Stop the Noiz

iPhone Developers Have No Reason to Complain

Frank Fox - 2008.09.25 - Tip Jar

Apple is a control freak company. It is ruining the iPhone for developers! Everything it does is so unfair.

First, Apple didn't want developers. Under pressure, it was forced to released a software developer kit (SDK). Not satisfied, Apple hand-picked who was allows to publish applications for the iPhone. Apple silenced all of the developers behind a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) that prevented developers from working together or leaking news to the press.

Since Apple has launched its App store, it is still being a bully and removing whatever software it doesn't like from the App store.

Apple is a big bully who will take its ball home and not play if things don't go its way.

While I can't say that any of the above isn't true, matters of fairness and who is a bully is mostly opinion when we're talking about business. Apple, the iPhone, most developers, and the App store are all about business.

Let's look at the business aspects for a second and drop the name-calling.

Apple worked hard to get the details of the iPhone just right, its employees pulled long hours, and it showed. One thing Apple didn't have during initial development was the time or money to build tools for outside developers. Whether Apple originally planned on having outside developers later, I can't say.

The iPhone came out, and it took off. Apple, with no marketing effort or beta software or empty promises, had developers coming to them clamoring for access.

Now if this were the Linux community, they would have released a beta version SDK and asked the community to help them fix it - and then came up with goofy release names like Humped-up Heron.

If it had been Microsoft, it would have bragged about all its future plans and half-baked ideas, most of which would eventually get dropped as Microsoft rushed its product out the door.

But this was Apple; it doesn't tell its competition what it is planning. No obvious preparation was made to entice developers, and Apple sent no request for their help. Let them and everyone else be surprised.

Some developers didn't wait for an SDK; jailbreaking of the iPhone began as soon as the iPhone was released. Apple didn't have to do anything to bring developers to the platform.

In fact, the cat and mouse game gets developers more committed to the iPhone each time Apple breaks the jailbreak. It would be awesome if this had been the plan all along, but I don't think even an evil clone made from both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates could be that sneaky.

Apple got lucky in that people could see the potential for themselves.

So these developers, which Apple said it never even wanted, have all sorts of plans for the iPhone. Apple decides to let some of them in, but that doesn't mean Apple are giving up on controlling what the iPhone can do. Developers can also leave the iPhone and move to Nokia, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, or Palm, but for now the iPhone is more interesting.

Apple selected 4,000 developers through an unknown process, and those left out are unhappy. Let's give Apple a break on this: 4,000 developers is a pretty big number to deal with. Apple is going to have to deal with all these developers for two reasons:

  1. Apple is still in control of the iPhone
  2. Apple is running a store for these developers to sell their software.

That's right; Apple is spending its own time and money making a store for all iPhone developers to use. This one is both crazy and genius - it can only be Steve Jobs at his best. The iPhone App Store is based on the already successful iTunes Store. Apple will give the lion's share of the income (70%) to the developers and keep enough for expenses, overhead, and a small profit.

All they are asking is for a little control.

The first level of control is the NDA. This is so common in business that everyone signs up no questions asked. Second, Apple selected what software would be available opening day. Third, Apple has the right to pull software at any time for any reason. It's Apple's store, and if they don't like a product, they don't have to stock it. (This was announced in October 2007. Why is everyone acting surprised that Apple has rejected some applications?) fourth, if some software causes serious trouble, Apple can wipe it off all iPhones.

Those are some tough restrictions, but I think Apple was up front about the first three. The last one came out to the public on its own. To me it is the scariest level of control. On one hand, Apple is worried (or maybe the networks owners are worried) that some future software could be a big threat. On the other hand, it is control that could be abused. We can only hope that both of these fears never come true.

Apple so far has designed, marketed, and sold the iPhone. Apple has built the developer tools and given them out for free. (Free is a darn good deal. Sony charges developers for the PS3 $10,250 for the developer package. That's the reduced price after cutting the fees in half.) Apple designed and opened the App Store. In return they are asking to maintain control of the iPhone. The developers get all this work done for them, they get a captive audience to sell their software to, and they get a big share of the profits on the software sold.

As a business venture, I think the developers have a sweet deal. Sure, they can ask for more and complain about the NDA and other restrictions, but in the end they aren't going to leave Apple. Apple gave them a great offer. Yes, there are restrictions, but Apple isn't cheating them out of money.

Business is about making money, right?

Instead, you hear loud complaints about the software that didn't get approved. From the way they talk, you'd think that Apple was a lone wolf treating its developers badly.

Developers must have it much easier on Windows Mobile, right? Wrong! Applications there are limited by what the network owners want. If T-Mobile or Verizon doesn't like your application, you can't install it even if your smartphone supports it.

It looks to me like it's not about Apple playing the big bully. Apple is the negotiator who's getting all these apps cleared for AT&T and other networks.

Apple is also the owner of the App Store. Like any store owner, it gets to decide what products it wants to sell. If it is a problem for the wireless networks, they may not permit your product. If you application is an embarrassment or a rip-off, it gets yanked.

The problem for Apple is that it is the only authorized store for these apps. Since it also provides software to run the iPhone, it does come into conflict with similar products from developers. Apple could choose to permit duplicate service or keep control of the product.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know which Apple will choose. I think that Apple has some simple, if unwritten rules.

  1. Crap software that doesn't work well or causes problem won't be approved or will be pulled.
  2. No software that affects the networks business plans (e.g., VOIP).
  3. No software that will embarrass Apple: fart jokes, do nothing apps, etc.
  4. Don't mess with current iPhone functions: web browsing, synching, maps, etc.

Apple likes developers to follows these rules with no questions asked.

The developers are adding tremendous value to the iPhone, but are they getting fair compensation for their software? It was hard to find references to developer compensation. I find this little rumor on how Microsoft treats its indie game developers for the Xbox 360.

Microsoft started by giving a 70% royalty, and when it suited them they dropped the royalty to 35%. The indie game developer can like it or leave for better pay with Sony or Nintendo.

When Apple starts lowering the percentage paid to iPhone developers, then we can say that Apple has become like Microsoft. for now, Apple is a shining light of fair play for developers when it comes to payment.

Let's wrap it up.

  1. Apple has a killer device that is selling in the millions.
  2. Apple worked the deals to get network owners to allow this device to operate with a lot of freedom, but not total anarchy.
  3. Apple developed the SDK and gave it away for free.
  4. Apple built the best web-based store to sell apps through.
  5. Apple pays a fair rate - above the competition in some cases.
  6. The App Store is a huge success, and growth potential for developers is enormous.

All of these benefits are provided to developers - and they want to complain about the NDA or a few apps getting pulled or rejected.

Developers, please send someone from your company to business school so you understand what a great deal you have!

To be honest, not everyone has struck it rich.

All I can say is that I wish I had some software skills to put to work writing a new game for the App Store. LEM

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