This is first of many articles where I will examine Apple and their wildly successful AppStore. This examination is driven by my growing concern with Apple's business practices. Especially, in the creation of a closed applications development environment absent the freedoms we take for granted in most other platforms. In what I've begun to call the "Cult of cool," Apple has successfully lured millions of consumers to buy iTouchs, iPhones, and iPads. In doing so, they've built an attractive market for application developers.
Following on the success of the iPod, these devices featured stunning designs, smooth corners, elegant lines, and best of all, touch responsive screens. Just like the iPod, they also offered what Tim O'Reilly described as a platform that spanned multiple tiers. However, this time, the devices eliminated the middleman (the PC) and used either Wifi or 3G to directly access the new Apple AppStore.
For developers, Apple offered the lure of an obsessed customer base that quickly climbed into the millions. To pursue this new platform, Apple provided a software development kit (SDK), that made the process of building applications relatively simple. In conjunction with a generous share of royalties, these new devices lit the fuse on a decades long promise of the emergence of mobile computing platform.
For many, this combination of a passionate customer base and a capable SDK seemed perfect. For users of the devices, they were cool and fun, in short, the ultimate gadget. In addition, they could access an application store in the clouds that quickly filled with enjoyable, useful, and entertaining applications. However, for developers it meant agreeing to a closed, tightly controlled application approval process.
Most users of the Apple AppStore either didn't know about the restrictions enforced on the applications available in that store. They also probably didn't know about the restrictions associated with what applications could be run on their shiny new gadgets.
I've been a proponent of open source for many years, and learned a lot from my peers about why the freedom to choose what software we use on our computers is an important choice; a choice worth preserving. I do have to confess that I nearly bought an iPad; the lure of the "Cult of Cool" was strong. However, once I learned about the strict terms of the iPhone (iPad) SDK Agreement I knew that I couldn't give up the freedoms I had advocated for so long.
In a way, confronting the closed Apple applications development platform has rekindled my old desire to teach people about the importance of free and open source software. It also reminded me of the frustrations involved in advocating a freedom that most people can't understand. It is my hope that this series of articles will spread awareness of the anti-competitive nature of Apple's business practices, and illustrate why they should open the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad applications development environment and restore the user's freedom of choice.