Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: Apple (page 2 of 7)

Who changed the world most, Google or Apple?

A blog post I read earlier by Jesse Brown that’s sophomoric in both premise and conclusion has stuck in my brain, so I may as well write something about it, if for no other reason than so that I can move on to other things. His colleague makes the following assertion:

No company—probably not even Google—and certainly no individual has made as much of a difference or changed the way things work over the past 10 years as Apple has under Jobs.

First, he denies credit to Apple:

Add it all up, and Apple’s biggest impact has been aesthetic. Their products look great and have changed the way lots of other things look. But that’s just it—Apple is all about things. It’s essentially a hardware company, and it’s ill-prepared for a world where objects mean less and information means more. There’s no new God-gadget coming from Cupertino—all Apple can do once it’s done sticking cameras on things and offering them in different colors is to release cheaper iPhones and cheaper iPads, devaluing their gear until the gee-whiz factor is totally gone. This has already happened to the iPod. You probably have a three-old version in a drawer somewhere.

Then, he gives credit to Google:

More than anything, Google has been an accelerator of the greater ambitions of the Internet. Ten years ago, techno-utopians spoke of a future where anyone could be a publisher. Google made random blogs findable and made reader visits bankable. Ten years ago, we heard starry-eyed predictions that any kid could soon have the tools to become a pop star or a filmmaker from their own basement. Now, thanks to Google’s acquisition of YouTube, we take it for granted that this is so. Google preaches “openness,” not because it sounds good, but because the more open and accessible the Internet is to us all, the more money Google makes.

First of all, in his argument against Apple he changes the debate. The question at hand isn’t which company is most likely to change the world over the next ten years, it’s which company changed the world the most over the past ten years. Secondly, he gives credit to Google for acquiring YouTube. Did that really change the world? YouTube was already well on its way when Google bought them out. Anyway, I don’t want to nitpick.

I’ll boil it down to the most world-changing contribution by each company over the past ten years.

Google is the company that improved search engine results enough to really open the Web to the masses. They didn’t invent the search engine, but they did invent PageRank, making search significantly more useful, especially for those who were not search engine experts. Awhile back, I saw a service truck with the terms to use to find them with a Google search painted on the side as part of their contact information. That pretty much says it all.

Apple is the company that brought a real Web browser to the pockets of millions of people. There were other phones that provided “Web browsers,” but before the iPhone the mobile browsing experience did not in any way resemble the experience of using a real Web browser. Once the iPhone was available, it was clear that if you wanted to be a player in smart phones, you needed a device with a screen that was as large as physically possible and that supported a browser that provided a high quality browsing experience. The arrival of the iPhone was the most significant event in telephony since cellular phones were liberated from cars.

Of course both companies have done many other things, but I don’t think any are as significant as those two. Which one made a greater impact? You tell me.

Steve Jobs

Today Steve Jobs announced what I have expected and dreaded for awhile — that he’s stepping down as CEO at Apple. I think Apple will be fine but it’s certainly too soon to say goodbye to Steve Jobs.

The news brings me back to the commencement speech that Jobs gave to Stanford graduates in 2005, which I have read many times. In it, he talks about facing mortality:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Read the whole thing.

101 ways to save Apple, revisited

Just for fun, in light of Apple’s becoming the most valuable company in the world, I thought I’d take a look at Wired’s June, 1997 cover story 101 Ways to Save Apple. There’s some good advice, some bad advice, and a number of suggestions included to inject some levity into the proceedings.

A lot of the suggestions were to be more like Microsoft and embrace the Windows platform. Apple, obviously, rejected that path and has benefitted greatly from doing so. It’s hard to remember now, but many people thought that Apple should drop their operating system and instead turn to making high end Windows PCs. I think we’re all glad they never went that route.

On to the suggestions on the list:

  1. Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game. Bad advice.
  2. License the Apple name/technology to appliance manufacturers and build GUIs for every possible device – from washing machines to telephones to WebTV. Both good and bad. Apple’s resurgence is due in large part to broadening its product line, but not via licensing.
  3. Start pampering independent software vendors. Good advice. Apple has succeeded by creating platforms developers like, not necessarily by pampering them.
  4. Gil Amelio should steal a page from Lee Iacocca’s book – work for one year without a salary, just to inspire the troops. Bad advice. Steve Jobs earns a $1 salary but this has nothing to do with Apple’s success.
  5. Straighten out the naming convention. Good advice. Apple’s simplified product lines are a competitive advantage.
  6. Apologize. Bad advice.
  7. Don’t disappear from the retail chains. Good advice. Apple outdid this and launched their highly successful retail stores instead.
  8. Buy a song. Whatever.
  9. Fire the people who forecast product demand. Good advice. One of Apple’s greatest advantages is that Tim Cook runs Apple’s operations so efficiently.
  10. Get a great image campaign. Bad advice. Apple’s resurgence has been due to great products, not a great image campaign.
  11. Instead of trying to protect your multicolored ass all the time, try looking forward. Whatever.
  12. Build a fire under your ad agency. Bad advice. The meat of this suggestion is, “People want to know about power (the CPU kind, not George Clinton’s), performance, and price.” This is exactly what Apple does not do.
  13. Exploit every Wintel user’s secret fear that some day they’re going to be thrown into a black screen with a blinking C-prompt. Good advice. “I’m a Mac.”
  14. Do something creative with the design of the box and separate yourselves from the pack. Good advice. Apple went on to design packaging so ingenious that the “unboxing video” was born.
  15. Dump (or outsource) the Newton, eMate, digital cameras, and scanners. Bad advice. They dumped these products in favor of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad — their latter day heirs.
  16. Take better care of your customers. Good advice. See also: Apple stores.
  17. Build some decent applications that the business community will care about. Bad advice. Apple’s success in the applications department has mostly been with creative users, as has always been the case.
  18. Stop being buttoned-down corporate and appeal to the fanatic feeling that still exists for the Mac. Bad advice.
  19. Get rid of the cables. Go wireless. Good advice. Apple has done as much as anyone to de-clutter our desks.
  20. Tap the move toward push media by creating a network computer. Bad advice. Probably the most dated piece of advice on the list.
  21. Sell yourself to IBM or Motorola, the PowerPC makers. Bad advice.
  22. Create a new kids’ computer, an upgradable Wintel-compatible machine. Bad advice. Really, really bad advice.
  23. Create a new logo. Strange advice. Apple introduced the monochrome logo in 1998.
  24. Pay cartoonist Scott Adams $10 million to have Dilbert fall in love with a Performa repairwoman. Whatever.
  25. Portables, portables, portables. Good advice. Compelling portable devices are almost entirely responsible for Apple’s ridiculous growth.
  26. If you sell it, make it! Bad advice. Apple still can’t manufacture enough devices to meet demand. They seem to be doing OK.
  27. Relocate the company to Bangalore and make it cheap, cheap, cheap. Bad advice.
  28. Don’t lose your sense of humor. Bad advice. And besides, when did Apple have a sense of humor?
  29. Work closely with Hewlett-Packard, Casio, or someone who understands power management. Good advice. Except that Apple has become the industry leader in power management without help from those other guys.
  30. Reach forward by reaching back. Good advice. This is a suggestion to bolster the AppleLoan program. You can apply for credit right through the online Apple Store.
  31. Build a PDA for less than $250 that actually does something: a) cellular email b) 56-channel TV c) Internet phone. Bad advice. Turns out you can charge more than that if your product is awesome.
  32. Advice to Gil Amelio: shorter speeches, tighter pants. Remember Gil Amelio?
  33. Change the visual presentation of marketing/advertising to signal that real change is under way. Bad advice. None of this really matters.
  34. Port the OS to the Intel platform, with its huge amount of investment in hardware, software, training, and experience. Good advice. Switching to Intel was a huge, positive move for Apple.
  35. Get MkLinux and BeOS to run on PowerBooks. Bad advice. Not a bad idea, but this never had a chance of changing Apple’s fortunes.
  36. Clone the PowerBook. Bad advice. Apple succeeded by doing the opposite.
  37. Take advantage of NeXT’s easy and powerful OpenStep programming tools to entice a new generation of Mac software developers. Good advice. Inevitable, though, once Apple decided to base OS X on NextStep.
  38. Make it easier for ISVs to make applications for both Apple and Wintel environments – if not at the desktop, then certainly at the server. Bad advice. Mac ports of Windows apps have always been terrible. Apple did gain a lot of leverage by making Unix the underlying platform for OS X, though.
  39. Build a laptop that weighs 2 pounds. Good advice. The original MacBook Air weight 3 pounds and was introduced in 2008.
  40. Cash in on millennium fever. Bad advice.
  41. Arrange venture funding for new, cutting-edge multimedia publishers – this is where you shine and where the public will become interested again. Bad advice. Multimedia was already marked for death when this article was published.
  42. Organize a telethon. Whatever.
  43. Remain committed to the openDVD Consortium, addressing the issues of implementing digital versatile-disc technology. Bad advice. Who cares?
  44. Continue your research in voice recognition. Bad advice. Still irrelevant.
  45. Don’t raise the Mac OS licensing fee. Bad advice. Apple killed licensing of the Mac OS in July, 1997.
  46. Stop wasting time on frivolities like Spartacus, the 20th-anniversary Mac. Good advice. Apple has gotten out of the business of esoteric, small volume form factors entirely. I think the cube killed this off once and for all.
  47. Work on ways to make your lower-end models truly upgradable. Bad advice. Apple introduced the iMac in 1998.
  48. Get Ben & Jerry’s to name a flavor after you. Whatever.
  49. Bring back Andy Hertzfeld and the other original Mac folks. Good advice. Apple just brought back Steve Jobs instead.
  50. Give Steve Jobs as much authority as he wants in new product development. Good advice. Steve Jobs became Apple CEO in September, 1997.
  51. Speak to the consumer. Good advice. Apple product announcements have become some of the most closely observed events in the tech industry.
  52. Return to the heady days of yore by insisting that Steve Jobs regrow his beard. Whatever.
  53. Recharge your strategy for Europe, where the PC market penetration is lower than in the US and the population is educated and interested in high tech. Not qualified to assess this one.
  54. Sell off the laser printer business. Good advice. Margins in the printer business disappeared over the past decade or so.
  55. Give the company that buys the printer business a contract to manufacture printers with the Apple trademark. Bad advice. The printer business is irrelevant.
  56. Stick to your schedule. Bad advice. Apple released the first developer preview of OS X in August, 1997, the “public beta” in September, 2000, and the first production release in March, 2001. They still survived.
  57. Bring back John Sculley. Whatever.
  58. Create dollar incentives to attract software vendors to write for the upcoming Rhapsody platform. Bad advice. Bribing developers to code for your platform is not a strategy.
  59. Invest heavily in Newton technology, which is one area where Microsoft can’t touch you. Bad advice. OS X was the future.
  60. Abandon the Mach operating system you just acquired and run Windows NT kernel instead. Bad advice. Really, really bad advice.
  61. Ink a promotion/development deal with Shaquille O’Neal; introduce designer Shaqintosh model. Whatever.
  62. Build a computer that doesn’t crash. Good advice.
  63. Make Java work on your OS. Then develop an enterprise computing strategy in partnership with Sun. Good advice. One reason the Mac stayed relevant in the early OS X years was that it was the ideal platform for writing Web applications that would eventually be deployed on Unix servers.
  64. Team up with Sony, which wants to get into the computer business in a big way – think Sony MacMan. Bad advice.
  65. Roll out the Mac Plus again as a hip retro machine. Good advice. Isn’t this what the iMac was?
  66. Get the top systems integrators to push NeXT’s WebObjects as the ultimate intranet/Internet development environment. Bad advice. Apple actually sort of tried this but open source platforms won out.
  67. Tighten the focus on your publishing niche – both print and electronic – and seek to dominate it in every way. Bad advice.
  68. Retain your Apple Fellows at all costs. Bad advice. People who aren’t developing products aren’t really that useful.
  69. Change your name to Snapple and see if you can dupe Quaker Oats into buying you. Whatever.
  70. Simplify your PC product line. Good advice.
  71. Become a graphic design company and dominate your niche the way Sun and Silicon Graphics do. Bad advice. Turns out Silicon Graphics didn’t have much of a future at all, and neither did Sun, in the end.
  72. Try the industry-standard serial port plug. Bad advice.
  73. Rename the company Papaya and begin an aggressive South Pacific marketing campaign. Whatever.
  74. Solidify the management team. Good advice. Steve Jobs took over as CEO in September, 1997. Tim Cook joined the company in March, 1998. Jonathan Ive joined Apple in 1992. Scott Forstall came over from NeXT. Phil Schiller joined Apple in 1997.
  75. Speed sells. Push your advantage on the speed of the processor. Bad advice. Apple moved to Intel, and competition based on hardware specs became a thing of the past.
  76. Make damn sure that Rhapsody runs on an Intel chip. Write a Windows NT emulator for Rhapsody’s Intel version. Good advice. Apple moved to Intel in 2005. Virtualization has made it easy to run Windows software on Macs.
  77. Lose the cybercafés idea. Good advice, quickly heeded.
  78. Turn Claris loose so it can do some real damage. Bad advice.
  79. Exploit your advantage in the K-12 education market. Good advice, in theory. In the end I don’t think it mattered much.
  80. Maintain existing loyalty at all costs. Use incentives like free upgrades and stock certificates. Bad advice.
  81. Merge with Sega and become a game company. Bad advice.
  82. Give the first Apple made exclusively for Windows a cheeky name. Bad advice.
  83. Develop proprietary programs that run only on Macs. Good advice. Keynote, Final Cut Pro, and Aperture are all good examples here.
  84. Effectively communicate your game plan. Good advice. File under “obvious” though.
  85. Quit making each Mac in a platform-specific case, with platform-specific parts. Bad advice. Well, it’s obviously bad if you read this whole item.
  86. Organize a very large bake sale. Whatever.
  87. Price the CPUs to sell. Bad advice. Apple never really went cheap.
  88. Acknowledge that there are people with repetitive stress injuries. Good advice. Apple didn’t follow it, though.
  89. Create a chemical that cleans the Mac’s pale gray plastic. Bad advice. Apple killed off the gray plastic computer instead.
  90. Design a desktop model – call it La Dolce Vita – with a built-in cappuccino maker. Whatever.
  91. Start a new special projects group led by either Jobs or another passionate and creative designer to create the next “insanely great” technology. Good advice. Apple basically just turned the whole company into this special projects group.
  92. With each new Mac, include a CD-ROM that explains the Apple family tree and future plans. Bad advice. How many units would this have ever sold?
  93. Develop a way to program that requires no scripting or coding. Bad advice. Unrealistic.
  94. Maintain differentiation between Wintel and Apple. Good advice. Probably the best piece of advice on the list.
  95. Fight back. Stand up for yourself with ads that respond to the negative press. Bad advice. Better to build things that don’t earn the negative press in the first place.
  96. Partner with Oracle, using its technology for a backend database with your friendly face. Bad advice. I can’t think of a worse partner for Apple than Oracle.
  97. Have Pixar make 3001, A Space Odyssey, with HAL replaced by a Mac. Whatever.
  98. Testimonials. Good advice. Apple’s Switch ad campaign is basically this. Those ads were incredibly effective.
  99. Reincorporate as a nonprofit research foundation. Funny.
  100. Build a second graphics/video product based on the connection with Pixar (and therefore with Disney). Bad advice. This wouldn’t have saved the company.
  101. Don’t worry. You’ll survive. It’s Netscape we should really worry about. Nailed it.

I’m not the only person who has taken this on. Derek Warren compiled a detailed look back in February. I found his piece after I wrote this one.

Apple’s labor costs should be higher

I don’t really know what conditions are like in the factories where Apple’s products are assembled in China. On one hand, you have Apple’s supplier responsibility page. On the other hand, you have suicides at Foxconn factories where Apple products are assembled.

Today I noticed some manufacturing estimates for the iPhone 5. Apple is rumored to have placed an order for 15 million iPhone 5s from Pegatron, a manufacturer with factories in China. Apple sold 18.65 million iPhones last quarter. I can’t help but wonder how much better working conditions would be if Apple spent $5 more per iPhone on labor costs. Apple has at least $60 billion in cash and had profits of around $6 billion last quarter. Spending $5 more per iPhone would cost them less than $100 million per quarter.

I realize that Apple doesn’t set the pay rates in its suppliers’ factories, but of course they can put anything they want in their supplier compliance agreement. They could limit hours per week worked or require manufacturers to offer paid vacation. I wonder what Apple’s costs would look like if they required overseas manufacturers to comply with all U.S. labor laws except our minimum hourly wage?

The excuse has often been made that low margins in the electronics business lead to the poor working conditions in overseas factories. Apple’s margins aren’t low — I’d like to see them do even more in terms of helping out the people who assemble the gadgets we all love so well. And to be fair, I’d be glad to pay a bit more for gadgets if the money were going directly to the people on the assembly lines.

When platform vendors attack

Apple announced a whole slew of new features for iOS 5 and OS X Lion today, and some of them step on the toes of popular third party applications. The New York Times has a helpful list of threatened applications. To gauge the reaction, check out the results of a Twitter search for “sherlocked.”

Platform vendors build in functionality that’s already being provided by third party applications all the time, and this has always been the case. It’s also always been the subject of some controversy. I’m old enough to remember when Dave Winer was feuding with Apple because AppleScript competed with Frontier. And of course, Microsoft’s decision to bundle a Web browser with Windows rather than ceding that turf to third-party developers like Netscape got them into trouble for abusing their monopoly on desktop operating systems.

Of course, today nobody can imagine operating systems without scripting languages or Web browsers. They’re fundamental features and both platform vendors and users benefit from the fact that they’re always available.

When deciding whether or not to add a third party feature to their platform, vendors have to do the math. Competing directly with popular developers costs them some good will with developers, but it also puts that feature in the hands of more users than any third party developer ever could. That, in turn, may help the growth of the platform.

For features that are infrastructure, making the feature part of the OS may in turn make life easier for other developers as well. For example, iCloud Documents clearly competes with Dropbox. For developers who want to be able to share documents through the cloud, iCloud is much more compelling than DropBox because every iOS user will have it. Adding iCloud Documents is a no brainer, no matter how unhappy Dropbox and its fans are about it. (For what it’s worth, I’m a huge fan of Dropbox and I expect that they’ll be fine.)

When it comes to other features that are more about convenience, the case is less clear. For example, Apple has added a new Reading List feature to Safari that enables users to store articles for later in an easy-to-read format. There’s already a wonderful third-party solution to this problem called Instapaper that Reading List competes with directly. The author of Instapaper, Marco Arment, publishes an excellent blog.

Reading List is something to brag about, but it doesn’t add anything fundamentally new that other iOS developers can build on. And it competes directly with a very, very popular third party iOS application. On the other hand, Instapaper is amazingly convenient and basically makes the concept of being bored while waiting in line obsolete. I’m sure Apple’s developers decided that the functionality was too great not to build into the platform. Why shouldn’t every iOS user have it?

This is the thing every third party developer has to worry about; will Apple or Google or Microsoft or whoever look at their application and decide that the core functionality should be built into the platform. More importantly, they have to figure out how to build a sustainable business in a world where that’s always a possibility.

In the end, I’m not entirely sure that this sort of competition is always bad for application developers. In 2007, Slate published a piece explaining why Starbucks was actually good for independent coffee shops. Starbucks teaches people to appreciate fancier coffee and soon discover that independent shops offer better coffee at a lower price than Starbucks does.

Instapaper is almost certainly already better than Reading List will be when it’s released, and even if it isn’t, Marco has a few months to make improvements that will make it better before iOS 5 is out. In the meantime, people who are intrigued by Reading List can go out and get Instapaper right now. In the future, people will try Reading List, and some of them may decide that they want the more powerful features Instapaper offers, just like Starbucks customers eventually try independent coffee shops.

So while Reading List can clearly be seen as a threat to Instapaper, it may also turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to it, depending on how Marco responds. And I’d say the same for many threatened applications.

The real worry isn’t fair competition, but rather the ability of platform vendors to make life harder for rivals. Platform vendors can use APIs that they don’t provide to third parties, and of course Apple can abuse the application review process in any number of ways to cut off third party developers. As customers, that’s where we need to be attentive. Adding a feature to Safari that competes with Instapaper is fair as far as I’m concerned. Later denying Instapaper access to the App Store because its functionality overlaps with a feature provided by Apple would not be.

Addendum: I should note that for a long time I was on the other side of this debate, and fiercely argued against platform vendors adding features to their platforms that cannibalized the work of third-party developers. What I realized was that this sort of thing is inevitable and often a positive for users. It’s not debatable that Microsoft creating Internet Explorer was good for end users and was of course great for the Web. Some of their business behavior was problematic and probably illegal, but Microsoft was completely right to go into the browser business.

Is Apple intentionally crippling Web applications on iOS?

Today, everyone is linking to a provocative article from The Register with the headline Apple handcuffs ‘open’ web apps on iPhone home screen. There are three separate issues, all of which cause Web applications that are launched from the home screen to work more poorly than they do if you run them in Safari. The biggest issue is that Applications run from the home screen are not making use of the new JavaScript interpreter in iOS 4.3.

A friend who’s a software developer boils down that issue as follows:

  • Nitro is a JIT engine and requires that an executable using it be able to mark data memory pages as executable. Safari is a system app so it gets to do that (there’s a signed entitlement in the app that allows this).
  • Third-party apps using UIWebView (e.g. PhoneGap apps) do not get that capability so they do not get Nitro and I wouldn’t expect them to, since permitting marking data as executable makes app store review kind of pointless.
  • Web apps running from home screen but not in full-screen mode (which launch inside Safari) run Nitro fine.
  • Web apps running from home screen in full-screen mode launch inside Web.app, which is a system app and in theory should be able to run Nitro but it’s not because it lacks the entitlement.

Sounds like a bug to me.

For the discussion behind those points, see this thread at Hacker News.

The dangerous allure of one size fits all

It seems like almost everyone with a blog is captivated by the debate over Apple’s new policies related to in-app purchases. I read at least one good post on the subject every day. The money issues are important but not really interesting. Apple is leveraging its absolute control over which applications can be installed under iOS to pry away a big chunk of the revenue from application vendors.

The one rationale for the new policy I best understand is that application vendors will modify their pricing model so as to pay Apple the smallest amount possible. So if Apple charges 30% on direct purchases through iTunes and 15% for in-app purchases, many developers will distribute their application for free and then unlock the good features through an in-app purchase. If the percentage is different for subscriptions and for standalone in-app purchases, developers will try to switch to subscription-based pricing. In that sense, Apple has a strong incentive to charge the same price across the board.

What really interests me, though, is Apple’s false confidence in the idea that one payment system will actually work for everyone. Chris Adamson explains why this won’t work:

A client of a client of mine is likely to get caught up in this I-AP drama, and in a meeting this week, we laid out exactly how I-AP works, and what they have to do in order to implement it, including entering every product into the iTunes Connect web interface, a nightmarish prospect when you have thousands of SKUs. When we finished, there was a long silence on the phone, followed by a colleague saying “you can probably imagine the look on everyone’s faces here.”

I’m sure that the iOS team at Apple feels that they have designed an elegant and powerful payment system, maybe the best that anyone has ever created. But it’s apparent that not only is such a system insufficient for any application that might be conceived in the future for iOS, it’s also insufficient for many applications that already exist today.

It strikes me that the core error was when Apple allowed itself to be convinced that a one size fits all payment system would work for the full iOS ecosystem. I do wonder whether it was an executive decision that was passed on to engineers to implement, or the product team came up with a solution that the executives decided could work for everyone.

Will Apple’s in-app purchase terms hurt the iOS platform?

The folks who created Readability have published an open letter to Apple after their app was rejected because it violates the new license terms that require that all purchases made from within applications use Apple’s In App Purchase functionality. Here’s their response:

Before we cool down and come to our senses, we might as well share how we’re feeling right now: we believe that your new policy smacks of greed. Subscription apps like ours represent a tiny sliver of app sales that represent a tiny sliver of your revenue. You’ve achieved much of your success in hardware sales by cultivating an incredibly impressive app ecosystem. Every iPad or iPhone TV ad puts the apps developed by companies like ours front and center. It was a healthy and mutually beneficial dynamic: apps like ours get exposure and you get to show the world how these apps make your hardware shine. That’s why we’re a bit baffled here.

To be clear, we believe you have every right to push forward such a policy. In our view, it’s your hardware and your channel and you can put forth any policy you like. But to impose this course on any web service or web application that delivers any value outside of iOS will only discourage smaller ventures like ours to invest in iOS apps for our services. As far as Readability is concerned, our response is fairly straight-forward: go the other way… towards the web.

I have read plenty of arguments both ways about this new policy, but I’m pretty convinced at this point that aside from whether or not it’s evil and greedy, it’s almost certainly bad business for Apple.

Apple does many things incredibly well, which is why I love their products. The problem is that their confidence leads them to want to force their developers to do things the “Apple way” rather than letting come up with their own ways to do them. The fact that they can also dictate terms that require developers to pay a very large portion of their fees to Apple doesn’t discourage them either.

I suppose it’s possible that the new In App Purchasing framework Apple is mandating is so awesome that it’s worth the 30% you have to pay. In that case, while Apple is losing developers now, they’ll all come running back to take advantage of the new opportunity. It strikes me as more likely, though, that this mandate will be a disaster for Apple, because it snares too many producers who already have existing business models and can’t afford to suddenly start giving 30% of their subscription revenue to Apple.

Update: John Gruber rebuts:

Maybe I’m missing something, but these guys claiming to be surprised and disappointed by Apple’s insistence on a 30 percent cut when their own business model is to take a 30 percent cut strikes me as rich. And how can they claim that Readability isn’t “serving up content”? That’s exactly what Readability does. What they’re pissed about is that Apple has the stronger hand. Readability needs Apple to publish an app in the App Store. Apple doesn’t need Readability.

This gets at the tension. Readability doesn’t need Apple if they can sell their web-based service without them. Apple doesn’t need Readability if they’re one of a relatively small number of defectors from the iOS platform. I honestly have no idea which way this one’s going to go.

Update: Marco Arment explains why the new requirements are burdensome to developers aside from the 30% cut Apple will take. Adapting applications to fit into Apple’s payment framework will be impossible for some applications and require substantial reworking for many applications. That seems like too large a price to pay on top of the large revenue share that Apple will take.

Arment does a good job of listing some corner cases that put developers in a very tough position with regard to Apple’s requirements. I don’t expect Apple to have come up with all of these cases and accounted for them. What they illustrate is that Apple isn’t clever enough to come up with a system that will work for everyone and thus shouldn’t try to force everyone into one system.

How Steve Jobs brings hope to the world

Andy Crouch, A World Without Jobs:

As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress.

A thought provoking piece on Steve Jobs and finding hope in a secular world.

A third kind of freedom

John Gruber posted a piece on Friday that is a must read for people who are interested in mobile computing, noting an absence of killer apps for Android. In it he talks about some reasons why, despite the strengths of the platform, we’re not seeing developers create unique, compelling applications for it. I don’t use an Android device, so it could be that Gruber’s argument rests on a shaky foundation, but it seems right to me from what I’ve read.

What I want to talk about, though, is a sort of “third freedom” when it comes to computing. The first freedom, referred to as Freedom 0 by Mark Pilgrim, is the freedom to “run the program, for any purpose.” Back in the day, people called it “libre” software to distinguish it from software that’s free in the “free beer” sense. That’s the second freedom. Software that’s free to download and install — freeware.

Obviously Apple’s iOS does not represent Freedom 0 in any way. You use it on Apple’s devices, under Apple’s terms, or not at all. Yes, you can jailbreak your phone but that is considered completely out of bounds. For the most part, Apple seems to see Freedom 0 as a negative. As far as the second freedom goes, some iOS software is freeware, some isn’t.

What Apple offers in exchange for giving up Freedom 0 (and they ask not only end users but also developers to give it up) is a new freedom for computer users — the freedom to install stuff on your computer without screwing things up. Freedom 0 is about giving you the right to screw up your computer in whatever way you see fit. Apple’s freedom is about giving you the opportunity to install any of thousands of applications with the knowledge that your phone will work just as well after you install them as it did before, and that you can get rid of those applications whenever you want.

Hackers and power users see this as a bad tradeoff, but I would imagine that for many users, this tradeoff is completely worth it. Ask any of the people who pay Geek Squad hundreds of dollars to disinfect their PCs whether they’d give up some of the freedom to do what they like to their PC in exchange for never having to deal with those sorts of problems again.

The iPhone was a huge hit before you could install apps for it at all, so it’s not as though this third freedom was the key to its success, but it’s clear that it is the key to the success for third party developers for iOS. It’s why people are willing to go through all of the pain of dealing with the App Store approval process to get their software onto the iOS platform.

The vast majority of users don’t want to be systems administrators any more than most drivers want to be mechanics. Apple has already built one successful platform that offers users the opportunity to avoid that responsibility, and it looks like they’re trying to bring that model to personal computing as well. I wouldn’t bet against them at this point.

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