ton of apps out there for the iPhone.”

Apple hasn’t banned any apps for arbitrary reasons. Some critics refused to recognize the merits of Apple’s decisions, but in every case that has become public, the reasons are pretty clear. Apple is managing the user experience in the iPhone App Store to prevent the iPhone from becoming a target of lawsuits or boycotts, to preserve its simplicity and ease of use, and to safeguard both users and the viability of the platform itself.

Some have tried to turn each decision into a dramatic case filed with court of public opinion, but Apple runs the App Store, not a popular vote. A platform is not a democracy. End users can complain that design of a company’s cars are ugly, or that a restaurant chain’s food is too boring, or that a Blockbuster doesn’t carry X-rated movies, but in the end the decisions of a business must come from those managing the company.

Calling Apple’s recent vetos “arbitrary” is just wrong. The company has approved thousands of apps within just the first couple months using the most efficient review process it can. Plenty of junk apps have slipped through, and a very small number of apps with arguable merits have been denied. The tech media is trying to turn this into a dramatic conflict to inflate their own importance here, but there is no real crisis as the very small fraction of apps Apple has stomped on do not really matter in the health of the App Store.

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Banned iPhone Apps and the John Gruber Podcaster Defense

The Market Decides

The second argument against Apple’s managing of the apps it chooses to sell is that Apple should sell everything and simply allow the market to decide what works and what doesn’t. After all, Apple has unlimited virtual shelf space.

The problem is that Apple also has unlimited liability in the minds of lawyers. Additionally, Apple’s cut isn’t big enough to deal with significant complaints or boycott threats (such as the horror title or porn), return demands (such as “I am Rich”), or even the difficult to quantify impact of cheapening the iPhone brand with software that is less than classy (like the fart joke app). Apple also refuses to stock many stupid products in its retail store, as every retail store does.

The market does a good job of selecting where capital should flow, rewarding success and punishing failure with aggregate demand transactions, but it does not serve as a good replacement for editorial control. Look at the media in this nation: we’ve become a country of morons being fed inane junk news because the market is deciding instead of journalists. Look at Walmart and McDonalds, where the market is deciding to stock Chinese junk and ground up beef hearts because low cost appeals to uninformed consumers more than getting informed.

For Apple to maintain its platform, it needs to maintain its image. That practice worked well for Nintendo in video games up until the point where it went too far and the GameCube generation was lost due to begin typecast as a kid console. In a market where bad software titles are cheaper to produce than good titles, Apple has not just a right but a duty to protect its image by decreeing editorial control over the apps it represents to users. If anything, Apple has not gone far enough to shoot down lame apps.

This is certainly a problem for developers who want to sell fart jokes and porn, but those people don’t care about Apple’s platform health, so Apple can’t be interested in their demands either. Incidentally, anyone who is worried about a lack of porn on the iPhone has failed to realize that the device is an Internet browser and that a Cocoa Touch interface is not really needed to deliver commercial pornography. Compare the assortment of web porn sites with porn desktop apps on the PC and that fact might become more obvious.

How Apple Is Changing the PC Software World… Back
iPhone Apps Store Growing Twice as Fast as iTunes Music

Unfair Competition

The third complaint about Apple’s veto power surrounds apps like NetShare, Podcaster, and MailWrangler, which were denied not because of editorial decisions but because they potentially impacted the health or future of the platform. NetShare exposed Apple to liability for enabling users to violate their service contract with AT&T. Apple is negotiating with AT&T to find a way to offer tethering support, but it can’t simply sell an app that is expressly designed to violate users’ licensing agreements without incurring Napster-style liability.

Podcaster competes against Apple’s podcast business, while MailWrangler offers an alternative to Mail. In both cases, Apple thinks that consumer confusion will cause problems for its platform, and so it’s simply outlawed them both. Podcaster creates confusion by allowing two independent sets of podcasts to be downloaded and fall out of sync with each other. This would make the iPhone look stupid and the blame would go to Apple. If this sounds improbable, consider that Paul Thurrott blames Apple’s MobileMe for bugs in Outlook and Exchange Server and limitations in Windows Calendar. It doesn’t matter that this is ridiculous, it still happens.

MailWrangler is basically a specialized browser shell for Gmail that makes it easier to switch between multiple accounts. It not only acts as a replacement for Mail, but had another issue Apple raised about having no way to edit an account after being set up. Rather than taking steps to solve the problems and reapply, the developer posted a complaint in public about how he didn’t want to “deal with Apple’s messy bureaucracy. I guess I should just write another flashlight or glowstick application to actually get published. That’s the only apps Apple seems to want in the store.”

Competition in Utilities.

There are two things to consider in the competition debate. First is that Apple needs to maintain certain platform infrastructure itself. The company has bundled apps into the desktop Mac OS X because competition wouldn’t really serve the Mac platform, but instead just hold it back. This is the same reason why cities grant monopolies to power companies or transit operators or cable providers; competition in such a small scale would cause more problems than it would solve for users.

Apple has effectively limited any competition for Mail, Address Book, iCal, Safari, or the Finder by making those apps good enough that nobody would pay any significant amount for a replacement, outside of some small niche cases. Mac users wouldn’t be better served to have a handful of companies trying to all sell competitive mail apps, because it would really just expend a lot of duplicative effort needlessly.

On the iPhone, things are even smaller. Apps typically cost less than $10, so the barrier to entry in creating an app that might duplicate Apple’s efforts without adding any substantial value and really just cause confusion for users is not worth it for Apple to promote. It is certainly controversial where Apple draws the line, but developers building apps should exercise some forethought about how much value their app offers compared to the risks Apple might incur in support costs and platform devaluation, and use that to make development decisions.

Beyond the limited value of competition in certain areas, the second factor is that it is far easier to prevent a small developer from setting up shop in the path of development planned by Apple than for the company to steamroll or buyout the developer’s potential profits at some point in the future. Anyone who thinks Apple can afford completely unfettered competition on its limited platform should take a deep breath and reevaluate that opinion in the face of reality.

I have no doubt Apple will eventually veto an app for reasons I can’t understand or agree with, but one might expect that in a business environment where one app in thousands might slip into error. When that happens, the developer involved might be better served in working with Apple to hammer out a solution rather than trying to badmouth the company publicly in their blog. I’m sure Apple would happily send that type of developer packing to Windows Mobile or Android, because its far easier to deal with thousands of profit motivated, rational partners than a single hot head who chooses to vent complaints in public.

As for the tech media outlets who have developed a knack for reporting one side of every issue involving Apple: if the story sounds too good to be true, perhaps it is. If you exercised some effort to tell both sides of the story, I wouldn’t always have to describe in detail why you’re wrong. I also wouldn’t have to look so one sided for always having to tell the side you refuse to cover.

Did you like this article? Let me know. Comment here, in the Forum, or email me with your ideas.

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50 comments

1 jecrawford { 09.25.08 at 6:34 am }

I also read this article with some interest:
http://wilshipley.com/blog/2008/09/iphone-app-store-let-market-decide.html

The basic thrust seems to be that Apple’s (draconian!?) interference in the App Store will stifle innovation and we’ll all be losers eventually. I think Daniel is saying that the present limited rejections will not stifle anything, as other smarter, less opportunistic, developers will still profit motivated.

Have I summed this up accurately?

John

2 Joel { 09.25.08 at 6:48 am }

Also take a look at http://daringfireball.net/2008/09/app_store_rejections . The widely reported “change of policy” to make rejections be covered by an NDA doesn’t seem to reflect what is actually happening…

3 Jon T { 09.25.08 at 6:53 am }

The small but vocal number of whining developers talk as if it is their right to OWN the iPhone platform makes me made. No doubt if they could, they would remove the Apple apps and only make available their 22 versions each of $5.99 apps for mail, photos etc. It is a rude shock to some of them no doubt, but as they say, they’ll get over it, and move on to providing genuine added value and if not, go back to developing for Windows Mobile, or help create pandemonium on Androids.

A storm in a teacup, or rather, in an iPhone.

4 jody { 09.25.08 at 7:00 am }

“NetShare exposed Apple to liability for enabling users to violate their service contract with AT&T.”

Of course the problem is that Apple banned the application globally. Who says that ALL operators have the same terms of service as AT&T.

So the rest of the world suffers because of the backward US market.

5 Joel { 09.25.08 at 7:13 am }

In the UK, explicitly not being allowed to use a mobile phone as a modem is very standard. Although, If you pay an extra fee this allowed.

6 Nobody Panic: Danny D. Says Everything’s Just Fine { 09.25.08 at 7:53 am }

[...] The Steaming Pile of S— [...]

7 dallasmay { 09.25.08 at 8:20 am }

Dan,

You forgot one thing that I think is very important. You can still Jail Break your iPhone. In fact, it is now easier than ever to Jail Break an iPhone. Then, you can do all sorts of things with it. You can instal apps that run in the background, tether it to your computer via wifi, Change colors and icons, add a new browser, or even instal a Terminal client if you want. Apple has obviously worked very hard to keep from breaking Jail Broken phones -actually I think it is Apple that is probably behind the Jail Break team. This is a win-win for them. While the usefulness of the phone is dramatically improved, if the phone breaks down or runs slow Apple doesn’t get the blame because it was you who voided your warrantee risking Jail Breaking it.

Check out: http://www.macgeekblog.com/blog/archive/category/iphone

8 rosko { 09.25.08 at 8:37 am }

I agree with the sentiment expressed in this article in that there is a lot of whining going on, and the vast majority of Apps are having no problem.

I agree with why some Apps were rejected:

MailWrangler – it’s flawed, never mind the duplicate functionality
NetShare – tethering (although why Apple approved it in the first place confuses me – I reckon someone was fired over that)
I Am Rich – retarted
Fart – cheapening

But Podcaster I don’t understand. It’s not that I want to use it (because I really don’t), I just don’t see how “it provides duplicate functionality” is a valid excuse when there is already precedent of allowing other Stock apps, Weather apps, calculator apps, note apps, etc. that all “duplicate” the functionality of Apple’s pre-installed apps.

I mean surely it would be madness if Apple barred Thunderbird on OS X because it duplicated the functionality of Mail.

Dan, you analyse it by saying “Podcaster creates confusion by allowing two independent sets of podcasts to be downloaded and fall out of sync with each other. This would make the iPhone look stupid and the blame would go to Apple.” I’m not sure I agree with that – people who choose to purchase/download Podcaster would know what it is and what it does and what to expect – they’re not stupid.

I can totally see why Apple would object to some Apps which duplicate functionality being PRE-INSTALLED on the iPhone ( imagine if carriers pre-installed all the self-branded crap they do on Windows Mobile handsets, that would certainly suck big time), but when it comes down to user choice, and user purchases, I don’t believe it’s a good enough reason.

9 Berend Schotanus { 09.25.08 at 8:41 am }

I do believe the App Store concept is extremely strong and appealing. I do believe the App Store will help Apple to extend market share and market power.

But with power comes responsibility and accountability. So Apple increasingly will be forced to explain their decisions about admission to the App Store as well. There is nothing to be mourned about that, the discussion is a sign of strength and I hope it will last.

10 jasongullickson { 09.25.08 at 9:12 am }

I’m an iPhone developer and I agree with this article however I do think that there should be a documented process to “pre-approve” an app before the development investment is made.

Of course this would require that a detailed design/specification be provided for evaluation but all good developers create this before they write any code anyway, right? :)

11 Janus { 09.25.08 at 10:15 am }

The argument is sound, but I don’t think rationality matters in the market economy much. Rational or not, justified or not, developers will feel “a chilling effect” on their development efforts, and the iPhone will be worse off for it.

12 JohnWatkins { 09.25.08 at 10:27 am }

Really interesting article, Dan. Thanks.
Its made me rethink my initial negative reaction to Apple’s actions in this area. The historical perspective is also really illuminating. Although the situation is not at clear cut and simple as it might seem from either Apple’s or the developer’s viewpoint, your explanation lays it out well. Hopefully Apple will continue to clarify the guidelines and their interpretation so developers can make informed decisions about where to concentrate their efforts effectively.

13 Jeff C. { 09.25.08 at 10:27 am }

Daniel –

This is a nice long article, but even after all that it continues to ignore the actual problem. Why can’t Apple review/reject applications before they are created? Obviosuly, there would have to be a final technical review at the end, but surely they could have rejected most of these programs based on their description alone.

The current method all but guarantees that we will NEVER see any more apps that take more than a week and a couple of bucks to write. (Well, games, probably. But that’s about it.)

Forgive me if I read too quickly, but I don’t remember seeing that issue addressed at all. I see it as the one actual problem here, which makes the length of your article a bit confusing. You’re arguing against the dense and stupid arguments and, sure, that’s fun, but you’re ignoring the one issue that actually IS hurting the iPhone.

14 OlivierL { 09.25.08 at 10:38 am }

Answer to Rosko :
“I’m not sure I agree with that – people who choose to purchase/download Podcaster would know what it is and what it does and what to expect – they’re not stupid.”

They are. And you might realize the problems AFTER you have bought PodCatcher. I was using a standalone RSS client at home and GoogleReader at other places. Well, read/unread status was not synchronized and this flaw became really apparent only after a few days. The same could (and did : check a previous entry by DED) happend with PodCatcher.

Second answer :
“there is already precedent of allowing other Stock apps, Weather apps, calculator apps, note apps, etc. that all “duplicate” the functionality of Apple’s pre-installed apps.”
DED already addressed this. First, duplicating iTunes is strictly and explicitly forbidden and PodCatcher is. Second, iTunes is part of Apple business and platform model while Stocks, Weather, Notes are just convenience tools. Apple doesn’t car where your stock tickers are from but all your media should be synchronized with iTunes.

And Podcatcher is also a “bandwith hog”, downloding in background podcasts you might no listen to until you sync with iTunes the next time. Live listening is OK . Syncing is not. Especially when Podcatcher explicitly states “get rid of iTunes”.

15 Realtosh { 09.25.08 at 11:15 am }

Bravo. Bravo.

This will be one of the classical articles that will be referenced back to for some time.

Whoever has the balls makes the rules. Apple invested much in resources to create the iPhone and the OSX platform. Apple has invited others to their party to play in their game.

Apple gets to set the rules. Any of us may disagree with Apple about any one decision, but in general Apple’s calls have been fairly consistent. As long as Apple maintains consistency in their approvals, developers will quickly get a sense of what applications will be accepted or not.

Podcaster has caused the most controversy because it adds the most unique additional functionality. Podcaster will not work for multiple reasons. First it’s a bandwidth hog, which just does not work for cellular networks no matter how you want to slice it. Secondly, it competes with and interferes with Apple’s iTunes media distribution, which is central to the entire iTunes/iPod/iPhone platform. Apple will not accept applications that will challenge it’s own platform.

I might have approved the farting iPhone app. But the platform will not live or die based on the rejection of a silly joke app.

I would encourage Apple to be as accepting as possible within the realm of what is prudent for their platform’s success.

I don’t think most developers will ignore the iPhone OSX platform to spite their face. As long as Apple’s platform is successful, the developers will come running; continually investing resources in hopes of making a profit. Everything is is sour grapes from folks who don’t have the balls. Remember Apple invested its’ resources and creativity to make the iPhone and the OS X platform. Everyone wants to play with Apple’s balls, and they want to set the rules. Sorry. The balls belong to Apple, and Apple will set the rules for the game.

16 GwMac { 09.25.08 at 11:24 am }

Whether you think Apple is being capricious and draconian or are fully justified like Dan, one thing I think most of us can all agree upon is that their approval system could be improved. I am not a coder, but if I had spent weeks or months working on an iApp only to have it summarily rejected for what I considered to be arbitrary reasons I would be pissed too. Why not have a system in place where developers could describe their concept before they waste countless hours writing the program? It seems to me that Apple is rejecting programs based on the concept/features of the programs as opposed to buggy code. Surely this would be a good compromise and reduce the bad publicity as well as assuage the developer community. They should also provide more detailed and speedier feedback on why an application was rejected.

I have not seen any study, but I am guessing that the vast majority of iPhone owners will only ever download and install a relatively small number of applications of say less than 10. I would also wager that most people are not even aware of this debate. It is only the geeks like us that even read or discuss such issues and we are a small minority of the general populace. Having said that, once there are a few must have killer apps that require jailbreaking your iPhone, I think the floodgates will be open. I am not sure if Apple is purposefully trying to continue allowing jailbreaking or not. I am also curious if they really want to close down OSX86 and the hackintosh community. Surely they could do more than they are currently doing to hinder these efforts. So I am hopeful that by allowing jailbreaking and OSX86 to continue to exist under their legal radar that they are grudgingly condoning and acknowledging the necessity of these communities. After all to jailbreak an iPhone you still have to buy an iPhone. And maybe they figure that once people try out OS X on a PC they will buy a Mac for their next computer.

I only hope that all these spurned developers will at least offer a jailbreak version as opposed to completely abandoning the platform and moving on to Android or some other OS. What made personal computers big, wasn’t the manufacturer choosing which apps were ok, and which were not, but the fact that everybody could run anything they wanted. Cell Phones are becoming more and more like computers and are certainly already more powerful than computers from only a few years back. I hope Apple is on the right path, but until their exclusivity clause is up with AT&T, Android will have a few years to make some serious headway.

17 GwMac { 09.25.08 at 11:29 am }

Forgot to add that I also think they need an appeals process. Also, if it is a minor issue easily corrected, developers shouldn’t have to start at the back of the line. Once they meet Apple’s terms and modify the code they should be able to quickly gain access to the app store without reapplying all over again.

18 stefn { 09.25.08 at 11:32 am }

Good on you, Daniel.

So 1 developer loses out; maybe 1,000 flourish. That sounds like win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win, win … you get the idea.

But by all means let’s stick knives in the golden goose that’s initiating, implementing, and supporting all those wins.

19 gowmukhi { 09.25.08 at 11:33 am }

Most of the points are being already debated by previous commentators.
I have few questions though, are you 100% sure on “Apple is negotiating with AT&T to find a way to offer tethering support”? or is just your optimistic guess?

“This would make the iPhone look stupid and the blame would go to Apple.”
There are 100s of apps there which make iPhone look stupid. People are wise enough to abandon an app if it doesnt look good to them.

“Podcaster creates confusion” and so does so many other apps. Do I have to produce a list of them?

20 Orenge { 09.25.08 at 11:39 am }

These issues aren’t simple, but presenting them as having only ONE side (one that’s unreasonably pro-Apple) is as bad as presenting only the other.

I’d love to see more articles on here that examine the anti-Apple position and corrects it to make it ACCURATE without dismissing it too quickly. Of course, that would be alongside the pro-Apple position that this site already does very thoroughly!

21 OlivierL { 09.25.08 at 11:40 am }

From GWMac : “Why not have a system in place where developers could describe their concept before they waste countless hours writing the program?”

1 – Because anyone can write a paper on a “brilliant” idea he just got while banging his head on the toilet while only a “few” can actually successfully implement it. This would overwhelm Apple staff to read those billions of papers.
2 – Because actual software NEVER looks like the original specifications.

22 Silence is Rotten - The Apple Touch { 09.25.08 at 11:46 am }

[...] Dilger argues that Apple’s rejection standards are neither arbitrary nor capricious. Perhaps Mr. Dilger has [...]

23 GwMac { 09.25.08 at 12:01 pm }

@OliverL
Nonsense. Why would someone go through all the trouble to join the developer program, then write out a detailed proposal if they lacked the ability to actually write the code? And I was not saying that this initial concept approval would also be the Final approval. Once they actually wrote the application, it would still need to be approved again, this time using technological/buggy code criteria as opposed to the concept or functionality.

24 daGUY { 09.25.08 at 12:20 pm }

How many banned apps are we actually talking about here? There’s NetShare, Podcaster, MailWrangler, Pull My Finger, and I Am Rich. I’m sure others have been rejected too, but these are the five that are causing the controversy.

Anyway, Apple announced at the beginning of September that there’s over 3,000 apps on the store already, so these five only account for *0.16%* of all the apps for sale. The other 99.84% were either accepted to the store, or rejected for reasons that weren’t at all controversial, otherwise we would have heard about them.

So, this is really a “tempest in a teapot” situation. The rejection of these apps from the store will have no effect on Apple’s bottom line or users’ satisfaction with the platform (aside from some very small niches). I personally would have loved an app like Podcaster, but that alone certainly wouldn’t convince me to to ditch an iPhone for an Android phone or whatever. If *I* don’t care, and I’m somebody who WANTED an app like that, most regular users certainly wouldn’t care either.

25 jerome_from_munich { 09.25.08 at 1:08 pm }

I don’t complain about Apple banning applications from their distribution system. I complain about Apple preventing anyone to install applications unless they go through their distribution system. I don’t mind iTunes, I mind iTunes being exclusive. I mean: I can buy CDs and install them on an iPhone. Why can’t I get application packages and install them on an iPhone?

Just think what it would mean if, for example, Microsoft had the only shop to distribute windows software. Or freeware, even. Wouldn’t that be terrible?

26 John E { 09.25.08 at 1:40 pm }

well, it all boils down to Apple’s “walled garden” business model for the iPhone/Touch/App Store, with Apple rigorously controlling the entry gate for who can sell apps inside it. and products that compete with Apple’s own won’t be allowed in.

but it’s still a beautiful garden and the best marketplace for mobile apps anyone has ever seen. it’s booming. all the established players – in games especially – are now jumping in.

so the implicit message from Apple to both consumers and app developers is very clear: this is the deal, take it or leave it.

yes, it’s business hardball, but i can live with that without whining. and there will be other smartphone app platforms if you do choose to leave, starting when Android really gets its act together next year sometime, and Symbian and Win Mobile follow maybe someday …

also as commented above, if Apple’s limits really bug you, you can always jailbreak your iPhone and set up your own personal iPhone garden and access the “free-range” app market outside of Apple’s walls. it’s more work, but do-able.

that all said, honestly i think it is good for Apple to be held publicly accountable for what it does, even if a lot of it is blog baloney. i don’t think Dan needs to defend Apple as much as he does. let Steve take some lumps, it’s good for you in the long run.

27 iDarbert { 09.25.08 at 1:57 pm }

“This would make the iPhone look stupid and the blame would go to Apple. If this sounds improbable, consider that Paul Thurrott blames Apple’s MobileMe for bugs in Outlook and Exchange Server and limitations in Windows Calendar. It doesn’t matter that this is ridiculous, it still happens.”
You do have a point here, seems I’m not the only one to consider that when judging Apple’s decisions.

28 jwdav { 09.25.08 at 2:13 pm }

You can argue whether or not Apple should have approved Podcaster or not, or even whether Apple should be “allowed” to approve apps at all if you like … however, it’s pretty hard to argue that Apple should have allowed one developer to use an ad hoc distribution system, and not everybody else. The guy signed a developer agreement, submitted an app, had it refused, publicized that refusal, set up ad hoc distribution and then complained publicly when that door was closed.

Hundreds of other developers have submitted thousands of apps and managed to play by the rules – whether the rules are good or bad, they are clearly listed and should be enforced fairly for all developers.

Plus, Apple approved Flycast, which does pretty much the same thing as Podcaster (although streaming, not downloading) so who knows what this is all about anyway.

29 NormM { 09.25.08 at 2:20 pm }

There are currently 3990 iPhone Apps available through the App store (190 pages of Apps, with 21 Apps/page). I haven’t been following the week-by-week increase but it’s increased to this total in just 10 weeks, which makes the average weekly increase about 350 Apps/week. That’s a lot of Apps to review, not counting revised versions of all the existing Apps!

I’ve heard of three or four Apps that have been rejected for unexpected reasons. One of these was Box Office, which was a mistake and it was quickly restored (although it is still sometimes listed among the removed-Apps people complain about). I think this is actually rather impressive performance from Apple in this new endeavor. Still, I expect that Apple sees the PR value in improving communication about why Apps were rejected and will do so.

30 NormM { 09.25.08 at 2:29 pm }

One other comment. We’ve heard that there were 100,000,000 App downloads in the first 60 days. That’s an *average* of about 30,400 downloads per App in the first two months! I would say the incentive to write software for the App store is pretty high!

31 snafu { 09.25.08 at 2:54 pm }

“Apple has effectively limited any competition for Mail, Address Book, iCal, Safari, or the Finder by making those apps good enough that nobody would pay any significant amount for a replacement, outside of some small niche cases. Mac users wouldn’t be better served to have a handful of companies trying to all sell competitive mail apps, because it would really just expend a lot of duplicative effort needlessly.”

Is it needless if it produces better than “good enough” or simply usefully different results? Should Apple actively chase, say, Camino, Omniweb, Firefox or Chrome out of the Mac platform? This seems to me a recipe for stagnation. Several of Apple’s apps are showing signs of cruft and buggy internals, even of poorly thought UI ideas. Having alternatives is a good thing. Plus, if these are niche things, what’s the worry, then?

32 bregalad { 09.25.08 at 3:04 pm }

A few high profile app rejections are just a drop in the bucket and Apple certainly doesn’t want them attracting more than that share of attention. I get that. I also believe that Apple should police their store because it’s best for the platform.

On the other hand Daniel talked about killer apps and how the availability of software that end users find valuable strengthens a platform. Having 3000 novelty items, while nice, does not have the impact of a dozen core applications that really enhance the user experience. One of the greatest strengths of MacOS X is the freeware/shareware market that not only fills in all the blanks that Apple leaves, but provides alternatives to Apple products. For example, does any moderately informed or connected user actually use iChat? Most of the world is on MSN so iChat is virtually useless. I, for one, will not run 3 different chat programs just to keep in touch with people when Adium does it all.

On the iPhone you’re not allowed to compete with Apple or even provide a differentiated product that’s similar to a “key” Apple app. Adium for iPhone would never be approved despite the fact it’s all but essential on the Mac. This weakens the platform because we’re all stuck with lowest common denominator software.

If MailWrangler has serious flaws then they should be fixed, but the app should not have been banned because it provides email functions. The built in Mail application doesn’t even connect to gmail, for crying out loud!

Apple is spending millions of dollars on TV advertising to promote iPhone as a business tool. Rejecting real productivity tools while accepting thousands of novelty items means they’re going to have to spend millions more trying to convince people they’re serious this time.

33 JulesLt { 09.25.08 at 3:19 pm }

I have to say that I disagree – the people complaining here are developers of Mac software that I like, while a lot of the counter-arguments don’t hold water to me (Apple evidently aren’t exhibiting good editorial control, Nintendo-style, over available apps, because there’s a whole lot of crap available).

The end-game of the financial argument is that you end up with a platform where all the developers are just financially motivated, whereas Mac developers were often motivated by more.

If 23 people want to write GMail clients, then why not – in what way will that confuse the user, unless they’re looking for an alternative mail client?? If there’s no benefit over native apps they die.

It’s not a waste of effort, any more than WebKit was a waste of effort when Mozilla’s Gecko existed. Competition if good. Lack of competition for an app breeds stagnation. We use this argument against Microsoft all the time.

I don’t think it will be the death of the platform (there are many closed platforms that work) but I will say that I’m disappointed.

34 Silencio { 09.25.08 at 3:33 pm }

@gowmukhi: Someone wrote an email to steve@apple.com complaining about the lack of iPhone tethering and reported getting a response from Jobs himself along the lines of “We agree, and are working with ATT on this.”

I don’t know how many people just make up the responses they get from emails they sent to Jobs, but I do believe it’s being worked on.

35 OlivierL { 09.25.08 at 4:03 pm }

Remember : the iPhone is NOT A DESKTOP COMPUTER.

A desktop computer is a general purpose device. You want to be able to achieve many tasks and with the maximum of choice and possibility.

A smartphone is a device operating in a constrained environment : size, power, usability. With it, you want to achieve tasks but achieving those is more important than the way you do it.

36 snafu { 09.25.08 at 4:29 pm }

Smartphones want to be desktop computers when they grow up :D. They are the pocketable closest thing to a general purpose device. I don’t see how the format’s technicalities determine anything different here, other than what’s desirable for an app in such environment, which is, first, to make tasks possible at all, and then to make them easy. Some of those rejected apps made certain things possible at all.

37 David Stevenson { 09.25.08 at 5:22 pm }

To point out what should be obvious, Apple allows users to install whatever application on the iPhone they want, bypassing the App Store altogether, and sell the capability for $99. It’s called becoming a developer, and you get the right to download any app to up to 100 iPhones or iPod Touches. Just use the free xcode suite and ask for an xcode version of the app from the developer (I would imagine you could get I Am Rich for $1000, maybe even $700), and away you go.

38 AlanAudio { 09.25.08 at 5:31 pm }

Obviously it’s immensely frustrating to develop an application and then find no market for it if Apple don’t accept it. But how is that different to developing a really great application and finding that a major player launches a similar app just before you do ?

Either way you put in loads of effort and don’t reap the rewards.

Things like that happen all the time in the real world. Ask people in the advertising industry about pitching for a job. You don’t win them all, but the rewards for when you do are enough to make up for the ones you don’t win.

39 Jesse { 09.25.08 at 5:44 pm }

To the guy who’s wrong: the iPhone does support GMail.

If you go in an Apple Store, you will find Apple’s products, but also many others. Lots of hardware and lots of software made by third parties. You will even find some hardware that competes with Apple’s hardware: headsets, stereos, etc. What you won’t find are computers by Dell, PMPs by Sony, or software that competes with iTunes.

The iPhone is an Apple Store. To anyone who takes a second to think about it, it’s obvious what will and won’t be allowed. If you add value, welcome. If you compete with core products, thank you no. Kthxbai.

40 Gwydion { 09.25.08 at 5:45 pm }

Thousand of tip calculators doesn’t confuse users?

I can’t understand how someone can be son blinded defending all the thing a company do.

Actually Daniel is becoming so fanboy that the interesting articles he can write are useless with so much crap

41 John Muir { 09.25.08 at 6:02 pm }

Pissing off Panic, Omni, Delicious Monster, The Iconfactory … won’t kill the App Store, but it’s also just unnecessary. These companies (and others on the tip of my tongue) are good people. Omni WERE right there, developing for NeXT, while the world yawned. Panic kept coding sweet things for the Mac in it’s darkest days. They are just the kind of wildly creative indie blood that Cocoa has unleashed.

Apple are the big daddy here. They can treat these guys badly if they want. But why? What harm does a little extra effort in communication do? Goodwill – as you say – isn’t enough to make a platform. We well know what to expect at Android. But it’s a great thing to have when everything else is on place.

What sounds like whining from the hotheads is just, as Gruber linked the other day: the tip of the iceberg. Fine, compared to Apple that iceberg is an ice cube, but still: it’s the last inch we’re talking about in communication. Not Google’s unfortunate thousand miles in infrastructure.

42 gus2000 { 09.25.08 at 7:39 pm }

Personally, I’m more annoyed by applications that didn’t even make it to rejection, such as a call-recording app that syncs back to iTunes.

43 roz { 09.25.08 at 10:08 pm }

Wow. I could not disagree more with the tone of this article. Not sure where to begin but I would say at the outset that Daniel takes a very ugly stance here, just like he did last year when he was giving all the reasons why the iPhone would remain a closed platform.

http://www.roughlydrafted.com/2007/09/11/six-reasons-why-apple-may-never-open-the-iphone/

He was wrong there and he is wrong now.

First, again there is this sentiment from Daniel’s distorted history lesson that developers are untrustworthy or unneeded. That they backstab or undermine when they get a chance. I don’t agree with this perspective at all. Its a complicated relationship of interdependency, mutual trust and economic incentive. Yes, long time Mac developers brought their apps to Windows in the 90s, they had every reason to do that. Mac were losing their edge technically and were not advancing, they also represented a smaller and smaller market-share which could not be ignored.

But what Daniel ignores is that developers like Adobe, for example, made the Mac. Without desktop publishing and postscript the Mac would have died. Developers also kept the Mac relevant and alive even when Apple’s market-share was dropping and when it made more economic sense to shift all resources to Windows. What kept them with Mac? Mainly, love of the platform, good feelings about the Mac/Apple and vocal customers.

Apple did not lose the OS platform wars of the 90s because developers migrated to Windows. They lost developers because Windows became a much higher volume, lower cost platform. Windows offered a comparatively open opportunity by shipping for many hardware makers. Apple offered a captive market, limited to more expensive Apple hardware. The lesson from that is not don’t trust developers, its make your platform is the best for developers or expect problems.

Microsoft did embrace developers. They also mistreated them and competed with the, and used nasty tactics with them. And yes, Microsoft got rich over the same time that they mistreated developers. But they also alienated the entire industry and were subject to lawsuits which risked breaking up the company. Now their whole franchise is broken and a big factor in that is that people really don’t like their business practices. Is the 90s style nastiness of Microsoft really the model for Apple today?

True developers were not interested in Rhapsody – no big surprise there – it sucked. It would have been a disaster for the Mac and listening to developers got us to OSX and a smooth transition from OS 9, which was good for users. Once the promise of OSX was married with ease of development from Carbon and the respect for the install base with Classic, developers got on board and they have been very energized to support OSX ever since. Apple’s ability to excite developers and carry them thru several technical shifts, in spite of the small audience of Mac users has been a big part of the success of OSX.

Again, as good as iLife and the core apps are OSX would not have the audience it has today if not for Office, the CS suite and the TON of developer apps that fixed big holes, small annoyances and made the platform compelling for a wide range of users, especially the geeks who influence the rest. Look at the benefit from developer apps like Parallels and VMWare. Could Apple make a WIndows emulator with out those companies? Sure it could but it would not be the industry standard that IT people know and love. That is the point of 3rd party developers, they can concentrate on this because their business depends on it.

Now on to this issue of the iPhone platform. First a few basic points: 1) The appstore is not going to be a disaster even if Apple annoys developers. 2) Of course not all apps can be allowed and its up to Apple to decide. 3) Apple has to exercise these editorial powers and not all problem apps can be foreseen. I am rich, and NetShare, both could not be allowed. I am rich was just a nuisance. And Netshare, although a cool app was probably not going to be allowed by ATT and any developer would have known that there was a good chance it was not going to be accepted. I saw no uproar about that.

Podcaster is a different story because it means that Apple is being anti-competitive and that could get them into trouble. I think there is a bigger liability for class action than the liability that any developer app creates. This sort of anti competitive behavior can be illegal and hurts consumers, developers and any reasonable person can see, the platform itself.

Is there an interest in Apple blocking these apps? Yes of course there is. Its not user confusion, that is bogus. Its that Apple likes to run the show and Podcaster and MailWrangler threaten that. Both apps would also benefit from support for background apps which Apple reserves for itself. But any interest that Apple has in not allowing these apps, at least any that I can see, is outweighed by the interest in encouraging development of the platform, even if it means friendly competition between Apple apps and the solutions offered by others. Friendly competition means that even thought Apple runs the show, apps from 3rd party developers, as much as possible have similar standing in terms of what can be done with them. Apple is not allowing that now and it may, maybe I should say will, lead to problems.

You can deny and spin this simple fact as much as you like – it does not change the fact that developers are right to be alarmed by this, because they can see these powers being used on them unfairly. That is a specter that no business would happily tolerate. And the sad truth is that there is simply no reason for this behavior. No podcast app is any real challenge to iTunes. No mail app would harm the built-in app’s standing. Its ridiculous and wrong and that anyone would defend it is bizarre to me.

44 The Mad Hatter { 09.25.08 at 11:57 pm }

This is an issue that isn’t going to go away, I suspect that people are going to be arguing it ten years from now. Me, I’m on both sides of the fence. I can see why Apple isn’t all that overjoyed with the idea of someone selling Porn apps, or competing apps. I also believe in Freedom, as in the freedom to take yourself out of the gene pool if you are stupid enough (think of it as evolution in action).

All that said however there is one major point that needs to be considered:

The App Store is the only successful software source for mobile phones.

Every other effort, for every other phone/mobile OS has failed to sell more than a very few applications. Apple has provided a successful way of selling applications, something which no mobile developer can ignore.

And while I think we’ll still be arguing the issue in ten years, it’s probable that the rules for the App Store will have changed, and that we may be arguing the reverse.

The bottom line is that the popularity of the IPhone means the App Store is selling a lot of apps, the availability of a lot of good apps in the App Store is selling more IPhones. No other company has managed anything like this, warts and all.

And as for those who argue there is a lot of junk in the App Store, remember Sturgeon’s Law – 90% of everything is shit.

45 twally { 09.26.08 at 1:03 am }

Arbitrary does not mean acting without reason; arbitrary means acting on a whim. Developers cannot predict if an app will or will not be rejected because rules like the duplicate functionality clause are selectively applied. Other rules, like those involving taste and Apple’s business interest, are so vague that they must be selectively applied. Apple must clearly state the rules and then enforce them equally otherwise its decisions are arbitrary.

46 lowededwookie { 09.26.08 at 3:17 am }

Can anyone shed some light on how Podcaster downloaded the podcasts?

Did it use just WiFi or did it also do so over 3G/EDGE?

If it was the latter then I’m picking that’s the reason it was denied. Apple’s iTunes Store app REQUIRES WiFi access so as not to tie up the 3G network which is more limited than WiFi so if the app doesn’t discriminate between networks then it violates the SDK clauses.

The complete lack of information about how Podcaster work bar what it does seems like there is far more to this story than what the media distributing some hurt app developer is letting on.

47 lowededwookie { 09.26.08 at 3:23 am }

Another thought concerning Apple having to state the rules this is retarded. A person living by rules is incapable of functioning without being told. This makes him a robot more than it does a human.

The guidelines set by Apple seem to be more of principles than rules so while this does remain open to interpretation it should also get developers to think about the merits of the apps they are developing.

Does Podcaster really conflict with iTunes Store? No not really. Does Podcaster place too much load on a limited network? YES it does. How do I prevent this? Discriminate between networks.

If this is how the developers actually thought then rejection would be less likely. Instead of whinging and moaning about Apple rejecting your app think proactively and think about how your app may be rejected by Apple, then build your app within those principles and you’ll soon be making some money.

It’s not rocket science.

48 trainwrecka { 09.26.08 at 9:54 am }

I read Ryan Block’s article on Engadget prior to seeing this. I was so shocked at how much he was ripping the iPhone App Store approval process without talking about both sides.

I pretty much see it just like you.

SIDE NOTE: I wish people would shut up with the Flashlight app comment. There were a bunch at the opening of the store, but unless I am searching for Flashlight I don’t see them anymore. Plus I have the app on my phone and it works great.

49 w00master { 09.26.08 at 4:44 pm }

@trainwrecka-

You might want to read roz’s comment (#43). It’s a lot more enlightening than anything Daniel has written in the past few weeks.

What Apple has been doing is in their right, but is wrong. It may not affect you now (or the platform), but in the long run it has dire consequences which Daniel and the other apologists continue to say.

50 w00master { 09.26.08 at 7:09 pm }

*edit*

Meant to say:
“What Apple has been doing is in their right, but is wrong. It may not affect you now (or the platform), but in the long run it has dire consequences which Daniel and the other apologists fail to realize.

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