Apple’s license agreement is it really a surprise?

With Apple’s recently announced changes to it’s License Agreement I really don’t see any surprise in it at all. My computing career started on an Apple II in high school but that was the extent of my exposure to Apple hardware and software until I won an iPod back in my Borland days. I followed with some interest what seemed to be the near death of Apple back in the Gil Amelio days and the curious flirtation with 3rd party hardware manufacturers which was subsequently crushed.

If anything Apple has always fiercely protected what makes it Apple. They’re an incredibly innovative company and while I’ve heard and read people talking about these recent changes being reminiscent of Mac vs. Windows I’d disagree. There are some significant differences this time around particularly when you consider Apple’s control over and influence on content producers, something that didn’t exist “back in the day”. This time around Apple arguably has the best device, and I’m a big Android fan but it’s plainly missing tons of polish that the iPhone has in spades.

With the recent release of the iPad and all the magazines and newspapers scrambling to leverage it to salvage their fading print business once again Apple is in the drivers seat. If you look at the landscape Apple has lots of things going for it right now on the content side. Take for example the fact the Droid has a non-existent music experience and that their online Market is rather laughable when compared to the AppStore. No matter how lame iTunes is we’ve all had it for years and got sucked into it well before the iPhone came out with an iPod or two (or three). Also, if you’ve watched Apple’s iPhone announcements over the years they’ve always highlighted gaming. There’s been no shortage of games produced for the platform and I’d guess the vast majority of those wouldn’t really have issues when it comes to the recent license agreement changes (though that’s just a guess). Now with the advent of the iPad with all it’s hype we’re going to see an explosion of cool games that do all sorts of new things and the movie, magazine, book and newspaper reading experience will all now have to live up to Apple’s standard which is going to be very difficult to do. In other words I don’t think it’s going to slow the growth of the AppStore any time soon which gets right to my point…

Apple is going to, rightly, protect its business and the experience of using their devices is damn enjoyable and very fluid, far more so than on Android. It’s easy to understand they wouldn’t want a game, or any application, to play/function exactly the same on any other platform. It’s also easy to see after years of cultivating their “relationship” with the music industry there’s probably no company better positioned to negotiate rights to movies, magazines, newspapers or other multi-media content particularly now they have a larger screen device all those parties surely want to be on.

One way to look at this is that developers are getting screwed though I think that’s perhaps short sighted if your goal as a developer is for the platform that you’re targeting to succeed for years to come. Apple is working to protect their platform and with iAd, if anything, they’re looking to expand not only their revenue but their developer community’s as well. Makes sense.

When I step back and look at it, Apple’s been cultivating all kinds of relationships using their mobile devices with developer’s, non-Mac users, music enthusiasts, gamers and entire industries. They’ve created an experience, whether it’s in the Apple store or on the AppStore or on a mobile device that’s difficult to top and I’m hard pressed to think of another company in a similar position. At least Kliener Perkins seems to agree.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on the subject. What’s your take?

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6 thoughts on “Apple’s license agreement is it really a surprise?

  1. I think Apple is being heavy-handed. Whatever the target of the 3.3.1 clause, I think most reasonable developers agree that it’s overly broad – not only does it affect Flash cross-platform targeting, but also MonoTouch (which isn’t a cross-platform framework but targets Cocoa directly), Unity (which [b]is[/b] cross-platform [b]and[/b] used by some leading iPhone games) and potentially most apps which include a parser (bison, yacc etc.). If there is a genuine problem of fit and finish, of seeming awkward on the platform, the App Store review process ought to be sufficient. Moreover, games in particular usually don’t conform to OS conventions, usually preferring heavily themed buttons, listboxes, etc., with a UI driven by a game loop rather than an event loop. And the most common kind of Flash app I see is games – and they similarly use diverse and themed UIs.

    As to the media companies etc., there’s a perception problem IMHO. Media companies are suffering from a surplus of supply. The Internet is so efficient a publishing mechanism that it’s really cheap for companies to target a much wider audience than before. There needs to be a lot of consolidation, and in e.g. staffing terms, the industry needs to shrink. And with a lower cost base, revenues will shrink too. Media companies are nostalgic for an older time, when they could get away with charging for a physical product, where a huge amount of ads relative to content was tolerable, and in part necessary to support the large cost base. They think the iPad allows things to get back to "normal", as it were, but I’m pretty sure they’re wrong.

    The perception problem comes because the media which covers the iPad has a vested interest in hyping it as a content distribution mechanism, TV 2.0, whatever you want to call it. People rave about The Elements, the iPad equivalent of the coffee-table book, but 14 USD for something that takes between 3% and 11% of your storage space and is basically tasteful pictures of spinning rocks? The data and tables can be had elsewhere for free.

    I thought this was a very insightful article: http://toc.oreilly.com/2010/04/why-ipad-adaptation-is-an-uphill-battle-for-incumbent-publishers.html

    Speaking personally, I never got sucked in to iTunes. I’ve always thought it was a crummy product – ironically, probably because of the cross-platform UI issues. I have precisely one FairPlay DRM’d music track, currently inaccessible to me (it was in a previous OS install on a different machine); I buy all my music as mp3s from Amazon. I don’t manage my music from iTunes either, keeping it classified in directories on a Samba share on my home NAS. I can use ID3-guided symbolic links in the file system to arrange by genre, artist, etc. But naturally, those techniques don’t apply to most people.

  2. Hi Steve,
    my first computer was an Apple IIe :)
    After that an Apple IIgs, a Mac Plus, a Mac Quadra 610…

    When 10 years ago the DOJ went after Microsoft I agreed with the fact that MS shouldn’t tie IE to the OS, I would have also agreed to split MS in two or three companies. I agreed a little bit less with the European anti trust decision to fine MS because they put a media player in their OS or with the ballot screen enforcement since users always have had the ability to install third parties apps and MS has not prevent in anyway to use them. So those fines/limitations are kind of too much.

    But in general I agree with the concept of market regulations. If a company has a strong market position it can’t just do whatever it wants. It has to allow the ecosystem to grow and compete.

    I consider crazy that Apple can force ebook editors to raise the prices of ebooks on the Amazon store if they want to sell also through the Apple store as well. That is what in Europe we call "abuse of dominant position" and should not be tolareted.

    Prohibiting to use third parties tools to develop apps for a platform is also unacceptable. What about if MS back in the days had prohibited to use Borland tools to develop apps for Windows?

    Apple is trying to control avery possible revenue channel on its platform. It builds the hardware, the operating system, it controls [b]arbitrarily [/b]which app can be installed on the device and it takes part of the revenue of each app sale, it controls most of the multimedia content (even such a stupid thing like a ring tone is under Apple control) it’s going to control each and every ad and make 40% out of them and at the same time is going to ban any possible competitor… it just doesn’t sound right.

    I don’t want to buy a car and then been forced by the car manufacturer to buy the tires from him or use only the gasoline that he sells and so on no matter how good tha car, the tires or the gasoline are… Microsoft has never gone so far as Apple is going right now… and I don’t want a future where one single company owns and control everything no matter how good or polish their products are. I don’t want a big brother! ;)

    Right now Jobs looks like Gollum and its precious ring… iPhone! ;)

    And to laugh even more:
    http://nanocr.eu/2010/04/10/steve-jobs-admits-itunes-for-windows-is-a-sub-standard-app/
    ;)

    Ciao :D

    P.S. There’s an app for iPhone made by my company… so I’m speaking as a part of the developer comunity ;)

  3. I agree it’s not surprising, but I do believe it’s wrong. As long as the code ends up getting compiled into an executable format that the iPhone/iPad runs, it should be good. They are specifying the actual language and IDE that you must write your code with now. That is beyond a control freak mentality.

    My guess as to why they’re doing it is because they want the vendor lock in from developers. They don’t want you to be able to easily take existing code and release for Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android. Sure, Jobs can talk about the LCD experience of wrapper APIs, but what it comes down to is him trying to stick it to the Android devices at the expense of developers.

    This is the first time I’ve had cause to reevaluate my support of the Apple market, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

  4. Good comments all. Thanks!

    Personally, I don’t find these actions out of line or inconsistent with what Apple has (almost) always done with respect to protecting their market. Is it overly broad? Perhaps but the competition (particularly mobile) is fierce and many other companies had years and years to figure out how to make compelling devices and it wasn’t until Apple came along with the iPod did things start to turn. Marrying the iPod with a phone was a logical extension of the device yet they blew the doors off in terms of usabiliyt litterally schooling all other device/OS manufacturers and only Apple had positioned itself to do such a thing by pushing the Music industry so hard. Clearly, they’re in a similar position regarding books and as soon as they announced the iPad they had prices changing which demonstrates their power on the content side. Is that wrong? I’m don’t necessarily think so regardless of the fact I dislike it.

    The arguments here make it sound like "we" (as developers) should be able to do whatever "we" want on their platform which not something Apple has ever supported just walk into an Apple store, all the boxes from all software vendors look the same. They have that level of control over their platform and that’s not something that will change anytime soon.

  5. Why Apple can protect the experiece, AKA its business, and MS can’t? I love Outlook, it’s one of the best PIM ever designed, why crappy clients should ever be allowed to connect to Exchange? Why any office program but from Office itself should be allowed to open Office documents and probably trash them with their bad written code? Why application which do not follow the excellent Windows UI design guidelines should be allowed to run on Windows, worsening the experience? Why IE should not enable a better web experience with its own extension, and who cares if other browsers don’t comply?

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