Apple Rejecting Apps Doesn’t Matter
As you've probably heard by now Apple has rejected another application from the App store for duplicating functionality. This time it is a gmail focused application and just like Podcaster the program isn't a copy of the built in stuff, it adds extra functionality.
People are righteously pissed. They want their apps as wide ranging as possible and they don't want to their choice held back by the self-serving whims of Apple. And make no mistake, these are acts of pure self-interest taken by Apple, not some oversight or boneheaded move by some newly hired lackey. To prove this to yourself note that after Podcaster was rejected the publisher came up with a workaround. Apple disabled that workaround so the only reasonable conclusion is that Apple is going out the company's way not only to reject but eradicate applications that might somehow compete with built in apps.
Which isn't what people wanted from the App store. What people wanted out the app store was an assurance that even if the app sucked it wouldn't wreck their phone. The feeling was that with Apple checking out the apps we wouldn't have to worry about the iPhone getting turned into a zombie and users would be protected against the full range of nefarious programs. Anything beyond that, if a program was just useless or whatever, people didn't really care. People, well except for Devo, never asked for freedom from choice.
Think for a moment about the number of e-mail clients in existence. How many are there? A jillion. But how any decent ones are there? Maybe a dozen. Somehow consumers managed to find e-mail solutions out of the jillion being offered. The lesson is clear, if it is so important to Apple to control how people get their mail and Podcasts on an iPhone then build a better app and win users the competitive way, don't block others from providing a slightly different alternative.
To top of all of the other behavior off, and to once again prove that this is a conscious move by Apple, Apple is now putting developers under NDAs (Non disclosure Agreements). That is nothing new right? NDAs have long been part of the deal as anyone who has ever developed for Apple (or been in on the pre releases of OS X versions) knows. If you had early versions of Leopard you couldn't talk about Leopard. Now Apple has extended the NDA to cover why the app was rejected. The developer will know why an app got rejected but the public won't. That is the move of a company scared of legit competition and ashamed of its motives
For people who constantly defend Apple as some good-natured alternative to Microsoft this is a rough stretch coming up. For those who see Apple as just another corporation that makes some cool stuff none of this is news. Unsurprising corporate governance or the last good company turning to evil, either way it isn't important because Apple stance banning legitimate applications from the App store just doesn't matter.
Doesn't matter? Can that possibly be right? Instinctively we want this to be a big deal. We want to see Apple punished somehow for this transgression of customer and developer trust. At this point, it is tempting to play the Mac card and talk about how Apple doesn't understand the power of applications. Here is the short version of what happened for those who don't remember: the Mac came out and flopped. Apple was building 110,000 Macs a month but the Mac was selling like McCain buttons at an Obama rally. Then something happened. Aldus Pagemaker came out and people went nuts. Hardware wasn't selling the computer, third party software was! What sense does it make for Apple to potentially reject some random third party software that could make the iPhone a must have gadget?
Since iPhoners can only get their apps from the App Store the answer is obvious. Apple doesn't have to worry about missing some great third party app because only Apple sells them. Apple will be the first to know if some clever developer comes up with a program that makes the iPhone a must have bit of equipment instead of a high end cell phone. Whether Apple rejects the must have app and quickly rushes an Apple branded version out or allows the developer to publish it we'll never know.
Another popular objection is that Apple is chasing developers away. This argument centers around the notion that Apple's hazy rules about what makes it into the App Store strongly disincentivizes developers from creating new apps. Why, so the argument goes, bother writing an app if you can't be sure it will show up? Think of the wasted time and effort.
A nice sentiment but the reality is quite different. Sure, there will be principled developers who eschew the chance at big dough just to make a point but most individuals and businesses are more pragmatic. They'll happily write three apps and get two rejected for a shot at the big dough. And the big dough is out there, this is like the golden days of shareware when you can go from rags to riches with a bit of clever programming and a touch of luck.
The final reason rejecting apps just doesn't matter is because consumers aren't going to do anything about it (as mentioned earlier, thanks to the NDA they extension they won't even know). Most people aren't interested in this stuff, they don't care about what is in the iPhone store as long as there is enough to keep them going. They won't notice a missing app until some other phone can do something the iPhone can't. Apple won't let that happen. Even for those who are supremely irritated by the entire situation won't really be able to do much about it because they are locked into a contract with AT&T. Add it all up and in this case Apple gets away with it.
If there is one bright side to the whole fiasco it is that it finally answers a long running question: Would the tech world be a kinder and gentler place if Apple were king and Microsoft limped along with a few percent of the market? You have your answer.