The iPhone 4.0 Report: Developers Need to Get With the Program

April 15th, 2010

From the developer’s standpoint, I suppose they have a point when they complain about the revisions in the iPhone 4.0 SDK agreement that evidently blocks use of third-party cross-platform compilers or Flash to build iPhone apps. Certainly it means they have more work to do if they want to develop software for different smartphones.

On the other hand, the critics busy lambasting Apple about that change need to focus less on Apple’s control-freak posture and more on the benefits to the customer. This is particularly true for developers who hope to make fair profits from their apps.

So with iPhone 4.0, Apple is promising 100 new features, and we only know a fraction of those in addition to the seven “tentpoles” revealed by Steve Jobs and company at last week’s media event. Chief among those features is the long-awaited support for multitasking. But other features are no less important for many of you, such as the changes in Mail that provide for a global Inbox, the ability to create folders and the proposed Game Center. Businesses will appreciate the enhanced security and other capabilities designed to benefit the enterprise.

But now imagine if you install iPhone 4.0 on your recent iPhone or iPod touch this summer. Next you install some fancy new app, but, while it seems to work all right, it doesn’t support any of the new features. Wouldn’t you feel cheated? Consider, for example, an app to read your favorite magazine. Multitasking will allow for a saved state, where you’re busy reading an article and, after switching to another app or taking a phone call, you return and continue right where you left off.

If an app doesn’t support that feature, it’ll basically start up from scratch, and you’ll have to locate the article all over again and scroll to the point where you stopped reading. Worse, you’ll have to do that each and every time you’re forced to switch apps. So maybe you should just block phone calls while you’re reading the latest issue.

Now if the publisher developed its app in accordance with Apple’s latest guidelines, they will have seven multitasking APIs available, one of which is the saved state. I can’t tell you what sort of work is required to add that capability, but it will still be a natural part of the iPhone SDK environment. So they would certainly have a good incentive — and keeping a satisfied readership is high on the list — to support that feature.

But if that app is simply ported from Flash or developed in a third-party programming tool, the needed multitasking features and support for all the other new stuff won’t be there. Not only will Apple’s customers be cheated, but the people who buy those apps that lack proper support for the latest OS.

So, yes, Apple wants to exert control, but what they’re doing by restricting the ways you can build an iPhone or iPad app is to make sure that, whatever new native features make sense for that product, they can be fully supported. When iPhone 5.0 comes out next year, it won’t be so difficult to add the new features, whatever they might be.

In short, the customer benefits. The developer benefits, and if the latter derives income from their iPhone apps, it makes sense to switch to Apple’s own development tools, even if it requires extra work at first to import the code. Certainly the job will be far less onerous than moving a large Mac app into Apple’s Xcode, since they often contain millions of lines of code.

Now when it comes to Adobe, yes, I understand they are highly pissed off that Apple won’t let them bring Flash onto the iPhone and iPad, nor will they accept iPhone apps ported from Flash when the next OS is out. On the other hand, Apple exists to benefit Apple and their customers, not Adobe. More to the point, the people who complain about Apple’s closed platform forget that Flash is also a proprietary platform, except that its owned by Adobe.

On the long haul, I expect Adobe is not going to sue Apple, since there’s no sense in doing that and probably no legal basis either. Indeed, Adobe will continue to build Mac apps for the simple reason that there’s lots of money to be made, and, at the same token, they will continue to provide apps for Apple’s mobile platform.

Yes, Adobe’s executives and developers might have to grit their teeth when they produce new Mac and iPhone products. But that’s how business works. Companies will sometimes compete with each other, and, at other times, cooperate in various business initiatives. Even Apple’s presumed worst enemy, Microsoft, makes products for the Mac that deliver decent profit margins. Google continues to build stuff for Apple’s platforms too, because it means more eyeballs for their carefully tailored ads.

Sure, maybe Google will find things more difficult on the iPhone when Apple’s iAd debuts, but it won’t stop them from earning click-through revenue from Safari and their own iPhone apps. Maybe Google will even find a way to build a better ad platform for their advertisers as a result of the competition, and that is a good thing.

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One Response to “The iPhone 4.0 Report: Developers Need to Get With the Program”

  1. hmurchison says:

    There are still many that think that Open Source or open platforms are superior despite good historical record that shows that closed systems generally take markets and earn dominant share.

    Apple knows what it’s doing. Sitting Flash on top of native iPhone API is a bad idea. It’s for lazy developers that want to push out bland “me too” applications on multiple platforms.

    It also means that the code/apps are less “portable”. Apple has worked directly with the LLVM team to build in smarter compilers than what we have today. Key to being able to quickly move apps today onto future hardware platforms is roping in the languages that develop applications for OS X and iPhone OS.

    I spent good money for my Mac and my iPhone and iPad. I’m not asking that developers take advantage of my platform of choice well…I’m demanding it. There are plenty of app choices now and I’m looking for those exemplary apps.

    If lowest common denominator apps are your desire then I’d question on whether Apple is the company you should be aligning with.

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