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Don’t alienate developers

Remember Ballmer shouting ad nauseam “Developers, developers, developers”? I’m sure you’ve seen the original video and even a few techno remixes. Whether he truly meant it or not, his message was correct: it’s all about developers. Any platform that doesn’t attract developers is bound to fail.

Microsoft is trying to make an effort to please developers by shifting to a more open attitude towards the development community. Their record is far from pristine, but at least they are making a concrete attempt not to piss off programmers who chose to develop for any of their platforms – efforts which are rarely acknowledged.

Apple, a company that is generally considered far from “sinister” or “evil”, on the other hand, is trying their best to alienate developers. This is a crucial and costly mistake, even if they are a hardware company whose interest is mostly centered around their phones at this stage.

Their first idiotic move was to place an NDA on a finished product like the iPhone SDK (including the final version). For the ecosystem surrounding a platform to flourish, it’s fundamental that developers are able to freely share their knowledge. This move has many repercussions including the inability to publish books on the subject, something that is clearly a stepping-stone when it comes to being able to reach a broad audience of programmers.

Apple then decided that it was a good idea to charge people for the privilege to develop for the iPhone: $99 (that’s a hundred bucks, we are not idiots and this is not a grocery store). Thousands of other developers would have likely given it a shot and tried to tap into this new platform (and market opportunity), or simply experimented with it to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. But putting a $99 price tag on the Standard Program will push away the silent majority of potential developers and surely most freeware authors. Why would Apple do this? For a few extra bucks? That is nothing short of nearsighted thinking which only benefits a company in the short term and does serious harm in the long run.

These were two blatant mistakes, but, if you can believe it, Apple managed to alienate developers further still. A few thousand people put up with the NDA on the SDK, with the cost of the Standard Program, and with the lengthy and bureaucratic process it takes to access the only viable distribution channel, the iPhone App Store. Some of them spent months trying to create excellent, innovative applications for the iPhone, only to see their work rejected for no good reason other than that it competed with Apple’s own products (e.g. Podcaster) or was inconvenient for their business partner AT&T (e.g. NetShare). How shortsighted is that? It’s almost as stupid as the RIAA, which has a habit of suing its own customers.

Following the uproar of complaints about this, Apple decided that the best way to deal with developers’ malcontent was to legally bind them to shut up. So now the rejection letters many developers are receiving are covered by an NDA as well.

How low will Apple go? I understand that a few developers are making a good deal of money from some popular applications, and that the iPhone is a hot product which may change the mobile world. I can even grasp that programming in Objective-C is fun. But how many developers is Apple alienating, how many great applications will never be written because programmers object in principle to developing for Apple’s platform?

I fail to see Apple’s usual business insight and only see blind greed, the kind that acts as a highly effective cautionary tale against developing for Apple’s platforms. This all comes at a time when Google is promoting a truly open platform, Android, which poses a few challenges due to the heterogeneous nature of the devices it will be deployed on, but is equally interesting from a technical standpoint. Google even went so far as to award ten million dollars in prize money through a contest that they held, to attract new developers and applications. Android is definitely welcoming new developers and it’s doing so free from glaring restrictions and limitations.

I suspect that many will put up with Java, to get a cup of freedom.


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34 Responses to “Don’t alienate developers”

  1. Sierra Bravo says:

    I totally agree with the points raised. Apple is being asinine about engaging with the user community. This may well be the first step towards its downfall.

    At a higher level, Apple is at best promoting a device ecosystem through its iPhone. On the other hand Google is trying to promote a whole new culture and platform ecosystem through not just the GPhone device, but also the idiom of GPhone development. At a personal level, I have no doubts which strategy is likely to sustain itself in the long run. After all, there is only so much a ‘cute’ UI can do…

    Sierra Bravo

  2. GermanBrot says:

    This is the reason why developers need to make their profits from Cydia/Installer and not worry about the apple hassle. The best apps have been developed AND released underground through these channels such as PDAnet, MMS, Video Recording, Video Wallpapers, and many other things you CANT find in a dumbgraded app store. Yes…MMS and Video Recording have been around since last year for the iPhone. Support the RiP Dev, Jay Freeman, and the others…why spend $100 on a maybe accepted app?

  3. Alan says:

    I mostly agree, but I’m not sure it is a mistake to charge $99 for the Standard Program. That’s a very small barrier to entry, which helps ensure that developers who develop apps for your beautiful phone are at least a little bit serious. Apple is probably already spending a lot of money deciding which apps to reject. It’s a tradeoff.

  4. Kamil says:

    As the owner of MacBook I’ve bought iPhone and also got disgusted by Apple’s attituted toward self-employed developers. I wanted to build something for fun in my spare time, but I will rather keep it for everyday use and will definitely try Google’s Android thing.

  5. M. Sait Özen says:

    I definitely agree

  6. krekker says:

    Thanks Antonio, that nailed it down. I think the the iphone sdk is the better designed all-in-one platform, with Cocoa Touch Framework, UI and Xcode IDE, but with the NDA and the intransparent process of getting your app to the app-store, apple will loose developers on the long run. On the other hand the android platform seems to be truly open, but at the moment it’s unclear what the process of getting your app to the google app(lication)-store will be. Hopefully apple will make the step to withdraw the NDA.

  7. peterba says:

    Apple has always wanted to focus on ease-of-use, consistency, and desirability. They model themselves after BMW or Porche and not Ford or Microsoft.

    I don’t think their rejecting of apps and charging developers has to do with arrogance or greed. It has to do with straddling the line between a completely open platform (like Microsoft, which they don’t want) and a locked-down, Apple-only platform (which they also don’t want).

    They want to control the experience, while still being seen by the larger, non-tech community as “open”.

  8. Daniel Myers says:

    The NDA doesn’t even serve any useful purpose. Normally an NDA is to prevent your competitors from finding out what you are doing. But in this case any random person in the world can sign up for an apple developer account, click through the NDA and have access to the materials. I have a hard time imagining that all of Apple’s phone competitors haven’t already done this. The only thing it’s doing is as you said, preventing developers from sharing tips and preventing books from being published. To what aim?

  9. Ian says:

    Java is a far-from-perfect language, but I’d say its at least as good as objective C. In fact, Java seems somewhat inspired by the relatively simplicity of objective C, at least related to its hideous cousin C++.

    Java also has the huge advantage that it isn’t just one language, its a family of languages that all run on the JVM. I’m particularly excited by Scala, but there are many others too (JRuby, Jython, Groovy, etc).

  10. Sam Jew says:

    Would Bohemian Grove have any street cred if membership followed the same process as Blockbuster?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Just one small correction:

    The $99 fee for the standard program doesn’t prevent anyone from trying their hand at developing applications. You can get the SDK for free via developer.apple.com. The fee is only levied for those who intend to publish an application via the App Store. I’ve played around with coding for the iPhone quite a bit, but have yet to pay, as my idle messing about wouldn’t really be a hot seller.

  12. @Anonymous, yes the $99 are for the Standard Program, not for the SDK itself.

  13. Phil says:

    Having to go through any sort of approval process to release software is degrading. I’m surprised so many people are putting up with such an insult.

    I *am* glad that even people who are normally Mac fans are calling Apple out on it though; it’s refreshing to see Apple no longer get a free pass on all their dirty moves as they have in the past. (ITMS DRM, etc.)

  14. Susan Potter says:

    I agree a great deal with this posting. Even though I actually really don’t like using Microsoft’s OSes (I am a Linux/Solaris geek) I agree that their development programs and tools are far superior to what I have seen Apple provide today. I am far from a M$ fan, but completely resent Apple’s current authoritarian interactions with their developer community. And most importantly Google’s developer community relations is one of the best (for a very large firm with real clout).

    If I were choosing a device platform to focus strategic efforts it would certainly be Android currently. The only reason I might allocate developer resources to an iPhone application would be for a short-term business need. Though I am currently not in the embedded space now.

    Good post that highlighted the main issues with Apple’s attitude to developers. They should remember without developers, they are not very appealing for end-users. They need to pucker up or face a steady by sure decline in market share.

  15. Porcolino Pimpolho says:

    I’m into Assembly and (nano/micro)kernels. Everybody hates me because I’m not a real developer. =’(

  16. antirez says:

    about the $99 fee, I think in their minds the idea was to create a barrier to entry: because they validate every application before to release it inside the AppStore I guess the $99 fee will prevent Apple to sift thousands of hello world applications. Of course they don’t realize that this is taking far from the iPhone tons of free software developers.

  17. antirez says:

    Sorry for commenting again but I guess this is the right topic to say that some week ago I wrote a guide that shows step by step how to setup an open toolchain programming environment inside the iPhone itself with an example Hello World application:

    http://antirez.com/page/iphone-gcc-guide.html

    This will probably save you a few hours on google.com

  18. Barry Kelly says:

    Apple not “sinister” or “evil”??? Since when? I’ve long viewed Apple with huge suspicion, and the continual stream of stories of them squelching this, squashing that, suing those folks, tells me loud and clear that they don’t want to share the limelight with anyone.

    They are a far greater force for evil than Microsoft, with respect to both developers and users who respect freedom.

    Apple’s absolute prioritization of design aesthetic leads almost ineluctably to patronizing bondage, “for your own good”.

    People enforcing their morals upon me, and telling me it is “for my own good”, are amongst the most insidiously (and unwittingly) evil people I know.

  19. gypsydoctor says:

    I applied to be a developer, using my corporation. After six weeks of non-response, I finally got an email that I needed to fax them copies of my corporate papers. There was no return email address or phone number, just a fax number. Screw that.

  20. if this policy came from the government, or from a monopoly convicted company, you would have a point.

    But it comes from Apple, far from being a monopoly, a newcomer in the smartphone business, known for creating great products and at the same time contributing with open source code and open standards

    If you don’t like how Apple behaves, that’s fine. Vote with your dollar (or with your development support). You just don’t have the right to tell Apple how to manage its business by harshly criticizing it.

    Be honest with yourself, and tell how frustrated you are because you can’t get what you like the way you want it. Wait, is it a hidden agenda you have there?

  21. Gerardo, I’m afraid you are mistaken. Mine is criticism towards policies that are far from being developer friendly, or being smart choices in general for that matter. It’s an analysis coming from someone who is not involved in any way with that specific market. I don’t own a smart phone, and I don’t plan to develop for any mobile devices, be it Apple’s or Google’s. I don’t have a hidden agenda and there is nothing personal about it. That said, I have the right to express my opinions, even if Apple is surely not going to change any policies because of them.

  22. Oztron says:

    Indeed, I saw that they were charging to be an iphone developer and laughed from the beginning.
    This is a toy for developers who need to be able to say ‘I work on such and such.’ Being microsoft certified was cool once too.

  23. Coderholic says:

    Apple seem to have made some mistakes with regards to iPhone developers, but I don’t think it’ll affect them too badly. Lots of people are still developing for the iPhone for a simple reason: There is lots of money to be made.

  24. @Coderholic: They will do just fine, but the platform won’t live up to its full potential.

  25. “So now the rejection letters many developers are receiving are covered by an NDA as well”

    No. The rejection letter was always protected by the NDA. Apple just reminded them about that.

    “But how many developers is Apple alienating, how many great applications will never be written because programmers object in principle to developing for Apple’s platform?”

    Time and the market will tell. Right now, there are a lot of of applications available and sold, which means a lot of developers and clients for the iPhone. Rejecting only three of those lots of applications because one is deceiving, the other is idiotic and another advertises itself as “get rid of iTunes”, the very Apple’s distribution platform, is not in anyone’s interest, besides whining bloggers.

    “I fail to see Apple’s usual business insight and only see blind greed”

    If it were about greed, wouldn’t it make more sense to let that stupid “I am Rich” application to be distributed? After all, Apple is getting a 30% from it. Then, it’s not about greed.

    No, I don’t think you give a damn about Apple’s business. Don’t pretend to do so.

    “I suspect that many will put up with Java, to get a cup of freedom”

    Oh, so you thought that Apple’s investment in creating a platform (the OS, the device, the distribution system, the marketing, the development tools …) was done especially for you, or any developer, to exercise your freedom? Wow…

    P.S. This post may help to see another side of this topic:
    http://www.roughlydrafted.com/2008/09/25/the-iphone-store-impending-disaster-myth/

  26. Time and the market will tell. Right now, there are a lot of of applications available and sold, which means a lot of developers and clients for the iPhone. Rejecting only three of those lots of applications because one is deceiving, the other is idiotic and another advertises itself as “get rid of iTunes”, the very Apple’s distribution platform, is not in anyone’s interest, besides whining bloggers.

    The iPhone will do just fine, no one is disputing that. But the iPhone will do well, despite these mistakes, not because of them.

    If it were about greed, wouldn’t it make more sense to let that stupid “I am Rich” application to be distributed? After all, Apple is getting a 30% from it. Then, it’s not about greed.

    That application was hardly an application and that was grounds enough to pull it from the app store. If you add in the fact that many people complained about purchasing it by mistake, you realized that it was more trouble than it was worth. And that’s why, in my opnion, it was pulled.

    No, I don’t think you give a damn about Apple’s business. Don’t pretend to do so.

    Meh. I care about technology, the IT market, a potentially innovative platform and so on. I’m not an Apple shareholder and I don’t have sympathy or distain for the company. I love some of their products but I’m still free to comment when they make mistakes. This goes for them or any other company.

    Oh, so you thought that Apple’s investment in creating a platform (the OS, the device, the distribution system, the marketing, the development tools …) was done especially for you, or any developer, to exercise your freedom? Wow…

    Nope, you completely misunderstood what I said. I said that many developers would opt for an open platform rather than the iPhone, because of Apple’s policy. And this is self-evident if you look at how many people admitted that they are going to develop for Andorid but not for the iPhone, because of this.

    And let me make this clear to you Gerardo, this has nothing to do with whining. It was an analysis that you may disagree with. But that’s all. There is no reason to veer into the territory of personal attacks and insinuations. In every comment on this blog you come across as hostile. If that’s the kind of communication that you like to have with people, please astain from commenting, because you are the one who comes across as sounding bitter and like you have a hidden agenda.

  27. Fair enough.

    I still disagree with your analysis. There’s nothing personal about it. Please, don’t take it so.

    It’s just that these anti-Apple posts look exaggerated to me, when it’s obvious that in the IT arena there are major players that behave really badly, in detriment of that technology you care about, and the public interest.

    Thus, going after Apple just doesn’t find empathy from me, and was unexpected from this blog.

    Anyways, I take your point Antonio, and will try not to sound bitter the next time ;-)

    I miss your articles about Ruby.

  28. kibbles says:

    good post but a couple things…

    1) you dont need to pay $99 to satisfy your curiosity and develop for the iphone. the sdk is free and you can tinker to your heart’s content. but you gotta pay when youre ready to distribute. in addition to them setting up a credit processing account for you, you also get 2 engineering supper tickets for that cost.

    2) NetShare isnt merely “inconvenient” to apple’s partner — its a blatant violation of the service contract you signed when getting your ipod. why wouldnt they enforce that?

    ..that being said…sure i think at&t should have licensed NetShare and perhaps created a new pricing plan for it. and i think apple’s NDA on the published SDK is completely insane. no books!? no forums!?

  29. kibbles says:

    re: “I Am Rich” app.

    “If you add in the fact that many people complained about purchasing it by mistake”

    this is actually false. only 2 people every claimed this, and they both received refunds from the App Store.

    this is understandable considering the premise of such a claim is bogus — that they thought it was $9.99. why bogus? because it was “$999.99″.. thats an entire *two digits* greater a number, and no amount of squinting your eyes can make the decimal look confusing.

    no, make no mistake — apple pulled I Am Rich because they wanted to. possibly (my guess) because they didnt want the platform to seem elitist and show in news articles that way.

  30. Scott Ellsworth says:

    Apple has since lifted the NDA. One might have wanted it to end with the introduction of the 2.0 (or perhaps 2.1) software, but having it open for discussion solves one of the biggest problems.

    I suspect, based on other bloggers and my own contacts there, that this likely happened from a combination of fear on the part of underlings and a lack of leadership at higher levels, combined with a rather uncommunicative culture. For a DTS employee, approving an app that messed with the AT&T contract was likely a career ender, but if there was infighting at the VP level, getting someone higher up to approve a dodgy app is not exactly a career builder either.

    They still need to address the approval process. I do not mind having apps rejected if they do not meet their guidelines, but I very much mind a rejection at the _end_ of the process. As a developer, I would want to get an approval within a week for a concept mock.

    Oh – the $99 fee does not bother me that much, given that I can start development without it. Others may disagree.

    Scott

  31. Kent says:

    I’m late for this but I develop for both OSX and Windows and the Windows cost to entry is MUCH higher than the OSX alternative. You end up spending like $1000 to get the development tools etc purchased and set up before you even get a chance to develop. I was able to prototype a IPhone application and run it on my macbook free of charge. The 1 hundred dollars will get you on an actual device and actual on your friends devices. Once you’ve done both then you can hit the app store…… A hundred dollars is not a lot of money to people in our industry and definitely isn’t a barrier to anyone truely serious about developing for the platform.

  32. [...] non è assolutamente vero, per esempio questo non lo sopporto! Non ritengo che sia un comportamento corretto da parte di Apple: questa cosa non [...]

  33. Alan says:

    I disagree.

    But only because Apple’s anti-developer bias is much more basic, it is embedded (probably with a stake) into the heart od every Apple Developer.

    Every one of them refuses to see me as a possible partner, an enthusiastic encourager, a source of reviews.

    But the fault lies with the useless brain-dead Apple lusers. How the fuck could any developer tale me seriously when I have have adopted for a platform where “the Apple Way” is what I PREFER ?

    How long the fuck do I have to wait before this fucking macbook dies and I can go back to the many dirty sources ?

  34. Babai says:

    Very disappoint, was hoping for a whole new design MBA like and standard SSD or Flash Drive instead of HDD. The 15 should have the ExpressCard Slot like the 17 but they still deal with the SD card. Overall, I don’t think people should upgrade their MacBook Pro yet, just wait for a whole new body design with standard SSD or Flash Drive like the MBA.MacMike1000

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