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Apple’s Battle Against Software Mediocrity

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.