Is Steve Jobs ignoring history, or trying to rewrite it? Closer to the first. Ironically, on the heels of the first mobile revolution, we have a scenario very close to that of the American Revolution.
In taking hegemonic control of his platform, Jobs has made the developer community uneasy and sparked some confrontation. The abuse of the developers has been justified on the premise of consumer demand. But I need not remind you of any more relevant historical development than the following to show you just why this is bad for all of us.
The Navigation Acts
The nation of Apple stakes its claim in the mobile market by establishing one great iTunes App market on America’s shores — or at least those parts serviced by AT&T. Jobs declares that all Apps on this great market must pass muster by the Apple parliament, and further, that all developers are subject to a tariff of at least 100 dollars to place their App on the market. Those Apps which derive from unapproved sources shall be quarantined to at most 100 iPhones and not be purchased on said App market.
Schiller Royal Proclamation of 2008
No App on this great market may enter into the unknown territories of functionality present on existing Apple software, or those territories into which Apple may venture in the future.
Taxation without Representation
Parties which participate in this great App market shall have no representation in the decision of policy made by the nation of Apple. The right to declare or modify said policy is expressly bestowed upon the Corporation and its Board of Directors.
Stamp Act of 2008
The Google Massacre
Coders at the Googleplex talk up a storm about Google Voice. Words are exchanged on the border of CA-Highway 85, and an insult is reported to be shouted at an Apple officer. The nation of Apple opens fire and kills the native Google Voice App. News of the high profile slaughter circulates around the world. The territories mourned.
… ok, so Google eventually found a loophole. But continue…
The Pwnagetool Tea Party
Colonists disguised as Indie developers overflow the buffers of three Apple vessels. Refusing the tax on Apps, the developers assert their freedom to traffick Apps to and fro the Cydia distribution network. The nation of Apple responds by embargoing all 65,536 ports of these iPhones.
Act 3.3.1, known by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts, declares that all verbal transmissions, records, and transactions of the Developers must occur entirely in English and only in business with British partners. Town meetings in the states of Adobe and .NET are expressly prohibited.
On the Precipice
We stand at a very pivotal point in the future development of computing devices, whatever they may become. Open standards only recently gained popular use, such as in the 2004 release of Firefox. Nevertheless, in the past few years we have observed an explosion in the power of companies to develop on this open platform called the Internet. We simply can do more than we could in 2004, and this is in no small part due to the expanding freedom associated with cross-platform, open source, and plain-old better practices.
Apple offers a compelling product, but clamping down the platform has bad economic precedents. Developers are not going to perform as well when they are under constant threat that Apple will ban and steal their idea. In fact, success on the App Store frequently comes with harsh retaliatory consequences from the company. Furthermore, technologies which can (in cases) made App development more expedient are now completely verboten on the platform. It is disingenuous to justify these policies under the guise that these choices are good for the consumer. Consumers are being forced to swallow Apps which are overly rigid and restrictive, or which could be enhanced via a policy which is more friendly to cross-platform and/or open-source development.
That is to say: what is good for Apple is not necessarily good for the consumer, or the developer. And while the above comparison is apt, don’t count on any sort of Revolution. We would have to unify the colonial armies of Google, Adobe, Amazon, and rag-tag coders first — and that’s a task I’m not signing up for.