April 09, 2010
Innovation forbidden on the iPhone platform

Why is the web landscape different today than it was in the mid 90s? Is it because desktop computers are way better? Is it because our idea of what makes a good website has changed? No. It's the tools, stupid. You can read Joe Krause's post on building Excite vs building Jot as an example. The tools available in the 90s were expensive and cumbersome. Now, there's intense competition between largely free and very capable web frameworks, and on the server you have Apache and MySQL on commodity hardware to lower the price, which makes completely new services feasible.
This is what makes the web such a dynamic place. If you look around at the trendsetting web startups today, practically none of them use tools that even existed 10 years ago. They've switched to tools that are cheaper, but more importantly, tools that are way more efficient for the development team to use. jQuery and Prototype are improvements over roll your own AJAX frameworks. Small teams are reaping huge productivity benefits from Django and Ruby on Rails. Some have moved on from these, even.

Yesterday Apple turned off this particular engine of creation on the iPhone platform. You won't be allowed to innovate toolwise on the iPhone.
Apart from this being hideous, on openness grounds, it seems profoundly stupid. Nobody is using Flash to piss people off. Flash is used because it's an efficient way to grow rich media applications fast. This is important. Last year I wrote about the world of good it did for the ARToolkit to make the migration to Flash. Making a very useful library available in an efficient creative environment suddenly made this previously stale technology relevant again.

Likewise with Rails and Django. The specific needs of these popular frameworks have led to a revolution in the underlying webframeworks as well. Apache is no longer the sine qua non of the open source web stack.

It is simply not the case anywhere that most of the useful innovation around an open platform comes from the platform owner/sponsor/creator.
The notion that keeping people on inefficient Apple tools will make apps better is plainly ridiculous.
That Apple values corporate control over the value extraction on the iPhone platform over innovative pace is a bad omen for users and developers.

[Update: Jean-Louis Gassée's post on the matter is good, doing a way with the silly "good for users" defense and simply framing it as a questions of owning the momentum. ]

[Update II: Here's the thing: This wouldn't feel half as rotten if those had been the rules from the beginning, it's the shifting ground, the bad stewardship of the market that really takes the cake]

Posted by Claus at April 09, 2010 01:00 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments (post your own)

So, I kinda agree. But then No, I actually don't.

First, I sincerely believe that this isn't a play to crowd out competition; this is a play to control the user experience on the iGeršt. Apple (rightly) believes the major reason for their success to be superior user interface design in apps on their platform. This is a status quo that must be protected in order to keep the competitive lead, attempts to move development away from Xcode and Apple's ui guidelines threaten the current state of things.

So yes, it's about control: Control of experience (and through that, the market) rather than control of competition.

Second, the iGeršt is not the web. Or at least the app ecology we're usually associating with the platform is not the web. This is a shame, absolutely -- but aligning tools and innovation on the iGeršt with that of the web is simply wrong.

If I blame Apple for anything, it is for not making something like PastryKit or AdKit readily available as an alternative to native apps. And of course for not including web apps in the real App Store. Web apps are not even treated as second-rate citizens in the Apple mobile world; they're all but forgotten (when we were actually promised with 1.0 that the web would be the primary platform).

So I don't care much about Cocoa policy changes; I'm just annoyed that we still aren't getting the love I'm craving on the web front. What about a new html5 form tag <input type="camera" .../> implemented and released from day 1 in MobileSafari (would work with multipart forms and simply be a thin wrapper for type="file")? What about a non-quicktime-fullscreen-based and scriptable <audio> tag on the iPhone for audio playback in web apps? What about web apps running in the background on OS 4.0? What about a good JS API for the accelerometer? What about a set of user interface guidelines for html/javascript with a well-documented and well-maintained PastryKit to back it up? What about W3C Widget (see ppk's thoughts on the subject) package and distribution model rather than the half-heartedness of the current package manifests? And what about web apps in the App Store?

Posted by: Steffen Tiedemann Christensen on April 11, 2010 6:11 PM

Firstly, the Apple-centric arguments don't wash with me personally, although I agree that they speak to the "profoundly stupid" part of the post. And I simply don't buy the argument that Apple control leads to superior interface design. To wit: The horribly inconsistent keyboard mappings for apps on OS X. Windows is way better there. In other aspects of interface design the culture is probably better on OS X.

There might be a point for apps that are "app like" e.g. close to existing apps, but just with different purpose - however, the Flash and/or Unity3D options would most likely be for completely different experiences.

Clearly there's a lot of people working on getting these differently focused environments just using XCode (notably OpenFrameworks and 1 or 2 2D game engines) but there's a lot of creativity invested in the environments that won't be put to work in the iPhone. I'm guessing it'll be Apples loss in the end.


Posted by: Classy on April 11, 2010 11:23 PM
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