iPhone/iPod Touch Third-Party Apps: Another Revenue Stream for Apple

Monday Oct 15th 2007 by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
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Apple wants a hand in customers’ pockets over the lifetime of the product. Open source be damned, there’s a profit to be made!

So why is it that Steve Jobs and the gang at Cupertino are so against users being able to install third-party apps onto their iPhones and iPod Touch devices? Why did the last firmware update for the iPhone nuke all the efforts that third-party development community had put into making the latest gadgets from Apple even better?

Is it that Apple is worried that unleashing unverified apps onto the new hardware will lead to all sorts of compatibility and reliability issues, or rather is it that Apple is no longer a hardware company but a content provider? Open source can go hang, after all, there’s a profit to be made.

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When Steve Jobs first let on that the iPhone ran a cut-down version of Mac OS X, gadget enthusiasts and developers were excited about what this could mean. For the first time we could have a truly useful and powerful mobile platform, one that would make existing mobile platforms seem utterly obsolete (if all technology moved at the same pace that platforms such as the iPAQ have, we’d all still be sitting around trying to figure out what to do with that wheel thing). The iPhone could have been the killer gadget that changed the way we looked at mobile devices.

So, what happened? Quite simply, Apple got greedy. Rather than just be content with selling the iPhone for an inflated price and taking a cut of the cash that AT&T managed to squeeze out of customers, Apple also wanted to ruthlessly control what was installed onto iPhones. The official line is that this is designed to protect users from rogue apps which could destabilize the platform, but I’ve had a hard time accepting this.

What’s easiest to believe? That Apple locked the platform and put elaborate measures in place to prevent users loading something onto the device that could make it unstable? Or that Apple put in all that effort so it could lock down the device and get a few bucks from selling applications that users desperately want?

It’s pretty obvious that Apple intends for the iPhone and the iPod touch to be able to run third-party apps. Both the iPhone and the iPod touch have enough horsepower crammed into them to run other applications (unofficial apps have already demonstrated this) and the main menu has room for plenty more icons. The technology is all ready, it’s just Apple that isn’t.

The iPhone and the iPod touch are examples of how arrogant Apple has become over the last few years. The iPod became a success by being a relatively open platform. You had a choice as to whether you wanted to source your music from iTunes, or rip your own CDs. The iPhone is a complete antithesis of the iPod. You can’t load third party apps, ringtones have to be authorized (and paid for), and Apple sends updates that totally nuke phones that have been tampered with. If the iPod had been released in such a restrictive form, it’s more than likely that the brand would have never have become as successful as it has.

Next page: A locked down, black-box system isn’t a good start.

Apple has become greedy and expects an ever-increasing amount of control over the consumer electronics it sells. Customers have become consumers and Apple wants to have a hand in their pocket over the lifetime of the product. In fact, even thinking of these devices as products is wrong - they’re revenue streams.

Over the months I’ve said some very unkind things about the iPhone and vowed that I wouldn’t buy one because, while it has the makings of being a good mobile platform, I’m just not seeing that in practice just yet. A locked down, black-box system isn’t a good start.

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Given how incredibly strong sales of the iPhone have been I doubt that Apple will change the way it operates enough for the second generation iPhone to be a much better gamble. I’m betting that the next iPhone will be even more locked down than the current incarnation and that Apple will have come up with more innovative ways to make more money from it.

What I’m hoping is that other companies will take a critical look at the iPhone and decide there is money to be made from developing a really good convergence device and come out with a robust, open mobile platform. I’m happy at having paid-for apps on offer but I’d also like to be able to dip into the wealth of open source offerings without fear that my cell phone will be smited by the next update just because I dared to think a little different and want a little more.

I’m confident that decent mobile platforms will emerge over the next year or so, and that these will be friendly to open source applications, but I’m also certain that these devices won’t have the Apple logo on them.

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