Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is the iPhone App Store good for anything except games?

Let’s look at the issue for app developers trying to make something non-game oriented:

  • If the App needs to do anything interesting in the background, like… oh, I don’t know… alert you to having a new twitter direct message, Apple does not support it.
  • If the App competes with Apple’s iTunes in any way, they won’t let you publish it.
  • If the App includes any kind of media playback functionality (e.g. video), they won’t let you publish it.  South Park ran into this recently.
  • If the App includes interpreted code of any kind (C#, Java, Actionscript), they won’t let you publish it.  Obviously this is Adobe’s beef.
  • If the App competes with AT&T, they won’t let you publish it.

This excludes a lot of interesting apps.  Like Skype, for example.  It would be one of the most useful iPhone apps ever, and yet it has at least three of the problems here.  (Plus the iPhone has no video recording, which in the case of Skype could be pretty handy).

Apple pretty much is putting the iPhone into an even worse position than they put themselves with the Mac in the 80s and early 90s.  At least with the Mac, they failed because they insisted on making the hardware.  This time, they’re going to fail because they insist on telling developers and users what they can and can’t do with the device.  I just don’t see this working out very well in the long run if they refuse to ever budge on these points. 

Granted, the recent Mobile World Conference had mostly disappointing stuff.  WinMo 6.5 looked pretty lame, and the new HTC Magic was ok but not great.  We’re still waiting on Motorola and all of the other companies that supposedly are fully on board with Android to launch some cool handsets with it.  If Apple is unwilling to budge on these, I still believe in the long run – and this might even take 5-10 years – Android or something more open than the iPhone will rise to dominate this market.

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