How to get Flash onto the iPhone
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How to get Flash onto the iPhone

In a blog post that I agree with in parts and disagree with in parts, Louis Gerbarg explains how Adobe can get Apple to support Flash:

If Adobe actually wants to persuade Apple to support Flash on iPhone (either as a plugin or compiled to native apps), I know how they can do it. They can get an awesome, high performance, Flash environment working on Android, and get a bunch of great Flash apps running on Android phones. As much as Apple wants to control iPhone, I am willing to bet they want to beat Android more.

That, I agree with. The argument that Apple has decided to restrict developers from using translation or compatibility layers because if one of them became particularly successful, it would give that vendor veto power over features and schedules in subsequent iPhone OS releases, I don’t really agree with. It’s a rationale, but a flimsy one.

Dan Grigsby on the iPhone platform
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Dan Grigsby on the iPhone platform

Ask permission environments crush creativity and innovation. In healthy environments, when would-be innovators/creators identify opportunities the only thing that stands between the idea and its realization is work. In the iPhone OS environment when you see an opportunity, you put in work first, ask Apple’s permission and then, only after gaining their approval, your idea can be realized.

That’s the introduction to his post explaining why he’s shutting down is iPhone development blog. I still believe that this is going to hurt Apple in the end.

In other news, Section 3.3.9 of the developer agreement, which bans third-party analytics in iPhone applications, may be an even bigger deal than the ban on cross-compilers.

Apple hates cross-compilers
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Apple hates cross-compilers

A lot of people have taken note of the following passage in the iPhone 4 developer agreement:

Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited.

It’s clear that Apple isn’t going to allow Flash to run on the iPhone, so Adobe came up with a creative alternative — a tool that lets you convert Flash into a native iPhone application. Packager for iPhone is to be included with Flash Professional CS5. Now Apple has made it known that applications created in this manner will not be approved for inclusion in the iPhone App Store.

Why would Apple make this rule? Perhaps there’s a technical reason, but my guess is this is pure cutthroat business. To create applications for the iPhone, you have to use Objective C. If you want to port the same application to Android, you have to rewrite it in Java. If Adobe and other tools vendors come up with applications that translate from ActionScript to Objective C and to Android’s flavor of Java, suddenly it’s much easier for developers to maintain their applications on multiple platforms. It looks like Apple wants to make sure that being multi-platform stays expensive, and that people just stick with building applications for today’s dominant platform — iPhone.

The secret of the iPhone app store
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The secret of the iPhone app store

In an Ars Technica article on the Palm Pre, Jon Stokes explains the benefit the app store provides for the iPhone platform as well as I’ve ever seen:

Even so, you might think 1,000 apps should be plenty to fit everyone’s needs, but then you misunderstand how the iPhone’s App Store contributes to Apple’s success. In short, 100,000 apps is a really, really long tail, and in that tail everyone can find one or two goofy, niche apps that they really like. And when they find those apps—my dad loves the bubble wrap and the Bible translations, my wife loves the koi pond and the kiddie apps that entertain my daughter, and I like the IRC clients—they show it off to friends and family. And when one of my dad’s non-iPhone friends sees the bubble wrap and the six different Bible translations, that person doesn’t say to himself, “my God, it has bubble wrap and Bibles. I must buy this phone.” Rather, he says, “if it has bubble wrap and Bibles, I bet it has something really cool for me, too. I must buy this phone.”

The power of the long tail for app stores is that everyone can find and share a handful of quirky little apps that really excite them for whatever reason. And when they share those apps, they’re essentially shilling for the platform, not the specific apps. Every time two people pull out their iPhones in a crowd and start trading recommendations for incredibly niche apps that fit their specific interests, everyone who doesn’t have an iPhone feels like they’re missing out.

I also learned that the Palm Pre has a mirror on the back. I had no idea.

Photo by Flickr user Ryan Orr.

Apple’s restrictive platform
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Apple’s restrictive platform

Here’s Tim Bray (now officially part of the loyal opposition) on the iPhone:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

I hate it.

I hate it even though the iPhone hardware and software are great, because freedom’s not just another word for anything, nor is it an optional ingredient.

I love using the iPhone, but to a growing degree I’m starting to hate the fact that I love using the iPhone.

The future of app stores
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The future of app stores

Stephen O’Grady argues that app stores (of which the iPhone App Store is an example) are going to continue to be a big deal. I’m inclined to agree, and I love his example of the WordPress plugin directory.

I’m also going to quote from one of his sources, Farhad Manjoo’s negative article on app stores to make a slightly different point:

That’s a miscalculation, because the App Store’s true rival isn’t a competing app marketplace. Rather, it’s the open, developer-friendly Web. When Apple rejected Google Latitude, the search company’s nearby-friend-mapping program, developers created a nearly identical version that works perfectly on the iPhone’s Web browser. Google looks to be doing something similar with Voice, another app that Apple barred from its store. Last fall, Joe Hewitt, the Facebook developer who created the social network’s iPhone app, quit developing for Apple in protest of the company’s policies. Where did he go? Back to writing mobile apps for Web browsers.

The question I’d ask is, how is this a loss for Apple? Web browsers are becoming increasingly powerful platforms for applications. It would be a problem for Apple if these companies were going off and building Android apps, but if they’re writing apps that still run well on an iPhone, then Apple is still a beneficiary of their work.

Does application count matter?
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Does application count matter?

It’s funny these days to watch Apple brag about the number of applications for the iPhone, and to see Android fans defensively argue that the number of applications for a platform doesn’t really matter, as long as it has the applications you want. Fifteen years ago, it was Windows advocates who derided the Mac because it had so few apps, and Mac users who were forced to respond with the argument that quality, not quantity mattered. That argument has died on the desktop, probably because what’s really important is the ability to access the Web, unless you have a very specific unmet requirement.

For what it’s worth, I think Android fans are right — the number of applications really doesn’t matter. Besides, eventually there will probably be more applications for Android than there are for the iPhone — Apple’s review process for iPhone applications almost assures that. In fact, I’m mainly writing this to put a stake in the ground so that I can go back and laugh at this argument later. Android phones are already sold by more carriers in the US than the iPhone, and Android is the open platform. If the application count for Android doesn’t continue to grow explosively, it will indicate that something has gone horribly wrong for the platform.

In the end, Android is going to be Windows and the iPhone is going to be the Mac, even if it may not seem that way because Apple got out of the gates so much earlier this time around. The problem Android faces is that they very well may never be able to offer as polished an experience as Apple does on the iPhone. There will be lots many different handsets, more expansive user interface standards, and a lot more carrier influence in terms of how the Android interface looks. Even if you buy an unlocked phone with “generic” Android, the lack of consistency that results from the fractured user base will affect the overall experience of using an Android handset. Plus, when it comes to creating truly functional designs, Google is not Apple.

There’s plenty of room in the market for both platforms, and in an ideal world, they’ll both be pushing each other on a number of fronts for years to come. As an iPhone user, that’s what makes me happiest about the high praise for the Nexus One. iPhone users need for it to be a worthy competitor to the iPhone as much as anyone.

Improving the iPhone app store approval process
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Improving the iPhone app store approval process

This week, Apple got a lot of bad publicity when two iPhone developers abandoned the platform because of the way the app store approval process is handled. The first was Joe Hewitt, the developer of the Facebook iPhone application. You can read his reasons why here. Back in August he expressed his frustration with Apple but said he wasn’t going to boycott the platform. Then today Rogue Amoeba announced that they’ll be focusing on the Mac going forward because of problems they’ve had with Apple’s approval process.

Like most people who aren’t calling the shots at Apple, I’d prefer it if you could install apps on your iPhone by simply going to a URL and downloading them. Even if Apple wants to maintain the vetting process for apps sold through the official store, they could provide an alternate means that anyone can use if they’re willing to assume the risks of doing so. This would, essentially, be a way to let jailbreaking go legit. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon.

As an alternative, I think Apple needs to adopt a different form of government for the iPhone nation. Right now, it’s a dictatorship. Apple exercises nearly complete control over the platform — there are a few jailbroken and unlocked phones that participate in a sort of underground, but if you want to be a legal citizen of the iPhone community, you have to play by Apple’s rules. And as in most dictatorships, Apple makes up the rules as it goes along, and isn’t accountable for enforcing the rules fairly, or offering due process, or even telling people what the rules are, exactly. It’s not surprising that so many people hate this situation — it’s not fair. And Apple’s profits say that it can get away with this behavior for awhile longer. You don’t see too many iPhone users or developers moving to other platforms but the competing platforms are slowly becoming more compelling.

Clearly democracy is out of the question. Apple is a business, and they’re not going to suddenly let the users start running the show. What I do think Apple should move toward is a constitutional monarchy. Apple’s executives remain the heads of state, and are ultimately the final authority on iPhone-related matters, but for everyday purposes the rule of law exists. Apple would write a constitution of sorts for iPhone developers and users, and get rid of the hidden, arbitrary rules. They’d create an open process for developers seeking approval for their applications, communicate reasons for denial, and give the developers a chance to appeal such rulings. This would probably be more manpower-intensive than the current process, but Apple is ridiculously profitable, and in the long term holding themselves to a greater degree of transparency and accountability would be good for the iPhone.

The current system isn’t going to work for a whole lot longer.