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Slowly moving towards a dangerous line

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The Apple approval process

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And, if they are using an undocumented API which evidently works and offers great features to the phone owners, just bloody document it then.

My suggestion

Keep the App Store, the reviews of applications and everything that goes with. Offer a safe haven, if you so will, for users so they can only install what Apple approves of. But, for those who want to, give users the option to install whatever software they want, from whatever source they want.

Seeing the popularity of jailbreaking iPhones, and trust me, that interest will not decline, just give people what they ask for - the freedom to install anything to their liking. Because in the long run, if you don't, I think someone else will take that spot.

What do you think?

Do you believe in the free choice of the end user, or that software dictatorship is the only way for Apple (and any other company).

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Posted in Apple/Mac,Developing,iPhone,Technology |

14 Comments

  • Alex says:

    That is a bit of a false dichotomy.

    The “dictatorship” is meant to protect the user and Apple’s image. IF Apple allows custom software install (which, I believe, they SHOULD), they need to REALLY REALLY load it with warnings.

    Keep in mind that the biggest advertiser Apple has for the iPhone is the iPhone’s user base; if a user tries to show off their phone and it has a few background-running apps, some buggy apps, etc., then… well, the experience others will see might suffer. This here doesn’t have so much to do with right or wrong—simply marketing and busness.

    Also, with the phone so directly connected with AT&T’s overly-fragile 3G network in the United States, “rogue” programs could cause quite a bit of difficulty.

    Not to mention that it is probably the phone OS+hardware configuration with the BY FAR largest market share; a “rogue” application (perhaps malware) has potential to cause great problems.

    This is not to say that Apple should hold complete dictatorship—just that they have some real challenges, both business-wise (they are trying to make money, the more the better) and practicality-wise.

    Apple has a big problem with the App Store, in my opinion, but I can at least understand a bit about where they are coming from.

  • Anthony says:

    I agree completely with you Robert.

    I jumped the iPhone band wagon on my birthday last July, and finally jailbroke in late August.

    I can now install what I want, Cyntacts and other apps from the Cydia Store, modify the hosts file to prevent some apps from phoning home and sending some private information sometimes (see the storm8 controversy: sending the telephone number! I can't understand how such apps can go through the AppStore approval process!!!).

    However, this is far from a perfect solution (no 3.1 for me until it can be jailbroken), and requires to take some risks, and furthermore is not accessible to everyone.

    I think that the users should be in control and have the choice of what they install on their iPhone, exactly as you can install whatever you want on your Mac or PC…

    My 2 cents…

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Alex,

    Good comment! I agree that their actions are done in their defense, and it is about possible malfunction and bad repuation as well.

    However, I think they need to do it, in the long run, to meet the competition. And, like you say, if they open up for the possibility, with a few extra warnings for unsacntioned apps, that might be sufficient.

    Anthony,

    Yes, I agree: some of the options offered through jailbreaking really takes the iPhone to the next level.

  • micke says:

    Get an Android Phone. Problem solved.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    micke,

    I'd like to, but currently, in my opinion, Android isn't even close to what the iPhone can offer in terms of good hardware and a fantastic and, most importantly, consistent interface.

  • mdmadph says:

    @Robert

    Either you haven't seen phones like the G2 and the Moto DEXT yet, or you're discounting them. They're both amazing phones, even next to the iPhone. ;)

    And the fact that the user can upgrade the memory and the battery in them make them superior, in my book!

  • Robert Nyman says:

    mdmadph,

    Haven't used them myself. But software-wise, I think Android has a long way to go before it can match the iPhone (trust me, I wish it wasn't so).

  • Noel Green says:

    Great article.

    My company develops iPhone apps and have had some nominal success doing so. The biggest success we had was from a "WAIT WATCH_Rs (misspelled on purpose) style app that was approved, then "pulled" (in essence) because WW contacted Apple and told them we were infringing their copyright. We had a backlash of angry customers who were mad that we had "sold them" an app that we no longer supported. As a few months went by we realized there were some other apps still on the app store that did exactly what our app had done… so, apparently they weren't afraid of being sued, or they hadn't been contacted by WW via Apple. We contacted those app developers and both instances were the case… some had been contacted and were "risking" it, and some hadn't been contacted.

    Given, none of this was Apple's "fault"… they were doing what they were told to do by WW and were incredibly helpful and kind to us through the whole process. The way this all ended? — to make a long story short (too late) — We simply changed the things that were claimed to be infringements and re-released the app.

    Now, however, while none of this was Apple's doing or fault and such, their approval process is just what you said it is… a big, inconsistent hindrance to get cool apps out there.

    We have 4 apps on the store right now. Our original / reworked WW app… a 2nd app which is very similar yet less specific to tracking weight, and a simple little whack-a-mole style game called Monster Mash which is available in a "lite" and "full" version. In addition to these we've also submitted a few apps that have been turned down. One was called "iPregnant" and was a joke app that "scanned" your finger and gave you a 50% accurate analysis of whether or not you are pregnant. It was turned down because it was "useless." The 2nd was called, "iBroke It." Another "joke" app this one looked like the regular iPhone screen but when an icon was clicked one of 3 owner-determined results would occur that made it look like the phone had either, shut down, cracked, or been erased by a magnet. This was turned down because it, "Changed the native operating environment of the iPhone."

    The thing that irked us was that there are PLENTY of apps on the iTunes store that are JUST as "useless" as iPregnant was. And there are PLENTY of apps that "change the native operating environment." The fact, I believe, is OURS just got sent to the wrong person and flagged and rejected.

    Giving the option of "approved" apps and "un-approved" apps is a GREAT idea I think!

    WW failed to see what George Lucas sees. Mr. Lucas (or "Uncle George" as Star Wars fans call him) understands that people making stormtrooper costumes and going out in public and decorating their cars with his copyrighted logos and colors and fonts and characters and everything else doesn't DILUTE the Star Wars brand… it STRENGTHENS it! WW could've easily endorsed our app, and all the other 3rd party weight loss apps… that would've done nothing but increase their membership and strengthen their brand. People wouldn't have left WW (as they claimed was going to happen) but they would've became more loyal because they had a good app in hand!

    Apple is, I'm afraid, in danger of being in the same boat as WW in that while they're doing a great job of making the app store work, they're limiting their exposure to not only developers but potential iPhone users! Offering "approved" and "un-approved" apps (with sufficient warnings of course) would only HELP the iPhone sales and the app store in general!

    Share the wealth… share the code… open the world and we'll all profit!

    Thanks so much for the article.

    Very, very good!

    (Note: to this date WW does not offer any comparable app for the iPhone.)

  • I believe the best thing to do is to encourage the moving of Android. If Android market is growing fast enough and it's content will be equal or even better than App Store, Apple must do something in order to not lose developers.

    The Spotify App really started a good discussion here, since the App Store version was unable to play in the background while the Android version did that out-of-the-box.

    If more developers gave Android a chance, it would also force Nokia, SE and other cell-makers to give us decent Android-based units (no, HTC are not decent, at ALL).

    Apple can do whatever they want right now, and that is the biggest problem.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Noel,

    Thanks for your comment!
    I think you are hitting your head on the nail: Apple is not the one who should decide what’s useful or not, it should be up to the end user (and like you say, the inconsistency here, with all fart apps etc is just ridiculous).

    Something with approved and non-approved apps (like add-ons for Firefox) would probably be the best solution to this.

    Anders,

    I completely agree. Android needs to get much stronger to, as a platform, be as interesting as the iPhone. The thing with Spotify, or any other app you might want to run in the background, all that functionality is already available if you jailbreak your iPhone. Apple should work together with those people, instead of working against them.

  • Jason Green says:

    This is a great article!

    I was extremely amazed with the iPhone (and still am) when it came out primarily due to its incredible hardware. I think Apple has a unique opportunity now being soooo far ahead with the hardware maturity. The App Store's success has been based largely on the fact that they really have had no competition up to this point… competition for users, and for developers like me who want to code for an amazing mobile platform!

    At the same time programming for the iPhone has been painful from the get go. First there was being stuck in registration "limbo" so long I finally created a new profile under a different e-mail which went right through. Then there was the fiasco of trying to change from being registered as an individual to a company (which Apple still never completed the tax forms on). And of course the ongoing struggles with the ridiculous approval process that this article highlights.

    I think in the end Apple's anal retentive tendencies are going to drive many developers, and users, to a more open platform… once the technology is more comparable. Kind of like someone who has a gorgeous house, but keeps plastic on all the furniture and makes you sit on folding chairs: it's just not worth the hassle.

    Personally, the headaches of dealing with the Apple processes makes it very difficult to be motivated to stay up till 3 AM coding a cool app update. I have to somehow forget the fact that all my work may never see the light of day to push through, knowing I still have my "real" job to go to the next day. Of course the coding itself is fun to do, but it definitely makes the excitement harder to muster with each new obstacle/rejection/lamenissity that Apple puts in the way.

    As far as ideas for the App Store, I would love to see even a partially unrestricted area of the store. Maybe check apps for malicious code, but as far as usefulness and UI guidelines, let anything go. I think the truth is that Apple prefers the exclusivity they have always held on to so tightly. Keeping the reigns as tight as they are may eventually lead to less market share, but helps ensure everything with Apple's name nearby is "Apple approved."

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jason,

    Thank you!

    I really appreciate the comment, it's very interesting to hear about it from an app developer perspective!

  • Anonymous says:

    Keep the App Store, the reviews of applications and everything that goes with. Offer a safe haven, if you so will, for users so they can only install what Apple approves of. But, for those who want to, give users the option to install whatever software they want, from whatever source they want.

    There already is such an option…

    It’s called the iPhone SDK.

    Sign up, pay your $99 like everyone else who wants to do their own thing, and build whatever software you want to your heart’s content. Apple’s approval is only required to release to the App Store. If you want to build Apps for you and your friends, you don’t need anything else.

    Too dense to learn to code? Ask the maker of your favorite unapproved app to send you the project file. It practically compiles itself. Too inept even to press the Build button? Ask them to send you an Ad Hoc binary. Drag and drop onto iTunes– presto! Freedom software for anyone. Ad Hoc costs an average of a dollar an App on top of whatever the developer’s cost already is (because they only get 100 per developer license), but that’s a small price for the freedom you claim you want. Freedom from Apple’s tyranny of making sure your app from “whatever source you want” isn’t chock full of spyware or trojans that use your cell phone as a personal calling card. You ever use that phone to call your bank or make a credit card purchase? I’m sure it’s fine– everyone on the internet is who they say they are, and honest, and they aren’t at all interested in your money or those photos of your daughter you took with the camera on your phone.

    Think about it. If you’re not smart enough to write your own apps for a smartphone, you’re definitely not smart enough to be in charge of security for it. Let the nice folks at Apple do it. If you don’t trust them, why are you buying hardware from them to begin with?! (Type hardware malware into Google, if you don’t understand the irony.)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Anonymous,

    Too dense to understand the importance of users’ own choice? How do you think Mac OS X, Linux desktop versions, Android etc have succeeded, despite the lack of complete ridiculous vendor lock-in?

    There’s such a vast difference between being in charge of security and having the choice to choose what, and from where, to install. Your comment is just another poor example of developer narrow-mindedness, where everyone who isn’t a developer aren’t worthy.

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