About Apple’s Walled Garden

December 21st, 2012

One of the major arguments against Apple and the iOS is choice. Apple expects you to exist within a walled garden, and your freedoms are supposedly restricted. So, for example, you can’t get apps from anywhere but the App Store unless you take the risk of jailbreaking your iOS gadget.

The argument in favor of Apple’s carefully curated environment is high safety from malware, and at least the basic assurance that the app you download, and often pay for, will meet basic standards of functionality. It doesn’t guarantee that the app is any good, but there are always reviews from other users, so you can get a basic idea of the good points, and the not-so-good points.

But some of you would prefer to acquire apps that Apple won’t approve. I understand the reasoning, though I haven’t run into any personal situations of needs and desires that weren’t filled with Apple’s offerings. After all, the App Store offers a rich selection. There are well over 700,000 titles available as I write this, with several hundred thousand optimized for the iPad and the iPad mini. Even better, you have multiple choices in most categories.

So consider Maps. Yes, I realize it had a troubled release, though I don’t regard it quite as dangerous as some, even if some people in Australia were stranded in a wilderness because they believed Apple could do no wrong. I wouldn’t grant that capability to any mapping app, even Google’s. Besides, the errant data supposedly came from the Australian government, and, just days later, police in another Australian city warned users about Google Maps because of erroneous instructions. If the so-called best navigation app on the planet isn’t perfect, maybe we expect too much of Apple.

But you still have choices. In addition to Apple and Google, there’s AOL’s Mapquest and a number of others, including some that carry a price tag. You can also go online in Safari for still more selections. In this case, Apple’s walled garden hasn’t restricted you in a meaningful way. Indeed, when he delivered an apology for the shortcomings of Maps, CEO Tim Cook said look elsewhere until Apple has the chance to fix the most serious problems.

In passing, I also wonder why I have yet to read a review of Google Maps for iOS that mentions the beta warning I observed when I configured my first turn-by-turn navigation to a nearby restaurant. But most everything at Google exists in extended beta, sometimes for years, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it’s also a warning not to expect perfection. Would that Apple had done the same thing with Maps; they still list Siri as a beta, by the way.

When he comes to book reading, again Apple doesn’t restrict you. If you don’t like the selection in iBooks, go ahead and download the software from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, and other services. You can become a customer for any of these companies, or all of them, and they won’t refuse your business.

Here’s are real examples of a walled garden: If you buy a Barnes & Noble Nook or a Kindle of some sort, these companies don’t make it easy for you to acquire digital books from other companies. That’s because you’re paying a lower price with the expectation that you’ll buy products and services to make up the difference. So these tablets, or book readers, are sold as loss leaders, almost in the same fashion as a printer, which may be quite affordable. Well, at least until you use up the ink and have to buy more.

Indeed, I’ve known a few people here and there who constantly buy new printers, figuring it’s cheaper to use the thing with the supplied consumables until spent, and recycle the old printer after it’s replaced. It may seem wasteful, but that’s the consequence of the printer maker’s marketing scheme. Still, this extreme example usually only applies to the really cheap models.

Now I suppose there are some legitimate arguments you can make about the set up of the Mac App Store. All right, OS X users don’t have to necessarily buy their apps from that source, although an increasing number of titles are no longer available separately. But the key tool to make apps safer, sandboxing, can restrict choice. Some features have to be changed or removed from an app because Apple won’t allow them. Or the app won’t be approved.

Consider, for example, the apps I use to capture audio for my radio shows. This process requires accessing system capabilities that apparently conflict with sandboxing.

But there are other problems, and these apply to the iOS as well. There are no demo versions of apps, say time limited so you can pay for them after using them for a while. This is the tried and true method of selling apps on many platforms, but Apple hasn’t allowed it to happen in their software repositories. There’s also no way to get a major upgrade for an app at a discount. If the developer wants payment, they have to build an all new version. Existing customers are in Apple’s database, not theirs, and there’s no way to give existing customers a break.

At least on the Mac, you can still buy your software elsewhere, at least most of the time, so you aren’t saddled with those restrictions. But maybe Apple will get the message and fix things before third-party software resources vanish.

All in all, however, Apple’s walled garden doesn’t really hurt my day-to-day existence. I’d think living in the Amazon or Barnes & Noble walled garden would be a whole lot more restrictive.

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2 Responses to “About Apple’s Walled Garden”

  1. DaveD says:

    The Maps fiasco was a result of being presented as a “perfect” app. It had to be a major task to replace Google Maps. I recalled complaints from developers about the state of accuracy of Maps prior to Apple making it one of its premier features in iOS 6. Apple could had stated at their presentation that they want Maps to be the best navigational app, but it is not quite there yet and would like lots of feedback from its use to make improvements/corrections. A little honesty would have gone a long way.

    On the App Store, I would like to see app updates be placed on a faster track. I would think that over time that the developers with app that have gone through the approval process become “trusted” and would also be placed on a faster track. For the other developers with apps that cannot be in the store, I would like to see some kind of exposure for them. Perhaps for an annual fee, their apps can be displayed in the store labelled as outside of the store. The “buy button” would open a browser window for a demo or purchase at the developer’s web site.

    • @DaveD, I like the idea of an “alternate” App Store, though this isn’t anything that Apple is likely to approve. It’s yes or no for apps, and there is no gray basket.

      I agree the Maps problem was one of perception. If it was introduced as a public beta, I think the reaction would have been far more favorable. All right, it’s flawed, but Apple didn’t promise perfection. The marketing message was messed up, and whether that was the fault of Scott Forstall, or whether he was too optimistic about its capabilities in communicating with marketing, is something that we can always speculate about.

      Honesty indeed!


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