Is the iPhone becoming a walled garden?

Last week Apple announced its software development kit for the iPhone. The demo and announcement was generally met with enthusiasm, especially with demos of Super Monkey Ball being shown off, interoperability with Microsoft Exchange, and many other examples being shown alongside it to help underline the potential of the platform.

However, with a little hindsight some people are now seeing flaws with the agreements required for the SDK, and the cut that Apple will get from sales. Alexander Wolfe at informationweek.com outlines some of the anger at Apple’s tight control over the SDK. It was expected already that apps would only be available through iTunes. However Apple are also charging $99 for the full documentation for the SDK (a more rudimentary version is available for free), and then 30% of any revenue on applications sold through the iTunes store (however apps can be distributed through it for free if they themselves are free).

This contrasts sharply with the attitude of other mobile platforms. Symbian and Google Android have no such restrictions, and there certainly is no restricted marketplace for Windows Mobile apps. Apple are very much in contrast to the rest of the market on this. There certainly is a lively developer community for Symbian and Windows Mobile, and Android is starting off well. I don’t think it will be a barrier to entry for the bigger developers, but I think it could affect the smaller dev companies or individuals. I’ve seen some fantastic apps on Symbian that might not have existed if the student developer was being charged for the means of getting full access to the OS.

The iPhone as a platform is clearly very well designed with a lot of potential for both creativity and making hard cash, but I do wonder if shunning the true open source software approach may damage its potential for some real cutting edge development.

10 responses to “Is the iPhone becoming a walled garden?”

  1. http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-04/bz_apple_smackdown

    Last paragraph 😉

    Seriously though, it’s one of the main reasons I love Apple products – because they’re NOT open source. Open source is a great experience for geeks, awful for consumers. Believe me, I’ve just spent two days trying to get various feed readers to work on Facebook. With no tech support – and why should there be? They’re built by amateur developers, who probably have better things to do. Which is fine if its a free service like Facebook. NOT fine if it’s a device you paid £300 and you really need it to work. That’s when I want the Apple mantra…’it just works’.

    Plus like FSJ says above…there’s always alternatives. I’m sure *someone* will make an Android phone that doesn’t look like it was designed in Soviet Russia… ;P

  2. http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/16-04/bz_apple_smackdown

    Last paragraph 😉

    Seriously though, it’s one of the main reasons I love Apple products – because they’re NOT open source. Open source is a great experience for geeks, awful for consumers. Believe me, I’ve just spent two days trying to get various feed readers to work on Facebook. With no tech support – and why should there be? They’re built by amateur developers, who probably have better things to do. Which is fine if its a free service like Facebook. NOT fine if it’s a device you paid £300 and you really need it to work. That’s when I want the Apple mantra…’it just works’.

    Plus like FSJ says above…there’s always alternatives. I’m sure *someone* will make an Android phone that doesn’t look like it was designed in Soviet Russia… ;P

  3. I don’t think you’ll find though that Apple’s approach will defend you completely against the amateur developer. For one, you can have an app that passes all the checks, works fine in its first form, that gets broken by a firmware update from Apple. Even if you’ve paid for it, you get no protection, no guarantee that it will work in future. I’ve certainly seen this happen with WordPress plugins and Firefox extensions, something you rely on becoming instantly unusable.

    If it’s open-source and accessible, you can always have a bash at fixing it yourself. Again, I’ve done this successfully (sometimes) with both of those examples. Good luck doing that on the iPhone.

  4. I don’t think you’ll find though that Apple’s approach will defend you completely against the amateur developer. For one, you can have an app that passes all the checks, works fine in its first form, that gets broken by a firmware update from Apple. Even if you’ve paid for it, you get no protection, no guarantee that it will work in future. I’ve certainly seen this happen with WordPress plugins and Firefox extensions, something you rely on becoming instantly unusable.

    If it’s open-source and accessible, you can always have a bash at fixing it yourself. Again, I’ve done this successfully (sometimes) with both of those examples. Good luck doing that on the iPhone.

  5. But I suppose the argument is that if you pay up to become an Apple developer, regardless of how expensive it is, it does mean that your software is ALWAYS guaranteed to work as they are always going to keep you in the loop as to how new bits of the firmware will work.

    It also means Apple can keep a far tighter leesh on the quality of apps released for the Phone, and by extension, the touch. Which is where the mantra Timpig mentions above comes into play.

  6. But I suppose the argument is that if you pay up to become an Apple developer, regardless of how expensive it is, it does mean that your software is ALWAYS guaranteed to work as they are always going to keep you in the loop as to how new bits of the firmware will work.

    It also means Apple can keep a far tighter leesh on the quality of apps released for the Phone, and by extension, the touch. Which is where the mantra Timpig mentions above comes into play.

  7. Keeping the developer in the loop doesn’t mean they’ll develop it to respond. It just isn’t guaranteed to work.

  8. Keeping the developer in the loop doesn’t mean they’ll develop it to respond. It just isn’t guaranteed to work.

  9. So basically, to avoid all consumer disappointment, there’s only one option? Zero third party development.

    (AKA the Old Skool Nintendo approach).

  10. So basically, to avoid all consumer disappointment, there’s only one option? Zero third party development.

    (AKA the Old Skool Nintendo approach).

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