Has Apple gone too far?

Pundits are chattering about some, ah, aggressive moves by Apple with customers and partners over the last couple of weeks. Rather than opine on the subject, I'd like to ask you to do so. I'm looking to write a future post with Betanews reader reactions about Apple's recent actions and to a surprisingly active CEO Steve Jobs -- he sure sent out lots of email responses lately; from iPad, perhaps, :).

I'm most interested in responses from developers and content creators, which are two groups most affected by Apple's action. I ask anyone who wants to comment anonymously but to be taken seriously -- or those people wanting to open a larger dialog -- to contact me by email: joewilcox at gmail dot com. Everyone else, please feel free to comment below.

To set the stage, I'll lay out some of the issues and reactions already vetted by the Web community. Among the topics:

1. Apple's newly revised developer agreement that prohibits cross-compilers and private APIs, effectively shutting out workarounds that might have allowed Adobe Flash and other development platforms on iPhone OS 4.x.

2. Apple's very public squabble with Adobe about Flash on iPhone OS 4.x.

3. Apple's use of private APIs on iPad, such as for iBooks, that some developers claim give the company unfair advantage over them.

4. Apple's position on third-party advertising on iPhone OS 4.x. Apple spokespeople had indicated that third-party advertising would be allowed. But the developer agreement seemingly prohibits the kind of data collection essential to advertising. Apple's iAd platform operates without the restrictions.

5. The prohibition of the word "pad" in applications' names, because Apple has acquired a trademark for "iPad."

These moves are unquestionably aggressive, but are they justified? The general consensus among pundits is largely split. Some people argue that Apple has every right to protect its platform, thus keeping the customer experience as pure as possible. Others argue that Apple has overstepped the bounds and looks more and more like Microsoft during the 1990s -- dictating terms to customers, developers and partners for its own benefit first. Let's briefly look at some of the pundit reactions to each of these moves:

1. Prohibition of Cross-compilers and Private APIs

Machead John Gruber:

What Apple does not want is for some other company to establish a de facto standard software platform on top of Cocoa Touch. Not Adobe's Flash. Not .NET (through MonoTouch). If that were to happen, there's no lock-in advantage. If, say, a mobile Flash software platform -- which encompassed multiple lower-level platforms, running on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry -- were established, that app market would not give people a reason to prefer the iPhone.

And, obviously, such a meta-platform would be out of Apple's control...So from Apple's perspective, changing the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement to prohibit the use of things like Flash CS5 and MonoTouch to create iPhone apps makes complete sense.

SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill:

What do I think? I love it. And I'm surprised more developers, end users, business leaders, and general web standards lovers everywhere aren't posting about how great this is...Finally, finally, someone has stepped up and done something about the de-facto Flash monopoly. Flash has helped the web and HTML standards to stagnate. It's sorta like a drug...it smashes through web paradigms left and right. Why? Because there's no competition...

The iPad is already spurring HTML5 adoption even faster than before. Witness all the video and games sites that are already scrambling to announce and ship their HTML5 interfaces. Bring it on!...Best of all? It weeds out poor developers. And if the iPhone SDK and HTML5 aren't your thing -- go build somewhere else. I'm sure there'll be another computing revolution in a decade or two that you can ignore yet again.

2. Apple-Adobe Squabble

Steve Jobs, in reply to developer Greg Slepak about the Section 3.3.1 changes: "We've been there before, and intermediate layers between the platform and the developer ultimately produces sub-standard apps and hinders the progress of the platform." Jobs also separately replied: "We think John Gruber's post is very insightful and not negative"; it's linked in #1 above.

Adobe platform evangelist Lee Brimelow, responding to Apple's Flash position:

What they are saying is that they won't allow applications onto their marketplace solely because of what language was originally used to create them. This is a frightening move that has no rational defense other than wanting tyrannical control over developers and more importantly, wanting to use developers as pawns in their crusade against Adobe. This does not just affect Adobe but also other technologies like Unity3D...

Personally I will not be giving Apple another cent of my money until there is a leadership change over there. I've already moved most of my book, music, and video purchases to Amazon and I will continue to look elsewhere.

3. iPad Private APIs

Tumblr lead developer Marco Arment:

iBooks' use of tons of private APIs is frustrating on a few levels, the biggest that it makes all third-party reading-related apps second-class citizens. I won't be able to offer some features that iBooks has (such as a true brightness control), but my customers will expect them, making my app inferior to Apple's in key areas.

This app's undocumented API use wouldn't pass the App Store submission process, yet developers need to compete with it for App Store attention. One of the great potential failures of an app-review system is inconsistent or unfair enforcement of the rules...I don't think Apple would ever implement such a policy for all first-party App Store apps, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

Commenter Lurch Mojoff, responding to Arment:

Apple's own applications have been using APIs and have had capabilities unavailable to third parties since day one. The only difference with iBooks is that the app is distributed through the store, but that is completely orthogonal to the issue of private APIs. I cannot make myself get outraged about this.

4. iPhone OS 4.x Advertising

Apple spokesperson Trudy Muller, responding to Wired.com: "Yes, we still allow developers or other advertising companies to serve ads within their apps."

Section 3.3.9 of Apple's newest iPhone OS developer agreement:

Notwithstanding anything else in this Agreement, Device Data may not be provided or disclosed to a third party without Apple's prior written consent. Accordingly, the use of third party software in Your Application to collect and send Device Data to a third party for processing or analysis is expressly prohibited.

All Things Digital's Peter Kafa interprets: "This doesn't expressly prohibit ad networks from selling ads, but it prevents them from selling targeted advertising, which is close to the same thing when it comes to mobile devices."

5. iPad Trademark

Steve Jobs in response to AppIdeas founder Chris Ostmo: "It's just common sense not to use another company's trademarks in your app name." Ostmo had earlier received email from Apple telling him to change the names of iPad apps "JournalPad" and "JournalPad: Bible Edition." Ostmo had written Jobs: "This ruling came about only after we had two apps live in the App Store and had spent tens of thousands of dollars in marketing and getting our apps media exposure." AppIdeas later acquiesced, choosing new names journal.APP and bibleStudy.APP.

There are other acts of Apple aggression stirring up discussion for and against the company, like removing Google's brand from the Web search box in iPhone OS 4.x. Please feel free to comment on any of it. I want you to be the story rather than my sole point of view. I also hope to extend the storytelling beyond punditry and news. Discussion and debate can do just that. So, please, have at it. :)

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