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  • The App Store Report: What About an Exit Button?

    March 4th, 2010

    On the whole, I think Apple’s tight integration among its mobile devices and the way software is sold is a good thing. There is a rich selection, somewhere in the range 140,000 and 150,000 as I write this, with billions of downloads. Some tiny developers have made boatloads of money as a result of their products, and those of you who own these gadgets can rest assured of a safe, secure environment in which to acquire the apps you want.

    You know, for example, that if a particular product becomes extremely buggy, it’ll be pulled, and apps that may present security risks or contain unacceptable content will be rejected.

    The other shoe, however, drops on developers who feel their app submissions are being unfairly delayed or rejected for arbitrary reasons. Apple continues to claim it’s doing the best it can considering the incredible number of submissions that need to pass muster. When a developer makes a public stink, most of the time Apple will respond in some fashion, sometimes speeding up the approval process and sometimes just explaining why the app remains under review or is being rejected.

    Now as much as some people might object to Apple’s behavior, it is, after all, their store and they can pick and choose the merchandise they want to carry. If the decisions are arbitrary, that’s their right, even if some of you don’t think that approach serves the developer or the customer.

    The main issue is, of course, the fact that you can’t just take your business elsewhere. The App Store is it, unless you jailbreak your iPhone. Then you can try third-party software repositories, but, of course, you take the risk that the apps in question will run properly and won’t subject your iPhone to possible malware infections.

    In this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, noted Mac author Ted Landau suggests another possible solution, one similar to what’s offered on Android smartphones. There would be an Advanced option that allows you to exit the App Store and gain access to other suppliers of iPhone software. Now this may sound great on the surface, but it may be a little complicated to implement. Would it happen within the App Store app or would a different app appear that allowed you to browse the alternative software repositories?

    There’s also the question of Apple’s liability. You see, when they post product in the App Store, as much as the Terms and Conditions might be intended to relieve them of responsibility for buggy or infected apps, their manual approval process implies that they are taking steps to make sure what you download is safe. When you exit the App Store, I would expect that Apple would provide several information screens warning you that you are leaving those safe confines and you’re on your own.

    Would Apple consider such a move? How would developers react to having to deal with a potentially fragmented audience? Would they desert the App Store and take their stuff elsewhere, or would Apple allow them to have their products available from multiple vendors?

    But the key issue here is whether a sufficient number people really care about being able to easily get their iPhone, iPod touch and iPad apps from other sources. I’m sure Apple has considered lots of possibilities, and even though they are surely control freaks through and through, if a different marketing approach had the potential of selling more hardware, their responsibilities to shareholders would dictate that they consider such an option. In the end, after all, it’s still all about the money.

    Indeed, Apple’s closed ecosystem has been incredibly successful for them with both the iPod and iPhone lines, and no doubt the same will hold true for the iPad. One thing I suggested to Landau during my interview is that, if Apple had the chance to do it all over again, and easy Internet access was available in 1984, the original Mac may also have been tied to an App Store of some sort.

    The critics will say that Apple is screwing itself big time by exerting such heavy control over its platforms. They cite the failure to license the Mac OS early on as the main reason why Microsoft gained the upper hand. But things don’t always play out so easily in the real world. When Apple did try to license the Mac OS in the 1990s, it nearly killed the company. That approach may have worked if Microsoft didn’t exist, but that’s just speculation.

    In fact, Microsoft realized soon after the iPod came out that their standard scheme, licensing their proprietary software to other vendors, had failed big time. The Zune and Zune Marketplace represent their pathetic attempt to duplicate Apple’s success. There may even be an official Microsoft smartphone when version 7 of Windows Mobile appears, but right now they may fail just as badly with that initiative.

    Meantime, if you really want to protest Apple’s business plan, just don’t buy their products. They’ll get the message real fast if enough of you take your business elsewhere.

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