Sunday, March 09, 2008

iPhone SDK - Sweet with a smack of bitterness

When Apple released the iPhone SDK to finally allow 3rd party applications on the iPhone and the iPod Touch, I was immediately excited. Even though Apple claimed that web applications were a great way of developing software for their devices, I did never think so. It may be a feasible way for some simpler types of software, but not being able to leverage the full potential of a "fat client" (even on a device as thin as that ;-)) always struck me as a severe limitation.

However the sun does not shine so brightly after all. The Register's Bill Ray writes about his view on things in "Cometh the hour, cometh the iPhone SDK". I tend to largely agree with him. When I watched the "March 6 event" video I didn't even realize that the $99 fee for the development tools was supposed to be a yearly subscription, but got the impression it was simply the price for a license to use the tools in the SDK. This is still what I understand from the iPhone Developer Program website. But maybe its just hidden somewhere in the fine-print I did not care to look at.

However much more important to me is the fact that the Apple "App Store" will be the one and only way to distribute software to end users. This has huge implications, even though at first glance you might be tempted to follow Apple's portrayal of this being a good thing: a very easy way for software authors to get their stuff deployed to the largest number of customers possible. They underline this will be a free service for free applications. And maybe even the 30% of the price for non-free products is a fair deal, compared with what others claim. Nevertheless this makes each and every software developer - be it a company or an individual - dependent on Apple's good will.

Jobs already made clear that there will be restrictions on what kinds of software will be sold and which will not. Of course he presented examples that most people will tend to agree with: porn, illegal and malicious apps and those compromising your privacy. One might possibly argue that this may lead to a higher quality standard. But think about it a little longer: it also means that Apple takes the role of the "guardian of the public morals". This might even be seen as a good thing, but this also means, that they have full control over the software market. They can easily delay or even reject anything that is not to their liking, i. e. is a competition to their own products.

Think of a company that specializes in iPhone apps and becomes really successful. Maybe at some time in the future Apple decides that 30% of the revenue is not enough and wants to sell a similar product of their own. In a regular kind of software market, the customers still have the choice whether they use the one or the other vendor's products. But with the App Store Apple could just decide that the competing product cannot be sold though their channel any more, effectively killing the other company. Maybe it will need a little tweaking of the terms and conditions, but hey: what are you gonna do if you don't agree with them then? The only thing you can do is leave with your product, which is exactly what you were supposed to do in the first place. Now, that's what I call a monopoly.

I definitely like Apple's products, they are really great. Seeing what people were able to do with the beta-version of the development kit was really impressive. I expect a lot of great new stuff to come out in the near future. From what I see going on here people should consider if shouting "foul" at e. g. Microsoft is always a call in the right direction.

Nevertheless, maybe this is just the beginning of a new round of jail-breaking. In the past you couldn't run non-Apple software, so smart people found ways around that. Now you can have 3rd party software, but only through Apple. I guess someone will work around that, as well...

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