Apple’s Battle Against Software Mediocrity

April 21st, 2010

As you no doubt know, Apple continues to make it clear that Flash isn’t coming to their mobile platform in our lifetime. At the same time, Adobe and others are complaining about a change in the iPhone 4.0 SDK user license, which blocks apps translated from Flash or ported using developer tools that don’t conform to their requirements.

The criticisms are all over the place, but mostly challenge Apple’s right to restrict the use of other computer programming languages to make iPhone apps. One of those criticisms has it that Apple is, in effect, trying to prevent the use of new programming techniques on their mobile platform.

Well, before I go any further, may I remind these critics that the change applies strictly to a single version of the iPhone OS. It doesn’t cover iPhone 5.0 or its successors, and certainly Apple reserves the right to change those terms whenever they want. But it’s also not a case of Apple’s closed platform preventing the use of, say, Flash, since Flash is Adobe’s closed platform.

The problem once again is that the folks attacking Apple are ignoring the real issues, which are all about producing sub-standard apps. With iPhone 4.0, Apple is touting 100 new features, including enhanced multitasking. There are 1500 new APIs available to developers. These enhancements will provide for apps with greater flexibility and enhanced performance.

But what if hundreds or thousands of new apps don’t support all or most of the new features because the cross-platform compiling tools developers are using do not include the new features? Who suffers? What about the iPhone and iPad user who tries out a new app and finds that multitasking and other new features aren’t available? What about the developer’s bottom line, when customers abandon them in droves because they are delivering inferior products?

Just why would Apple add those restrictions? Just to place arbitrary controls over the way App Store software is developed? Well, of course that’s their right. Apple is under no legal obligation, so far as anyone has demonstrated, to allow you to use third-party development environments to build apps for their mobile platforms. At the same time Steve Jobs is widely quoted as saying that porting apps to the iPhone platform results in “sub-standard” products. The critics, with all their over-the-top whining, never seem to be able to respond to that complaint.

Yes, it is quite true that a company that wants to build apps for different mobile platforms will have a lot more work to do if they want their software to appear in the App Store. But consider the end result, which is that they will be forced to build better products that fully support all the latest and greatest features in the iPhone OS. What’s wrong with that?

I suppose if they could produce apps in a third-party tool that makes them fully complaint with Apple’s standards, then they have nothing to complain about.

But don’t forget the lessons of history. There are thousands upon thousands of Mac OS X apps that are simply clumsy ports from other platforms, usually Windows. Software publishers are trying to get into the Mac platform on the cheap in many cases, so they end up with apps that only pay lip service for Mac user interface guidelines and fail to support all of the advanced features of the operating system. Sure, they run all right, and in many cases, the clumsy interfaces and performance limitations may not matter so much to many users. Sometimes just having the product itself on the Mac is its own reward, although I would think that any company that wants to really prosper on the platform would do their level best to deliver the best software they can, and not cheap out.

Yes, I realize that a sprawling productivity app with millions of lines of computer code may require a huge expenditure in time and money to port to Apple’s Xcode, and a much greater investment to optimize and support all the latest and greatest features in Snow Leopard. It all comes down to the return on that investment, and I would expect Mac users prefer apps that actually feel like Mac apps rather than a cheap imitation.

Now I have suggested that some of the harshest criticisms about Apple’s opposition to Flash and the user license changes may have been fueled by Adobe, which stands to lose the most under that situation. This week, Adobe has reportedly announced, in fact, that they are abandoning further development of their Flash to iPhone porting tool.

On the other hand, maybe this situation will inspire Adobe to find a way to build a version of Flash that answers all of Apple’s concerns. But with record sales of the iPhone, and an incredible demand for the iPad, Adobe’s window of opportunity is closing really fast. It may well be that it’s too late, and that Flash will, in a few years, largely disappear from millions of sites as they are updated to support the tens of millions of Internet visitors who don’t have Flash on their computing devices.

Then again, if those third-party tools can be made to support all or most of the new features in iPhone 4.0, maybe the naysayers would have a point. But that’s the issue that they have, so far at least, chosen to avoid.

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5 Responses to “Apple’s Battle Against Software Mediocrity”

  1. dfs says:

    Whenever there is some disagreement between computer companies (especially if Apple is involved) a lot of people in the press like to write about it as if they are covering some kind of never-ending continuation of “Pirates of Silicon Valley,” as if they can boil it down to corporate animosity, a desire of one company to put the other out of business, or even a personal grudge between CEO’s. In other words, the press likes to reduce these disputes to a kind of ongoing soap opera in which we are invited to cheer for the supposed good guys and boo the alleged villains. This is partly done because this kind of reportage sells copies and partly because sometimes serious technological issues are involved which go sailing far over these writers’ heads (when it comes to journalistic respectability, they’re pretty far down the food chain). I agree with Gene about all the bad ported OSX software out there, and I only wish Apple had some way of controlling the quality of software available for the Mac the way it does for the iPhone. Some of which second-rate Mac software, i. m. h. o., is put out by Adobe.

  2. Brett says:

    Apple’s critics and Adobe’s defenders claim that it can be possible to write good software using cross-platform tools if one is skilled and motivated, and that there are plenty of examples of “bad” software created with Apple’s native tools. Perhaps. But would opening up iPhone development to cross-platform tools actually result in an increase the overall ratio of excellent apps to crap, or vice versa? That is the question.

    Cross platform software often suffers from compromise and lowest common denominator syndrome (app developers don’t go the extra mile to support the unique features of each platform because they are basically lazy, as proven by their choice to to employ cross-platform tools in the first place).

    Even if Adobe supported every current feature of the iPhone OS (allowing cross platform developed apps to do the same), how could Apple be assured that Adobe would continue to do so as the iPhone OS evolves?

    Adobe has a history of lagging and neglect regarding the Mac. Apple would be foolish to encourage Adobe (or any third party, for that matter) to become a bottleneck in the iPhone App development process.

    If Adobe decides 6 months or a year from now to spend more effort on updating their tools for the latest Android OS while letting support for the iPhone OS languish, what would happen when reviewers compare corresponding apps on each platform head-to-head and find the iPhone versions lacking. Sure, the iPhone version would appear inferior due to the limitations of Adobe’s outmoded tools, but Apple would still be the ultimate loser.

    By holding the iPhone ransom, who knows in what way Adobe would wield their power over Apple. I don’t trust a third party to put the interest of Apple’s customers foremost. There was a time when Microsoft threatened to withhold its support of Apple to gain concessions. I don’t know how many remember that Apple had to abandon and give away its superb MacBasic (still under development) because Microsoft threatened not to renew Apple’s license for the Apple II ROM-based floating point Basic. Microsoft didn’t want competition for its inferior MS Basic for the Mac. Users suffered because a third party controlled a key piece of technology.

    Apple has a philosophy of controlling the whole widget, and has proved time and time again that this provide the best user experience. No one was making a fast web browser for the Mac, so Apple came out with Safari. Adobe stopped development on Premiere, so Apple came out with Final Cut Pro. For years Apple suffered because most existing Mac retailers were doing a poor job of selling Macs. When Apple introduced their own stores, they did it right and had a raging success. The more links in the chain Apple controls, the better the experience. Apple designed its own custom processor chip and OS for the iPad, and what was the result?… The first really responsive and usable tablet computer. It just goes on and on.

    I trust that Apple’s policy of disallowing iPhone apps developed with third-party cross platform tools is a good thing for users in the long run.

  3. Apple’s Battle Against Software Mediocrity « Themacxpert's Blog says:

    […] Apple’s Battle Against Software Mediocrity Filed under: Apple,Flash,adobe — themacxpert @ 3:59 pm Apple’s Battle Against Software Mediocrity. […]

  4. andy says:

    There’s one aspect I haven’t seen mentioned on this subject, so I could be wrong. It seems to me that an overriding objection to “cross-platform” tools, one that could not be compensated for by any amount of effort on the part of tool providers, is that if developers are coding for multiple platforms all at once, they are unlikely to use features of the iPad that are unique, even if they have the means to do so.

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