Apple's Fiasco, Google's Opportunity

If Apple ends up retaining the current language in its iPhone OS 4.0 developer agreement, it will all but assure the ultimate supremacy of Google Android devices in the mobile market.
If Apple ends up retaining the current language in its iPhone OS 4.0 developer agreement, it will all but assure the ultimate supremacy of Google Android devices in the mobile market.The contractual language of the iPhone OS 4.0 developer agreement requires that developers originate their programs in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript.

It also apparently bans the disclosure of information about device and application usage, a blow to third-party analytics companies, but that's a separate issue.

Apple's prohibition on authoring applications using anything other than its chosen set of languages has created an uproar in the development community.

Despite terse comments attributed to an e-mail message purported to be from Apple CEO Steve Jobs that attempt to frame the issue as an effort to maintain application quality -- only government agencies like the FCC merit a formal response from the company -- iPhone developers reject the suggestion that choice of language dictates application quality.

And to demonstrate that, one developer has compiled a spreadsheet that lists over 130 games -- many of them bestsellers -- that will be banned if Apple actually enforces its new rule.

I'm still inclined to believe Apple may moderate its stance when iPhone OS 4.0 is publicly released in late June and allow developer tools like Unity3D and Corona to continue to be used.

But if Apple takes a hard line and insists on total control of the tool chain, the company will lose a great deal of developer goodwill and talent. And Apple's loss will be Google's gain.

There are already several high-profile developers who have declared their intention to support Google and Android as a result of Apple's policy change. There will be a lot more if Apple follows through.

There may be reasons for Apple to want to exert more control over the development process, but there are more reasons for it to be tolerant.

Witness the current state of innovation in Russia, where entrepreneurs faces a climate hostile to business and leading scientists still look outside the country for opportunity.

Around the time that Apple Computer was making it big in California, Andrey Shtorkh was getting a first-hand look at the Soviet approach to high tech: he guarded the fence keeping scientists inside Sverdlovsk-45, one of the country's secret scientific cities, deep in the Ural Mountains.

Ostensibly, the cities were closed to guard against spies. Its walls also kept scientists inside, and everybody else in the Soviet Union out. While many people in the country went hungry, the scientific centers were islands of well-being, where store shelves groaned with imported food and other goodies.

Security in these scientific islands was so tight, though, that even children wore badges. Relatives had to apply months in advance for permission to visit. "It was a prison, a closed city in every sense," recalls Mr. Shtorkh, then a young soldier.

The New York Times' invocation of Apple is almost too ironic, given the way developers increasingly see the company:

MaCommunism?  Possible website idea?  Thoughts? on Twitpic

If Apple casts the users of third-party tools out of its kingdom, expect an explosion of Android projects.

Developers, like entrepreneurs seek the opportunity to make money, but even the rosiest financial prospects aren't enough to convince developers to do business in a place where they have no rights, no means of redress for grievances, and no clear, stable rules.

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