Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Trojan Horse of Openness

Well, Google just wants to be talked about.

So, not surprisingly, the cell-phone market is huge and extremely profitable for a lot of companies. As everyone knows, Apple is the champion to beat in the smart phone sector. Every smart phone maker for the last 3 years has a obligation to make themselves the iPhone killer. Even Blackberry has made what ostensibly looks like an iPhone OS (be it with the features from the very first iPhone) after they touted how people were giving up on smart-phones without physical keyboards.

But what I really want to talk about is openness and the Android. Now, I am not really familiar with what Android offers in terms of UI or other functionality. I've read that the Nexus 1's touch screen is slightly worse but still second place (to iPhone) and far ahead of other smart phones (including other Android sets).

Other than that, I'm totally unfamiliar with the system. The likely thing is that it's somewhere between iPhone OS 2.0 and iPhone OS 3.0. The thing about having iPhone in first place, is that everyone, even Blackberry, gets a checklist of what to offer its users. Examples are always easier to follow. What I think they do from there, is to add a few features iPhone doesn't have at that time.

Android has very clearly decided that its main differentiator shall be OPENNESS. If you've ever listened to Richard Stallman, you probably noticed that openness is a positive thing, while at the same time being idealism. Openness can add a lot to a system but at the same time, I think Google is using it as a false idol and a marketing tool.

Firstly, how is Apple not open? Well, I have to agree with Google, and other nerds, that Apple's development is not particularly open. Their App store model has forced developers to bow to Apples requirements. Everyone has to go through that conduit in order to have their apps published on the app store. Apple has to vet every single submission to the store and they take a cut of any profits.

The general caveat, is that Apple's approval process is generally unreliable. People have been rejected wrongfully because their content was judged to racy or even to sparse to merit publication. People have been forced to jump through "quality" hoops that often times appear to be arbitrary of even anti-trust when services competing with Apple try to get on the app store.

Also, the apps are not able to "fully" leverage the hardware in terms of leaving apps running in the background or making calls or adjusting the screen brightness etc etc.

Now, I think the best thing to say is that it's important that the App Store vets submissions. It's especially important now since there are over 100,000 apps and it's nearly impossible to sort through. I know this for sure because the app I worked-on has gotten little notice while it certainly deserves to make 50,000$ a day in profits. Right? Well maybe not, but it's a crowded place anyhow.

There have been apps where developers copy and pasted wikipedia into stand-alone apps to make them seem as if they are eBooks. I've also seen iPhone programming examples be published as games on the app store. The fact is that it's pretty important to cut down the static. Unfortunately that means you have to play by Apple's game.

The benefit of reducing the static is that good apps are more prevalent, and people take the chance at buying apps if they can depend on a certain amount of quality in what they buy. This is a system that does not always have Lite apps, and you have to depend on photos, ratings, popularity to go for your wallet.

This is running long, gotta wrap that part up.

So Google is open right? You can just add whatever app you want without Google's approval. You can add apps to their Android Market and it's not a problem. The fact is that currently Google is courting current iPhone successes to bring them to the Android. So you can have anything. Wireless sniffers, ripped eBooks, maybe even a flashlight app that makes the screen brightness really high. So what has come out on the Android market that is an iPhone killer?

Well, Google has put a lot of effort in courting current iPhone developers to port their apps to Android. This apparently includes free Nexus 1's and possibly person to person support. Now, this sounds like they're trying to get as many of iPhones apps on the Android, this closes the differences in the devices which is fine. But really, what is 30,000 apps, even the best of the iPhone, really saying about this platform?

What app is on Android that isn't on iPhone, which wouldn't ever be approved by Apple?

I can't think of any program which is actually useful or interesting. Surely it's easier for the developers on Android. I'm well aware how complex the code-signing process can be, and I've certainly had stops thanks to the limitations of computers per account which iPhone developers are limited by.

But what really is about this openness in regards to the apps (don't tell me hardware, I'm not talking about that right now)? Sure you have to wait for your code to be approved, and maybe there are issues which are usually resolved; but I think that cutting out the static helps iPhone developers and the users too.

But I think there are good benefits to have Android and Apple together. Apple is a company that has been pressured quite a bit to open the iPhone. Apple has reacted to developer and user pressure time and time again to make more features available to developers. To make more apps that they didn't approve available. The fact is that they've always taken that and made the good-business decisions of caving to the requests.

People wanted to program directly for the iPhone, they got a unique never before seen system to do so. What other company allowed so many developers on such a hug platform. Go ask Nintendo or Sony how much that costs just to get a developer license (it's not 100$).

What other phones before it had any more than a dozen development companies which made quality programs? Or made it so simple to purchase them?

Apple didn't start with the App Store. They started with a model of people making web apps. But when they saw the huge interest they took the opportunity and made one of the biggest platforms of all time.

People constantly complained about the app approval process and Apple has continually improved this process. It took not more than 5 business days for our approval, and from what I can tell most of the complaints were redacted.

I do believe that Apple does hold some parts of the OS closed to their chest. And I do think that they've not approved some competing apps solely because they were the competition. But I also believe that Apple is a company that is able to change its mind and learn from its mistakes. With the pressure by users, developers, and competing platforms; they'll inevitably become just as open as Android. If there was a point to that.


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