Apple and iPhone Developers – Caught in a Bad Romance

One of the great philosophers of our time, Lady Gaga, sings about being “caught in a bad romance”, and that’s exactly where iPhone developers find themselves today.

Today, while announcing a batch of nice updates coming in iPhone OS 4, Apple also snuck a nasty change into their Developer Agreement that prohibits the use of certain development toolkits including Flash, Unity 3D, and Appcelerator Titanium.  The developer community is crying foul with a bloody lip over this change, but will heal and probably forget about it again until the next time Apple punches them in the face.  As Ms. Gaga puts it, “I want your love and all your lovers’ revenge”.

It’s time to acknowledge that the Apple/iPhone developer is an abusive relationship.  You’ve probably heard of girls who love some guy, very controlling, that beats her up, but she ‘loves him so much she could never leave him’, and ‘deep down, he really loves me’.  Apple is that guy.  Or perhaps you knew some guy in college who dated some hot girl who was totally psycho?  She’d drag him through the dirt, but she was fun to show off at parties and the fringe benefits were nice.  Yeah, the App Store can keep you warm at night too, but at what cost?

Let’s look at a history of Apple’s psychosis:

  • “Duplicated” Features – VoiceCentral, and MailWrangler were both approved apps for sale in the App Store that Apple arbitrarily removed one fine day because they “duplicated features that the iPhone comes with” and “confused” users.  How hard do you want to work in building and maintaining an app, only to have Apple decide your app is now illegal?
  • Personal Vendettas – Apple regularly screws over developers and users to vindicate their own private feuds.  Google makes Android phones.  They also make iPhone apps, but Apple forced them to make both Latitude and Google Voice as web apps rather than native apps.  The developer is forced to make less powerful apps.  The user gets less powerful apps. It’s also widely suspected that Apple’s ongoing refusal to integrate the hugely popular Adobe Flash plugin into iPhones because of a standing feud between Apple and Adobe.  Apple willfully breaks most video and game sites on the iPhone because they have a grudge.  iPhone owners pay the price.
  • Private APIs – in typical bipolar Apple fashion, they approved tons of apps that used private APIs, then began automatically rejecting apps that use private APIs, and now is beginning to open up use of some private APIs again.  Ever been in a job or relationship where the ground rules change regularly and nobody tells you?  Yeah.  fun stuff.
  • Censorship – Apple has rejected apps for “providing access to vulgar words”“consuming too much bandwidth”, being “offensive”, and even “ridiculing public officials”.  Somehow, Apple has crowned itself some sort of moral authority, and it’s anybody’s guess what they will choose to find immoral.
  • “Sexy” Apps – in the theme of censorship, Apple recently pulled down a bunch of apps with “overt sexual content”, except they left the Playboy, Victoria’s Secret, and Sports Illustrated swimsuit apps up.  Who needs standards when you can have double standards?
  • Objective-C – I hear it’s a very nice language and all, but with numerous, more widely accepted programming languages out there, forcing developers to program in a language only used on Apple’s platforms reeks of an attempt to lock in apps and developers on their platform.

Now to the issue at hand.  Flash, Unity 3D, Appcelerator Titanium, and the numerous other toolkits that Apple effectively banned today have one thing in common – they make it easier to write applications that run on both iPhones and other phones.  Apparently Apple can’t stand the idea of actual competition, and is willing to harm these companies that were following all of their prior rules verbatim. If Apple is truly committed to this course of action, they may well destroy companies that are betting on supporting multiple mobile platforms but don’t have the resources to build separate, native applications for iPhone, Android, Palm, Blackberry, etc.  Nobody saw this coming.  Apple made this compulsive, drastic move that affects hundreds if not thousands of companies that support them in the name of defending Apple’s profit margins.

Committing significant resources to developing for iPhone and iPad is now very much like adopting a pet tiger.  It’s cool and it’s fun, but it’s only a matter of time before Apple mauls you in your sleep.  If you had a girlfriend who you found really attractive, except she made you speak Latin, told you what you could and couldn’t think, changed the ground rules of the relationship on a daily basis, insisted you believe her definition of “sexy”, randomly attacked your friends, and freaked out the moment you thought about going out to dinner with your friends, I’d hope you would get out of that relationship. I hope iPhone developers will see that Apple is just using them for their apps and will turn on them compulsively and without notice.

In the 90’s, technophiles railed against Microsoft for having a semi-closed platform with apps that used undocumented APIs to gain a competitive advantage against their competition, which was any app a user chose to install.  Now, we have a more closed platform that chooses what apps a user can install, rejects apps that compete with its own or attempt to use undocumented APIs, actively opposes a plugin architecture that can spur innovation, prohibits users from installing apps that they want, and developers defend this system because it’s pretty and runs on nice hardware?  Wake up.  It’s time for a break up.

And now, the musical entertainment: