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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