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iPhone software to be regulated

MacNN reports that it's heard rumours that Apple will be tightly controlling iPhone software. I don't think that's very surprising, and this is what I thought Apple will be doing since the announcement of the SDK.

If you look at what Apple has done in the past, this is actually what they are doing already, with Mac software: Apple has full control over the Apple stores, both online and brick-and-mortar. If your application does anything that they don't want it to do, they can choose not to sell it.

Depending on your market, this can already make or break your business: If you're offering the kind of application that is best bought by non-technical users, statistics have shown that a large group buy a Mac once, and buy anything they need along with the machine at the Apple store. Then they'll just use that Mac until it breaks, and not upgrade or install new software, except if it comes in using automated software updates or is a gift from a more technical inclined friend.

As it happens, that is how most of us buy our cars and stereos, too, so it's not too surprising that the Mac, as the more end-user-focused computer from the very start, would be treated the same. And it doesn't help much that a Mac application can be available for download on the internet, or for sale at a non-Apple store, because that hypothetical you's typical user doesn't buy additional software over the net, and will be unlikely to buy any add-ons either.

Back to the iPhone: Apple said it didn't want it open, because telecom companies are fearing for their networks. The iPod touch uses the same operating system, so if they open that, they make it the entrypoint for hackers into the iPhone OS X. Also, Apple benefits from their contracts with the telecom companies. Apple is supposedly getting a big slice of the monthly contracts, which includes text messaging (aka SMS) and phone calls.

If Apple let any Joe Blow develop for the iPhone, hacks that "jailbreak" iPhones would quickly be available. Apple will want to regulate it. And they have a business model in place already for that: iPod games, and aforementioned Apple stores.

iPod games are distributed via the iTunes store, and iTunes is already used to deploy software updates to iPods and iPhones. And while some sort of SDK must exist for iPod games, Apple has only made it available to select third parties, upon invitation. It's a controlled ecosystem that works.

If some app breaks the license agreement that comes with the iPhone, they'll simply get thrown out of the store. This alone will already marginalize that application, because the general public will be unable to get it, only techies will still be able to use it. This is by no means a bullet-proof means of keeping out the crackers and jailbreakers, but many developers who may right now be supporting their efforts so they can get their favorite feature on the iPhone (be it a text editor, an interface for bluetooth keyboards or an emulator for their favorite classic computer games) will be lost to them because they can do everything with the sanctioned SDK.

Also, while Apple announced an SDK, they didn't announce who gets it. It may well be open to the general public, but maybe you have to apply, and maybe you'll have to provide Apple with a public key and use your private key to sign any applications you want to release. If that's the case, all it takes for Apple to turn off any undesired software that may already be out there is one firmware update that blacklists the developer's key. Moreover, they'll be able to identify a crack using this key, and they'll be able to easily sue the perpetrator for breach of contract. Code signing is already part of the desktop Mac OS X, it would probably not take much effort to also include it in the iPhone version.

One make-or-break criterion here is what will happen to open-source software: Apple pays for the bandwidth used for downloading applications from the iTMS, and they'll probably get their share for distributing it, just like every other distributor. Will they make an exception for free software, on the terms that they'll drive people to discover all the for-pay stuff on their site? Will users pay a download fee of a couple cents to Apple? Will Apple prevent free software from being distributed on the grounds that most of it will probably be quick hacks and low-quality anyway? Will they review free software and simply offer a few big-name, high-quality projects for free?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Reader Comments: (RSS Feed)
Dan Gelder writes:
I can't WAIT to be sued for previously overriding some bit of Apple kit for merely exposing some bit of functionality that the user wanted to do. And, I just LOVE it when my work, my fun, and my life of personal accomplishment is suddenly blocked from public eyes, before the lawsuit. Finally, the realization that the odds as an independent developer are stacked against me from the start, will ENERGIZE me into seeking a way to punish Apple for its sins against the natural order. Go ahead, Apple. Fight the 2.0. \Tongue In Cheek
Sebastian writes:
What's particularly frightening is the prospect that Apple might extent their control of what software you may run to the non-mobile market, too. After all, since the iPhone basically runs OS X, the relevant code is either already in there, or not hard to integrate. Imagine one day Apple will announce that only software certified by them will run on some new revision of Mac OS. I'm sure there are "end users" who will actually be delighted: Of course, all major software will be available in certified versions; there's no more risk of clicking on malware etc. But for those of us who do development, that's a gloomy outlook indeed. Will my next laptop have to run Linux again?
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Created: 2008-03-01 @284 Last change: 2014-08-20 @488 | Home | Admin | Edit
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