In Defense of Apple's Stringent Developer Policies

Clamping down on coders may be best for users in the end

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Apple ignited a debate last week when it tightened the rules governing how applications can be coded for its iPhone operating system, which runs on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Apple insists applications be "originally written" in certain programming languages, rather than converted from unsupported code. It was assumed to be part of Apple's ongoing war with Adobe, which on Monday released a long-anticipated tool to save its Apple-denied Flash files as iPhone applications. (Adobe may now be preparing to sue Apple.) Initially, the change sparked complaints, but now some are coming to Apple's defense, arguing that the move is good for users and is a natural extension of the philosophy that has made Apple such a huge success.

Blogger Greg Slepak allegedly e-mailed his complaints about the change to Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who has been known to respond to personal e-mails. In the alleged exchange, Jobs referred Slepak to another tech blogger, saying "We think John Gruber’s post is very insightful and not negative." Gruber had written that allowing cross-platform converters would make it harder for Apple to rein in users because "there’s no lock-in advantage."

Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Jean-Louis Gassée weighed in, arguing that allowing cross-platform conversion would encourage developers to avoid taking advantage of the unique features of Apple's platform:

Cross-platform tools dangle the old “write once, run everywhere” promise. But, by being cross-platform, they don’t use, they erase “uncommon” features. To Apple, this is anathema as it wants apps developers to use, to promote its differentiation. It’s that simple. Losing differentiation is death by low margins. It’s that simple. It’s business. Apple is right to keep control of its platform’s future.

Law school graduate and current fellow at the Department of Justice Ian Samuel argued that the change is an extension of Apple's long-held, users-first philosophy:

The Apple model is now, and always has been, to provide the best experience for end users of hardware, and to charge a premium for it. Remember, Apple didn’t create “MacOS”; they created the Mac and wrote the software needed to power it (much of which was baked into hardware as ROM). “iPhone OS” wasn’t cooked up in the abstract as an OS, the way Android was; it was created to be the OS that ran the iPhone. iPhone OS and MacOS are bespoke; Android and MS-DOS and Windows are off-the-rack. So is Flash.

Developers can complain, Gruber writes, but those concerns don't matter much:

I’m not saying you have to like this. I’m not arguing that it’s anything other than ruthless competitiveness. I’m not arguing (up to this point) that it benefits anyone other than Apple itself. I’m just arguing that it makes sense from Apple’s perspective — and it was Apple’s decision to make.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.