"Whatever can happen at any time can happen today" - Seneca

Turning On the Developer Eco-System

I just laugh at, n-gga wishing it was this hot
Guess they mad at me huh, really pissed off
Better that than pissed on
I’m the Jetsons you the Flintstones
- T.I., That’s All She Wrote

I’m following the live Apple WWDC event, which is packed with new announcements and I am really excited to start using the new OSX Lion, iOS 5 and iCloud. However, what strikes me the most isn’t all the shiny new features Apple have developed, but rather how Apple are announcing features and products that have already been developed by iOS App developers.

Now I am an Apple fan boy through and through. I am also a capitalist by nature. I love to see companies compete. However, I also do believe in some kind of moral fairness. Others might call me a little naive, but I really don’t agree with Apple starting to compete with its very own eco-system of developers. The same people who developed innovative Apps that went on to improve the utility of the iPhone and iPad. The same people who evangelised the iPhone and iPad. By developing and launching these new features and products natively, Apple has effectively damaged the ability of many developers and start-ups to compete.

While I understand there are mass benefits to iPhone and iPad users by having these new features built-in natively, I think Apple could have gone about it in a better way. We have seen many start-ups build their businesses around the App Store, and why shouldn’t they? The App Store market is big enough. I guess I would have liked to see Apple spread some love and at least acquire some talent, creating incentive for innovating around Apple’s eco-system, instead of just giving developers the middle finger. I think many developers will now question whether they can trust Apple going forward. How can their innovations be protected from Apple simply cloning them and launching them as a native feature?

I guess this is just a rant. I doubt we will see any meaningful backlash arising from this? Perhaps a few more start-ups will end up in the deadpool. On a positive note, we might even see more innovation due to Apple solving these problems natively and introducing new constraints. Apple has the reach and the distribution channels locked down, so how can developers not support the App Store? Even if there is a risk Apple might clone their ideas. I think the ultimate strategy is to just focus on cross-platform. It’s definitely going to save the likes of WhatsApp and Kik from being crushed by iMessage.

In many ways this reminds me of the dominance network operators used to have when it came to mobile application distribution, one would essentially have to dance to their tune. Apple’s App Store (and Android Marketplace) liberated application developers from that pain. However, do we need to dance to the tune of the manufacturer now? I hope this won’t be the case going forward.

9 Comments

  1. Chris M · June 6, 2011

    I agree; Apple should rather empower those who are adding huge value to their devices and software. If they keep “stealing” the ideas and building them internally so that the creators are pushed aside, Apple will soon have to rely purely on it’s internal innovation, which will never be as fruitful and the global innovation.

  2. Themba Mbatha · June 6, 2011

    As things stand right now there’s no incentive to innovate on iOS. Elsewhere, there’s always the option of a buyout or licensing. If you’re an app developer, like WhatsApp, today’s announcement of iMessenger is worst case scenario.
    I wonder though; to what extent will this benefit the Android and Windows ecosystem?

  3. simonB · June 7, 2011

    I agree, no point in bringing 3rd party apps to a company that steals idea’s! The amazing thing though is how people walk mindlessly into this trap, even when they know it’s going to happen.

    Another case in point. fring was first to market with video calling. Not only did apple first try to ban fring, they also shortly thereafter introduced facetime.

    Whenever companies get to much power they become evil!

  4. StevenMcD · June 8, 2011

    sadly I do not own any Apple devices apart from my ipod. However, this does remind me of something that happened with the Visual Studio team at Microsoft a few years ago.

    A lot of people were complaining that they had to pay for 3rd party addins like Resharper as code productivity tools and everyone was calling for MS to build something similar into Visual Studio. Microsoft refused to comment on the matter and never included functionality like this.

    If Microsoft had’ve done so they would’ve been accused of being evil and crushing the developers that are supporting them. At the sametime, however, they are still being ridiculed by some sectors for not implementing these features.

    I think Apple are in a similar position in that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. One option would’ve been to buy the IP from the developers but as shown by recent valuations of LinkedIn and Facebook, it appears that we are entering yet another “.com bubble”. I think Apple was trying to avoid paying too much for services that would be cheaper to write themselves.

  5. Jason Adriaan · June 6, 2011

    Is there a clause in Apple’s T&C’s that states that they can screw you over at any point of their choosing I wonder? I mean lots of companies build apps exclusively for their platform and spend tons of cash doing so trying to build a business and then they just sweep in and clone your features native into their system. Very Twitteresque aswell. I dunno I’m a noob here, maybe you can enlighted me.

  6. idale · June 6, 2011

    Hey Tyler, do you have any examples of what Apple has taken from 3rd party apps and placed into iOS 5?

    Also, I can only see the new features in iOS opening up opportunities for 3rd party developers to exploit to their benefit.

  7. Tyler Reed · June 6, 2011

    Hey Dale,

    It’s not features alone but whole Apps
    http://www.apple.com/ios/ios5/features.html

    I agree that new features open up opportunities, but what’s the incentive to innovate on Apple’s platform(s) when there is risk that Apple will just come along and implement your idea natively?

    I would like to see some kind of understanding between Apple and it’s eco-system of developers that allows developers to feel confident in building and innovating on Apple platforms without the fear of being wiped out by Apple tomorrow. Allow the developers to compete amongst themselves and acquire the talent. Although, I’m not saying it’s the best or only solution to this problem.

  8. idale · June 6, 2011

    One I can see clearly is Zinio. The News Stand app is basically a native version of that offering magazines through an Apple channel instead of a 3rd party app.

    The question is, was the Zinio app itself revolutionary? No. The content they were offering was simply made accessible as a result.

    Apple is ultimately a content company (movies, music, etc) and will ultimately offer native alternatives for content delivery regardless of other 3rd parties doing so.

  9. Byron Rode · June 6, 2011

    I can agree and disagree with this; Sure, making native apps might be stepping on the toes of independent developers, but as a developer, I see this in a slightly more positive light; API’s.

    While some may be private, being able to use Native API’s for the additional feature will make 3rd party development that much faster and easier.

    Will be interesting to see how this pan’s out, but I don’t see apps like Camera+ and Instagram losing much, if any, traction due to their feature set.