iPhone Whine #3 — How to *really* fix the App Store
If you follow technology at all and haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve noticed that widespread hatred of the Apple’s iPhone App Store is spreading. There are concerns over the pricing, over the opaque approval process, and the simple fact that on the iPhone itself, you just can’t discover new apps through the App Store Application with any ease. Now developers are leaving iPhone development, often citing Apple as having an unfriendly attitude towards iPhone developers.
This week two messes landed on Apple and the App Store. First, Apple rejected the official Google Voice application and nuked all other existing Google Voice applications already approved from the App Store. Then Apple claimed that Jail-breaking the iPhone is a threat to national security.
That’s right. Alias was all true. A cell phone can destroy the country at will. All secret agents are total hotties.
There are a several of buckets of stupid at work here.
The application approval process is badly broken; nobody aside from Apple and some hardcore fanboys seems to argue that, and others have expounded on it all over the web. Go google.
The application update process is destined to become even more maddening to users, in my opinion. The lag between when a developer tweets “new version submitted to Apple” and when it shows up can be really painful. During the aftermath of the OS 3.0 upgrade it was unbelievably annoying — “All apps are up to date” is the saddest message on my iPhone some days. In the days of the auto-updating software from Google, Firefox, Apple Safari (doh!), etc., the slow pace of update delivery for the iPhone is disappointing to say the least and it will only get worse.
The Google Voice disaster is just that, a disaster. But it might be a useful disaster, since it is waking more people up to the problems inherent in the iPhone ecosystem.
To me, this all stems from Apple’s desire to treat the iPhone like an iPod, where they try control where you buy your music from. That urge dovetails nicely with the wireless carriers’ terror of anyone using their precious data pipes for anything they are not monetizing. The disconnect for the consumer is pretty simple though: applications are not songs, and the iPhone is not a phone.
Digital music is relatively new in society; the iPod/iTunes pair probably introduced more people to digital music than any other platform. So Apple got to set the expectations for how things should work. But listening to music by and large is a pretty passive experience. If I don’t have Pink Floyd on the way to work it is not a huge deal.
Using email is not a passive experience. If email goes away, my life is crushed. So I depend on my iPhone, not for the songs it can play (there are precious few on it anyway), but for the productivity enhancements I can rely on. And when it comes to computers and applications we have twenty years of formed opinions that applications are things I can buy and install with no regard for who made my computer.
Computer? I thought we were talking about a phone?
Point the second. Ask anyone who has had an iPhone for a week or two, and they’ll tell you the same thing: they use it far more as a network computer than as a phone. Playing games, browsing, checking email, managing your calendar; Twitter alone is a primary reason for an iPhone for a lot of people. And look at the trends for iPhone photos on Flickr.
(It is a good thing it is a good computer, because it is a crappy phone. My mother calls it my phone-for-dropping-calls. Again I miss my Moto Q at times, ’cause that was a great phone. And no, I don’t think AT&T is all to blame, my wife’s generic Motorola phone works great.)
On a computer, I am used to buying apps and being left alone to use them. If I can install and run it, good for me. Microsoft doesn’t keep me from installing anything, and linux encourages me to install software written by crazed weasels from Austria, if I can find any. The more you use the iPhone, the more clear it is that is a computer first, phone second. And we expect computers to have open marketplaces for apps. That is the established practice. Imagine if Apple maintained approval over all applications that could be installed on a MacBook? Would they sell any?
There is a simple, simple solution to this problem.
Apple should allow other people to create App Stores.
How fast would an outfit like Handango put a storefront application on the iPhone? Many of the applications available on Cydia don’t require the phone to be Jail-broken to run, they just need the phone to be jail-broken to install Cydia. There would be a huge market for applications which bypassed Apple.
Then Apple could wash their lily-white hands of some of these troubles. Of course, they might lose some revenue. Maybe they’d only get 5% of the income from a third party storefront purchase; I am sure they could monetize it to some degree. It would free them of both the problems they make for themselves, and the responsibility of what others do. Note that I am NOT asking for third party storefronts to be able to install applications that use anything but the approved API; in other words they should be applications that could technically be installed via the Apple storefront, but politically can’t be or won’t be.
Third-party App Stores would make Apple compete for developers, something they haven’t had to do for a while, and they would have to compete on the merits of their store front/app development process. That would be good for everybody, except maybe Apple.
Will they do it? Not until they are losing money to another platform because said platform has apps on it Apple won’t approve, apps that people want. Even then, Apple is more likely to approve applications into the App Store on a case by case basis rather than open up the storefront API.
And by the by, the unbridled-apps-will-kill-the-country argument is utter crap. It might screw up a user’s phone, but the Windows Mobile vets can tell you (when they are not under-the-table drunk blunting the pain of using WM) that phones can be fixed when they are screwed up by applications, and so far none of the WM phones on Verizon’s network have crashed the network. And, what, Apple couldn’t build a Time Machine into iTunes for the phone to unroll installations?
I am counting on Apple to continue to disappoint me in this. So far, they’ve been reliable.