Last night I started down a train of thought that I wish I hadn’t. I started thinking about what the world would be like if Apple had been the dominant player, and Microsoft had faded away into semi-obscurity, if Linus hadn’t created Linux. What if the app store had come about years ago, and had become the primary method of reaching any significant number of users, with what other blogs are saying existing in their developer agreement.
What that future looked like was something that frightened and disgusted me in many ways. First and foremost, scripting languages, like Ruby, Python, Perl, and PHP would have been mostly prohibited on significant platforms, and thereby would have been relegated to mostly research oriented platforms. IE, no serious development of those languages would have taken place. Java would have been killed almost before it began, resulting in a much weaker web environment, as well as eliminating much of the boom that accompanied the web development land rush. Some very innovative companies would have had a much harder time achieving scale without the efforts of OSI around them, many of them would likely have never come to full bloom. Companies like Google and Amazon would have had to first develop their own operating systems free of Apple patent infringement, and free of the app store.
Much of the above is an argument for no software patents, which I generally agree with, but I think that isn’t where we should focus our attention. The main issue is that basically the fundamental structure that we all take for granted came about because there was always a viable alternative, that was open, and that the distribution of software was never limited or conflicted. Microsoft may have been many things, most of them negative, but one thing it got right was realizing that an open and free developer community is critical to the growth and improvement of the art. It will sometimes cause issues, and produce hideous products, but it is not the responsibility of platform companies to protect users from developers. Rather it is to assist in the developer-consumer conversation, especially as regards features and capabilities of the solutions being developed for them.
I actually hate Flash, I think it is outmoded and needs to go away, that being said, I can, and should be able to choose to develop solutions for my customers in whatever language or framework meets their needs. That choice needs to be made by the developer and the consumer of what that developer produces.
Apple has every right in the world to prevent developers and consumers from doing whatever Apple decides is wrong on their platform. That is their choice. Apple’s scale and access to customers, however is forcing am uncomfortable choice on their developer base. It is a choice that will itself go away if developers don’t do something about it now. It is the choice to either develop the way Apple wants, the solutions that Apple wants for it’s customers to have, or get off the platform and develop somewhere else. If developers don’t nurture alternative platforms, that ultimatum will become, either develop the apple way or don’t develop.
For those who think this is far fetched, Apple is poised to pass Microsoft in market cap, and probably has one of the strongest brands in history right now. They are almost the only game in mobile, with Android and Blackberry chasing, Palm, obliterated, and Microsoft marginalized. Mobile is every bit as important as desktop, in some ways more so.
My application, Mides, is actually being caught as collateral damage in this apparent developer agreement mess. It was my hope to create an environment in which developers could create and and test their web products using the scripting environment of their choice, be it ruby, php, or python. Apple had prohibited this sort of thing, by my interpretation, basically from jump, deciding that it was a feature that users of it’s products would never be able to have. That may have been an inadvertent choice, but it speaks to the types of use cases they have in mind for their devices, any uses that someone can come up with, even if there is a market for it, are prohibited. The end user volume that Apple has seems to say hay the end user likes this model, however I would argue that they don’t know what they are missing yet.
What does this amount to for me? Well, I am not going to make any overarching claims about developing for the Mac/iPhone platform, and I am not going to claim that I am going to stop using Apple products, they really are amazing products, but what I am going to do is vote with the only two voices I have, my money and my development efforts. I don’t like the way this app store pattern is going. I want a future where kids have access to modify and do crazy things with the devices and software that they use. I want for them, and for myself, to think differently, and try things that don’t work, or cause problems, because in the end, that is how humans learn. To have someone else decide for me what is safe, or what is cool, or how I should do what I do is the very anthesis of what I believe in. Designing amazing user experiences is one thing, dictating how I interact with the world through my computer and its peripherals, is completely different. I feel that Apple has pushed across the line of consumer advocacy, and has moved into something more sinister.
What I am going to do is to actively develop for other platforms, such as the web, Ubuntu, and Android, even though I am still angry with Google for banning me from their user group for no reason. The rationale behind my decision is that Google doesn’t control Android, anyone can fork it and do what they want. If I want to push out a beta, I can, if I find a bug I can push out a release in the morning and my users can have it in the afternoon. I am back in the loop with the conversation that my customers and I are having without having a disinterested intermediary in between. I will from now on, very carefully think about my consumption of Apple hardware, and their software and services, before buying them.
This line of thought completely knocked my Apple fanboy hat off, if Apple cares, and I hope they do, they will work to re-establish that childlike sense of wonder in me that I am developing for the best platform in the world, if not, it’s not a big deal, if I am alone in the way I feel, Apple has millions of developers and consumers, they don’t have to care about one, but I’m betting that I am not alone, and throwing all of our weight around is going to be a big deal to them. Apps make and break a platform, and by capriciously throwing away the developers of those apps, Apple is making a huge mistake.