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Apple And Google Collide

Developer disaffection with Apple appears to be growing, spurred by the company's rejection of Google Voice and other apps.
Apple has largely gotten a pass for its behavior due to its near flawless execution. Its hardware remains the standard for form and function in the tech industry. Its fans believe the company can do no wrong, a tendency satirized in the recent Onion homage to "The Emperor's New Clothes," titled "Apple Claims New iPhone Only Visible To Most Loyal Of Customers." And many journalists still see the company as an underdog, having watched it come perilously close to extinction under Microsoft's boot in the mid-1990s. Add to that the charismatic co-founder Steve Jobs and its hardly surprising that many believe the company's results justify its means.

But Apple's refusal to allow the Google Voice application into its App Store may mark a change in the public sentiment about the company, and perhaps more importantly, a change in developer sentiment. Prominent Apple developers like Panic co-founder Steven Frank and Jeff LaMarche, co-author of the one of the most popular introductory books on iPhone programming, are publicly expressing concern about Apple's recent actions.

"From the start, third party developers have had to live with an arbitrary review process that potentially meant they could spend lots of time and money and end up completely unable to sell their application for failing to comply with some unwritten rule," LaMarche wrote in a blog post on Sunday. "That was bad enough, and certainly has had a chilling effect on third party application development. The App Store was so hot, though, that most developers accepted the risk, figuring the potential reward outweighed the risk."

Apple's recent application bans, he says, are almost certain to alienate innovative developers. "Not only do we have to worry about whether our apps will be approved by the somewhat arbitrary review process, but now we have to worry about having their approved applications removed," he said.

Prominent bloggers like Six Apart's Anil Dash are excoriating Apple for the company's attachment to secrecy, an obsession that runs contrary to the push toward the openness and transparency of the Web 2.0, Facebook and Twitter era.

"The reckoning Apple has reached, whether it's admitted or not, is that its secrecy is compromising its humanity," Dash writes. "Some of the smartest and most innovative developers on any platform are leaving and taking their creativity with them."

Dash also observes that the trade press has stopped fawning over Apple and started writing critically about the company. This is happening in more mainstream publications too, in some cases unfairly. The Times in the U.K. for example on Monday published a story claiming that Apple tried to silence the owner of an exploding iPod. But the "gag order" described in the article isn't some sinister back alley threat or manipulation of the judicial system. It's a part of a settlement proposal offered by Apple in exchange for a refund. At least in the U.S., it's common practice to make silence a condition of a settlement.

The issue of exploding iPods was dealt with in a more even-handed manner by Seattle TV station KIRO 7, which challenged Apple's desire for secrecy by fighting Apple legal representatives to get records about faulty iPods from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

For Apple, the poisoning of public sentiment could prove dangerous. And as Dash sees it, the only answer is opening up and engaging in a more transparent manner with its community of users and developers.

"[A] technology company that is determined to prevent information from being spread is an organization at war with itself," declares Dash.

And a company that is determined to ban applications that customers want is at war with its developers, customers, and innovation.

Those are allies that Apple may want in the long run.

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the current state of open source adoption. Download the report here (registration required).