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Apple’s iPhone App Store is not a flea market for developers

Apple\'s iPhone App Store is not a flea market for developers

Apple is not turning into Microsoft and developers will not all suddenly flock to Android due to the rumblings of a few vocal App Store rejectees.

There’s been a lot of chatter and controversy the past few weeks regarding Apple’s treatment of iPhone app developers, and it’s seemingly been growing louder and louder with each passing day. Everyone who’s making a big fuss needs to get a grip. The situation is getting blown way out of proportion. I’m not quite sure how some members of the media and countless message board whiners base their opinions, but they are failing to look at anything rationally. The iPhone ecosystem is Apple’s world and they set the rules, plain and simple. It’s their product, not a free-for-all platform where developers are able to run wild. And that’s a good thing.

If people really start to think about this objectively and quit complaining about everything for a few minutes, they would probably have a better understanding of why Apple’s doing some of the things they’re doing. Apple is a consumer-centric company and have a reputation for quality, easy-to-use products that pretty much anyone can use. Third-party developers write and sell most iPhone programs, but ultimately Apple is blamed for any poor customer experiences caused by them. They take the hit, while the developers take the cash. In order to protect their brand image with the customer, Apple has to ensure the apps offered on their store for their devices are worthy of inclusion. If none of this policing took place, the App Store would be overrun with malware, scams, and countless clones of the same apps over and over again. The consequences of this kind of “open” environment is exactly what’s going to cause Google’s Android to flop in comparison to the iPhone. It’s great for developers who want to get in on the action, but a disaster for consumers who want a seamless experience. In the end, consumers win over developers.

A good way to look at the situation is by viewing the App Store as if it were any other retail store such as Best Buy or Target. Manufacturers of products don’t just get to show up and set up shop wherever they please like it’s a flea market. These retailers determine what merchandise they want to stock and sell to customers while the rest are simply out of luck. It was never guaranteed that everyone would get to play the game. The product may not be good enough, it may be too similar to something they already offer, or it could be something they’re just not interested in offering to their customers.

Another element that needs to be taken into consideration, specifically in the case of the NetShare tethering application, is that Apple is not always the sole decision-maker in the approval process. Yes, customers pay AT&T (and other carriers in foreign countries) a huge wad of money each month for supposedly unlimited data plans, but the cell phone providers consider tethering to be a separate service. This is true for all phones, not just the iPhone. Whether or not it’s fair to customers is irrelevant. Apple didn’t sell out and they aren’t turning evil — that’s just the price of doing business with partners. Sometimes they have no choice but to go along with AT&T’s requirements, however stingy they may be.

As far as Podcaster using the ad hoc distribution model (which has been shut down by Apple), apparently people have forgotten how to do a little research. From the very beginning Apple made it clear the App Store was the only way to sell applications to customers. The ad hoc distribution feature was labeled as a way for corporations and educational institutions to install their own software on their own network of devices. The developer of Podcaster knew this and the so-called journalists covering the story should have realized it as well. He tried to circumvent the rules after getting rejected from the App Store and got caught for cheating the system. None of this should be a surprise to anyone.

All of this has added up to a bunch of claims that Apple is being anti-competitive and turning the iPhone into a Microsoftian monopoly. Are people really this shortsighted? The entire App Store is filled with third-party applications built by people who are making a killing thanks to Apple. Not only are they offering developers a generous 70% of all revenue, but they’re also giving them a central location to showcase their products to every iPhone and iPod touch owner. In addition, there are a number of alternatives for developers to get into programming for mobile devices, whether it be Windows Mobile, Symbian, Android, etc. None of them have come close to Apple’s success, though, which is why so many developers are attracted to the platform. The choices are out there — if people don’t want to take advantage, that’s up to them.

I’m not saying Apple is completely innocent here, but the point needed to be made that they have completely valid justifications to do most of what they’re doing. I think everyone can agree that Apple needs to improve their quality (and quantity) of communication with developers to keep them in the loop. When an application is rejected, they should be sending out more information than generic “duplicates functionality of…” messages. A detailed analysis of the app’s shortcomings/violations should be provided, as well as suggestions for how the developer can change the app to fit within Apple’s guidelines.

Now many people are going to complain that even with this plan developers would still be spending weeks or months on a project only to be turned down. A lot of people have called for a specific list of things developers are not allowed to do. This is easier said than done. If Apple wrote up a definitive list of do’s and don’ts, they would only be shooting themselves in the foot. It wouldn’t take long for someone to exploit a loophole or oversight to get past Apple’s rules and attempt to sell a questionable product. Imagine the commotion that would take place when these types of apps get rejected, since they were technically not “prohibited.” A fair solution to this issue would be for developers to have the opportunity to speak with someone at Apple or submit a form where they can describe the app they intend to build before they actually put time into it. Apple can ponder the idea and then say yay or nay. This way both parties are spared wasting their time if an idea doesn’t float Apple’s boat.

So why haven’t one or both of these things been implemented? That’s a good question only Apple knows the answer to. My guess is they simply weren’t expecting the massive, unprecedented response from developers and consumers to applications on the iPhone. I can only imagine how many apps get submitted each day, all of which Apple must thoroughly review to determine their eligibility. They just don’t have the resources to handle all of it… yet. Hopefully over time Apple will beef up this particular segment of their company and improve communication with developers. Remember success brings a lot of attention and like the MobileMe fiasco, Apple is still learning when it comes to this new venture. It’s also very early, so take it easy and have some patience before false claims of Apple’s demise get out of hand for the wrong reasons.

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