Sunday, March 16, 2008

iPhone SDK and the aftermath

I don't own an iPhone or have any affiliations with Apple, except that I own an iBook and an iPod. I am not a Mac OS developer and have no intentions (yet) of developing for the iPhone. The following rant is a result of what I've been reading on various forums and mailing lists around the internet.

Apple released the iPhone SDK last week and definitely delivered more than it promised. Along with the SDK were announcements for enabling Microsoft's Activesync on iPhones, the iTunes apps store and the (now infamous) $99 charge for the developers to post their applications to iTunes, even if they don't want to.

With Activesync the iPhone will finally be able to compete with the Blackberries of the world. The iphone will get push email, contacts, calender integration and remote mail wipe (!!) which should make the IT managers happy too. This post is not about Activesync, though.

This post is about the SDK and the choices Apple had to make to get it to the public. While no one ever thought that Apple would be able to please everyone with the SDK, but atleast the developers thought they'd get a better deal than they did. Steve jobs has always maintained that getting the SDK out will be a lot of work and that they will be restricting what the developers can do with it, but the developers were still hopeful. They don't sound very amused now :-)

Apple has decreed that all iPhone applications will be sold via the iTunes store and that the developers will not be able to host their applications themselves. Further, to post applications to the iTunes store, the developers have the pay a one time charge of $99 and if they do manage to sell any apps, they will have to give 30% of their income to Apple. This 30% charge, apple claims, goes towards maintaining the web presence, hosting their applications and the credit card transaction charges. Apple also gets to approve the applications before they can be sold on iTunes. Apple has also stated that they will not allow VOIP applications on the cellular network but will allow VOIP while on WIFI.

While this might not be an issue for the larger developers, the smaller, independent developers are not happy with the situation they are in. The $99 charge is nominal and most people are willing to pay that, what people are not happy with is the iTunes exclusive distribution model and the 30% that apple will charge for this exclusivity, which people never wanted in the first place. This is understandable. Apple will allow the developers to sell free applications and on those it will not levy the 30% charge. Thank you Apple.

While this is, arguably, a good thing for the users who will now have a one stop shop for all iTunes applications, I can understand why the developers are not happy with Apple trying to play the gatekeeper. The iTunes apps store is a good idea and will probably also bring lots more audience and eyeballs for most developers, but the exclusivity is not. Charging a certain percentage for hosting and providing support on applications sold via the iTunes store is a good idea, but charging 30% for a service which no one wants in the first place, is a bad thing.

Why exclusivity is a bad idea was proven recently when apple emailed (and rejected) developer applications for hundreds of developers who applied as soon as the SDK was launched. And without this, the developers can't even test their applications on a physical device. Till apple approves their applications, they only have the iPhone emulator to develop and test on.

I personally don't think exclusivity is a good thing in this case and the developers did get a raw deal. I also don't blame Apple for trying to control (and nurture) the iPhone platform at the same time. What I do blame them for is trying to earn money whichever way possible. They are becoming more and more like the other Operating Systems Giant ;). Apple has got a lot of things right and I just hope they do something to get out of this SDK mess.

Update: I have ordered an iPhone and should be getting my hands on it in a couple of days. I'll post a review once I'd had time to play with it a bit. I'll run it jailbroken since the iPhone is still not officially available in India.

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