Apple's Control Issues

Section 3.3.1 of the new iPhone OS 4 preview SDK caused quite a firestorm on the interwebs. It tells developers exactly which tools they may use to develop apps for the app store. Apple must have known it would raise hackles and did it anyway. Now that’s thinking different. To those who say “they can’t do that!”, well, they just did. It’s pretty evil, but Apple has the users and the mindshare. Short of legal action (it’ll be interesting to see how much of this section is enforceable in court) it’s hard to see how Apple can be persuaded to change its mind. And this won’t result in a developer exodus — developers will flock to the iPhone as long as it’s a leading mobile platform.

It’s hard for me to sympathise with Adobe. Flash is a proprietary plugin that really only runs well on Windows. (In fact, most people forget that Flash’s ubiquity is a direct result of Microsoft bundling Flash with every copy of Windows.) Then Adobe got delusions of Flash’s platform-hood and is having trouble adjusting to the fact that one of the real platform vendors (Apple) didn’t like Flash very much, probably because Flash is a dog on OS X. Problem is, you don’t really become a platform by shipping plugins — the JRE browser plugin is a far more mature (and open source!) platform and it’s nowhere as ubiquitous as Sun/Oracle would like.

The other point against Flash is that it’s fundamentally pro-publisher and pro-advertiser and anti-user. Flash makes the user work twice as hard to maintain control over privacy by having its own hard-to-use settings manager and independent cookie store. This is the platform I’m supposed to get passionate about? And the recent iAd unveiling nicely showed how one can do “rich media ads” in HTML5.

All of this said, Apple’s hubris and control freakery will definitely turn off a lot of the tech crowd, many of whom are also early adopters. I’m sure Apple knows this but also knows you can’t sell 85 million units mobile devices by appealing to the tech crowd — and the ones who care about the best user experience will stay with Apple anyway. Apple’s competitors could always show Apple the folly of its ways by, you know, designing a better product that customers will want — the upgrade cycle on phones is a lot shorter than desktops and people aren’t that averse to changing phones if a new one is cheaper and/or offers a better experience.

Speaking for myself, although I like my iPhone, I’d like a bit more flexibility on a tablet, so I’ll wait to see if a good Windows or Android device comes along. But so far neither Google nor Microsoft has produced anything compelling enough. It’s sad to see the future of personal computing being ceded to a company that wants to turn it into a walled garden.