My I-also-think-Apple-is-sauced post

I've been following the total shit storm blowing all over the web re: the new iPhone OS 4 ToS and the dreaded clause 3.3.1 from my favorite perch at HN. Been mulling a post since this whole thing started and all of a sudden posterous gives me a reason to do it. Everyone who knows me knows that I am totally into Apple and their products. Unfortunately, I love their Products but hate their Policies. For those not in the know lets take a look at the latest wrinkle in the Emperor's finest robe:

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

Oy, where to begin... Ok, lets start with some programming 101. Virtually everything that you and I do on a modern computer is written in a language the computer does not understand. Programmers write programs in many, many, many, many different languages. Almost too many to count. Simply, what happens next is that these programs are translated into machine code that the physical computer actually knows what to do with. Further, programmers are know to program in one language to translate into another and so on for a long time now. The fact that Apple has unanimously decided to usurp the practice of programming for it's product is, simply, outrageous. On its face this ToS change is ridiculous, counter productive and a step backwards for the discipline. Also, I plainly do not believe it is enforceable at a technical level.

Most everybody who has even a passing interest in the iPhone knows that the only way to get a program onto an iPhone is via the prescribed anointed channel - The App Store. What is less known is that there are other ways to get illicit (from Apple's perspective) software on the iPhone by means of - what boils down to - exploiting software vulnerabilities in the iPhone OS.  Apple succeeded in creating a closed ecosystem and justified it under the guise of securing their product on behalf of the users (Oh, the children! Save the children!). And now Apple is taking another step on the other side of the device by dictating more stringent terms to their developer community. Even before this latest encumberment, there was a lively discussion revolving around the seemingly capricious position Apple was taking by acting as judge, jury and executioner for all who wanted to deploy on iPhone OS. With this latest step I am here to tell you that Apple has officially crossed the line. 

Lets talk in practicalities. Like everyone else, programmers have areas that they excel in. In particular programmers gravitate towards different languages for one reason or another and make their home in one or more language. By limiting which languages are acceptable, Apple is forcing those who want to program for the iPhone to become proficient in one of their anointed languages. According to these new rules, third party tools which allow a programmer to program in another fashion and produce output which will work on the iPhone OS are verboten. Unfortunately for Apple the world is a lot smaller than it was in the 1980's and 1990's. Word spreads, the few people who actually read ToS's tweet their findings from their android mobiles. Perhaps most corrosively, cultures evolve. The developer community today is not the same as decades past. Today's best and brightest are milling about the Google Code, Bitbucket and Github water coolers. Coding has moved from a solitary pursuit to a social engagement. Coders and hackers and programmers are actively seeking each other out and discussing the latest and greatest events of the day in real-time, all the time. This move seriously threatens to undermine Apple's credibility in this community. The very same community that can make or break the iPhone OS in all it's hardware manifestations.

At the end of the day, this rule change is not only bad for programmers, bad for consumers but most importantly it sets a terrible precedent for the future of programming. Where is the freedom to innovate when all directives come from a central command? Recent history has already shown us how IBM and Microsoft abused their position to their long term detriment and how a command economy can fail. My related comment on one of the HN threads regarding this issue had an interesting historical reply. Turns out AT&T tried a similar thing back when they ruled the roost. Imagine that you had to use one of AT&T's phone to make a phone call? Absurd? Not so. Ironic then that Steve and Woz got their start hacking hardware to scam long distance phone calls from AT&T! Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. I really want to see Apple win in the marketplace. They have been for a while now and I would like to see it continue - but at what price? I'll reserve judgement till iPhone OS 4 actually ships but developers have to agree to the terms now. I, for one, say that if things stay the way they are it is too high a price to pay and I'll just shift my stack and double down on Google.

Lets admit the iPad is an iLetDown

I wouldn't be true to all the people out there who know me as an Apple super user and always ask me which Apple products to get if I didn't tell it like it is and call Apple out when they iFlop. I'm a big Apple fan, have all kinds of Apple products from the Mac Pro to the iPod shuffle. But I gotta say I feel kinda let down after this mornings announcement. Lets take a look at whats iWanting (in no particular order):

  • no background apps
  • no multitasking
  • no osx
  • no root
  • no camera
  • itsy bitsy baby storage
  • no removable media
  • no GPS
  • 3G from... ATT?
Lets delve into these points one at a time:

No Background Application
One of the biggest drawbacks of the iPhone OS, which powers the iPhone and the iTouch and soon to be released iPad, is that regular non-Apple applications can not run in the background. Basically when you open that nice shiny Facebook app and then you wan to turn to your even shinier weather app, Outside, your iPhone basically closes Facebook and opens Outside. Now this might be all well and good for some apps, but what about others that need to maintain a connection to the mother ship, like say, an instant messaging app? Or an app that does some processing for you? Well, your'e kinda out of luck.

No Multitasking
See above. Want to switch between apps or a number of apps? They all need to save their state on exit and reinitialize when they open up. Slow, slow, slow.

iPhone OS is not OSX. It is a neutered derivative. Want to do all the interesting things you can do on your Macbook or iMac or Mac Pro? You can't. Like finder. Want to share files between applications? No, can't do that. 

No root
Now this is a little technical but on unix based systems (of which all OSX systems are based) "root" is what's known as the master user. This user can control what happens within the operating system, more specifically has privileges other users do not. This concept is not exposed to the iPhone OS. This is all well and good (to a degree) on personal devices like the iPhone or iTouch. But the iPad strikes me as a multiuser device. I haven't seen anything yet that speaks to this fact. How do you share an iPad in a household without letting all the users have access to everything on the device?

No Camera
This is probably one of the biggest blunders. Virtually every consumer electronics device that plays in the computer space comes with a camera nowadays. In fact, I believe the iPad now follows the iTouch, iPod classic and iPod shuffle as the only Apple devices that come sans camera. Interested in new augmented reality applications? Ain't gonna happen. Video conferencing from the couch? Nope. Pictures of your cat sitting on your lap while reading the NYT? Not bloody likely.

Itsy bitsy baby storage
64GB max internal storage? Give me a break. Steve, et al want this device to be your library, your jukebox and your vcr? And they only give you 64GB? Full stop.

No removable media
See above. The newer Macbook Pro's now come with a builtin sd card reader. Those little sd cards are virtually ubiquitous when it comes to removable storage. You can find them in everything from digital cameras and HD video camcorders to portable gps devices which keep a running record of your last 50 mile bike ride. Which segues nicely to:

What's the matter, Apple? No love for Foursquare? No love for location based applications like navigation or search? So the accelerometer and compass are just for games and knowing which way to look for the sunrise after a long night reading ebooks.

3G from... ATT?
What the deuce? This just smacks of "we had no time to line up other providers so we went with the junk that we already know." And an extra $130 for the 3G chipset. Come on. And the $15/month plan for 250MB? Come the #@%^ on. How bout you give me 10GB from your "unlimited" plan for $15 or $20 and call it a day.


My gripes fall along two main areas, software and hardware. I get the argument that background apps and multitasking drain battery life. But this is not a pocket device. This is something that borders a laptop and as such needs more software horsepower at the OS level than just "lite" applications we all call "apps." As for the hardware, the surface area alone of this device is something like 7 times that of the iTouch. Cram some more goodies in there, will you? Have you seen the Ipod Nano? The thing is miniscule and comes with a video camera! Apple could have put two cameras on this thing - front and back. Not to mention an sd card reader, and a gps chipset.

Lets face it, this is a larger iPhone 3Gs or iTouch with no calling plan. And the name is iLame, as a friend of a friend said, "sounds like a feminine hygiene product, ipad maxi for the large model." Will the iPad find a market? Sure. Will Baby boomers appreciate the larger fonts and soft keyboard? I know a few who certainly will. Will the Publishing industry sacrifice their first born children to get their content on this device? Absolutely. Will the ebook experience be "insanely great" as Jobs would have you believe? Probably. Will I recommend it to my friends? Probably not. Get the iTouch or save your shekels for a Macbook. If you just want an ebook reader, get the Kindle. Better yet, just don't buy ebooks that are laden with DRM.

At the end of the day this can only be seen as an evolutionary advance over the iPhone and iTouch, if that, and not the revolutionary device I know I had been hoping for. File this one under iFail. What do you think? Does Apple have another winner or will the iPad be sitting next to AppleTV getting drunk at next years Apple Christmas party?


New Markets

If innovation is the lifeblood of capitalism, then new markets are the pools that innovators wish to swim in. Today, the business world is aflutter with news out of Apple and Amazon regarding, what else, their relatively new devices. News those already plugged in have known for some time now.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article profiling Apple's new market: App Store. For those not in the know, imagine the App Store as the iTunes of software applications. Where iTunes was the location where you bought music for your iPod, App Store (which also happens to operate through iTunes and on the devices themselves) is the location where you buy software applications for the iPhone and iTouch.

Since the first release of the iPhone and its close cousin, the iTouch, I have been telling anyone that would listen that the iPhone is not a cell phone that plays music. Rather the iPhone is a computer that also makes phone calls. Once you come around to this point of view you really see the potential of the device as a whole new computing platform. Which brings us back to the App Store.

All new platforms create vibrant, profitable markets - if they are successful. According to the numbers detailed in the WSJ article Apple is making somewhere on the order of one million dollars per day. That figure is just their take: 30% of App Store sales. The remainder is apportioned to the application developer. This new market, which did not exist before the release of the new iPhone 3G on July 11, 2008 has delivered a new avenue of earnings potential for thousands of independent software vendors around the globe.

This symbiotic relationship between Apple and its developers, although not a perfect marriage, is good enough to attract new developers in droves which, in turn, makes the iPhone platform more appealing to new customers. This then translates to a larger market for Apple's higher margin offerings: The Mac (both desktop and laptop). All this exemplifies the vaunted Halo Effect.

Also today, Citibank released an analyst research report which talks up Amazon's own consumer device, the Kindle (most of this data comes right from Amazons most recent quarterly report). This device has been likened to the iPod of books. And quite frankly, it is. The Kindle allows you to download books and other reading material as easily as you can music via iTunes. I expect great things from Kindle. Just as the original iPod, released in 2001 was not universally adored and even ridiculed by some, the Kindle will undergo many revisions over the years to come making the device as user friendly and ubiquitous as the iPod is today.

The ease of use and space saving nature of electronic media distribution is very compeling to those that either do not currently participate in the print based market place or limit their exposure for any number of reasons. I firmly believe that instead of cannibalizing the established print market, Kindle, and other devices that will no doubt follow, will only act to grow the pie.

Just as Google validated the nacent online advertising market pioneered by their pregenetors creating a well established, thriving, marketplace so too will Apple's App Store and Amazons Kindle do the same in their respective areas. Content creators would do well to recognize these early forays into a new market and take advantage of them lest they be left behind with the likes of the RIAA and MPAA.