Blog Post

Google/Apple Feud Gets More Impassioned, Personal

A Google (s goog) employee expressed his distaste for the way Apple (s aapl) does business in no uncertain terms in a recent blog post. Tim Bray, a co-inventor of XML and a well-known blogger in his own right, is also a Google employee on the Android team, having recently joined following his time at Sun Microsystems (s java).

The blog post at issue, which appeared on his personal blog, details his reasons behind joining Google, which include a passion for the rapid pace of development on the platform and the fact that it’s an open source system. Another reason is that he “hates” the iPhone. Or at least the context in which the iPhone operates.

Bray doesn’t shy away from sharing his opinion of what Apple’s done wrong with the iPhone, in no uncertain terms:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

I hate it.

I hate it even though the iPhone hardware and software are great, because freedom’s not just another word for anything, nor is it an optional ingredient.

The big thing about the Web isn’t the technology, it’s that it’s the first-ever platform without a vendor (credit for first pointing this out goes to Dave Winer). From that follows almost everything that matters, and it matters a lot now, to a huge number of people. It’s the only kind of platform I want to help build.

Apple apparently thinks you can have the benefits of the Internet while at the same time controlling what programs can be run and what parts of the stack can be accessed and what developers can say to each other.

I think they’re wrong and see this job as a chance to help prove it.

Even though I wasn’t sad to see Apple nix a whole host of “sexy” apps recently, I can’t help but agree with where Tim Bray is coming from. Apple is effectively packaging and selling back to us a polished and pristine version of what we used to have only free and unfettered access to. Giving them too much control might start to inhibit our ability to continue to have that free access.

I’m not sure handing the reins to Google won’t have the exact same effect in the long run, but that isn’t what will happen if some people side with them in this developing conflict. Luckily, unlike in professional sports, there doesn’t have to be a winner in clashes between mobile device makers. A healthy balance should keep the power of both in check.

31 Responses to “Google/Apple Feud Gets More Impassioned, Personal”

  1. Just another ego-smitten ideologue. Apple’s style doesn’t limit anyone’s choices. You don’t like ’em – go elsewhere.

    Back in the day, this was called petit-bourgeis radicalism. It produced SDS, 3rd party politicos like Pete Camejo – people for whom their purity is a religion and therefore “you all must adopt my revelations”.

    Apple can design what they wish, so can Google, so did Sun when it was managed by people like Bray – and we see how well that worked out.

  2. In my opinion, this whole argument is a waste of time.

    The only real issue in this argument is ideals. People get upset about the fact that some certain apps arent allowed to be on the app store for whatever reasons.

    What would be different if all these apps were allowed? Nothing.

    You would just have more apps to choose from. thats it. nothing more.

    Its not as if youre life changes in any way, because you cant look at boobs through an iPhone app. Hell, you can just do it through mobile safari instead!

    My point is, when you forget all the ethics, morals, and all that crap, and think to yourself, what would happen if i opened my iphone and went into an app store with no restrictions… what would you see? youd see exactly the same thing, but with a lot more crap to sift through to find the good stuff.

    • Well said. That’s where all the me-too stores fail. They don’t set limits. For example, I have a Nokia phone at the moment, and Nokia’s store is flooded with worthless and unconfirmed stuff. The user reviews don’t help here either, because the store isn’t localized in any way, thus everybody writes in his/her native language. Pros to Apple’s strict rules, which keep the iPhone from getting messed up by bad apps.

  3. Michael

    Isn’t this Google = open, Apple = closed meme is ridiculous. What will you be able to run on Chrome beyond Google products. Google is not less protectionist than Apple, they just do it in different ways. They want to be the gatekeeper to the web after all, all roads lead to the Google cloud. To me, you cannot get more closed than that.

    Apple is by no means perfect. I don’t claim everything they do is right. I don’t like everything they do either. But they don’t hide behind the shield of “open-ness” They have enough history to understand that you’ve got to protect your turf after surviving through the Microsoft Ages. It is easy for Google, a virtual monopoly to lecture a niche player that they should play by Google’s rules. But if you play by those rules, you’ll lose your lunch, eventually.

    With the App Store (particularly now that the iPad has arrived), Apple has developed a potential way for content providers to actually make money off their content instead of giving it to Google to make money off of. Instead of giving it away free on the web, you pay for it. There are both advantages and diadvantages to this approach. Right now, I see the biggest advatange being buyer empowerment. You can price your content any way you want, but ultimately buyers have more influence than traditionally and developers have more tools to find the right price. The App Store has many good deals for both users and devs. Apple has far less potential to control the future of the web than Google does. What Apple can do is hopefully keep places like the New York Times and the news business from collapsing, so that we are not left with a world covered only by blogs. Hopefully they can also make the price of books more reasonable, too, by opening up the playing field for book distribution. Google and the open web just aren’t going to save those two endeavors.

  4. I’d sympathise with Bray if Apple was putting the same regulations on surfing the web with their iDevices. Even -if- Apple is keeping the app developers on a short leash, it’s their good right. It’s their device, it’s their AppStore, it’s their playground.

    You can still surf the web freely with your iDevice. If you want smut, there’s a phlethora of XXX sites out there, specifically made for mobile devices. If you want to bypass the AppStore, go develop a web app. There’s plenty of frameworks out there, use them.

    Don’t forget: When the iPhone initially came to be, Apple did not intend for it to run 3rd party applications – at all. The SDK came a lot later and is their admission to the user base, their compromise. Apple even lets you take away 70% while you have to do nothing – no thing! – to promote your app and still reach millions of potential buyers.

    If you’re amont the user base that wants the degree of control over your iDevice an Android handset offers, then you’re a tech savy geek (don’t deny it!). And if you are, applying a jailbreak to your device shouldn’t be that much of a problem. Afraid of voiding your warranty? Go take out an insurance instead of buying AppleCare – you’ll have your ass covered even if you sink your iPhone in the loo, and it’s just a few bucks a month.

    Sorry Mr. Bray, I don’t see your point. Except the whining of a sulking company whose Google Voice app has been axed from the AppStore.

    Do no evil? Yeah, right Mr. Data Kraken.

  5. Google has declared itself as the champion of the “open web” while maintaining a moat around its cashcows, search and advertising, which it guards in the most un-open way possible. Google funnels billions from its proprietary and closed businesses into a systematic effort to commoditize myriad industries with free products to lure users into its perfectly commercial sphere of personal-data-for-advertising-dollars exchange. That Google has been able to persuade the technorati to swallow this under the glow of ‘open web’ is all the more remarkable.
    At the start of the iPod/iTunes ascendancy, Microsoft executives and “advocates” bitterly attacked Apple for not “opening up” its digital media ecosystem to competing interests, incredulously insisting that Apple should also offer various proprietary Windows formats! This from a company that shafted its own partners by killing the laughably named PlaysForSure media format to introduce its own non-licensed, proprietary Zune system. Apparently, “open” platforms are wonderful as long as they help fuel the platform originator’s proprietary cashcows. Windows then, Android now. That the latter is open source may be technically interesting but strategically insignificant.

    More in:

    Microsoft passes the “choice” bludgeon against Apple to Google

  6. I have no issue with the control of the API or the restrictions apple choice to place on them (although I’d love access to the SMS API to at least compose a message), I have no issue with the apple store.

    I take issue to not been able to distribute any apps I develop to whom I choose.

    While this might seem like a small issue, it is a major draw back to the platform as a whole.

    I have several app ideas that a small community of users would like to have, but because of the nature of the distribution system, I won’t write them (as they simply don’t have a place in that market place).

    Think about small-medium businesses, who would like to develop a custom app that would suit their individual businesses and plugin into their existing infrastructure. These kind of apps have no place on the store, but there is simply no easy way to get around it (you need to be a company with more then 500 employees if you want the ability to follow this path).

    What about 3rd party libraries? Instead of been able to purchase pre-compiled libraries (like most other platforms) and use them within your code, you have to purchase the source code (generally a much more expensive prospect) or (re-)develop the solution all over again (another expensive prospect). (Apple insists on all the source code as part of the submission process).

    I’m all for apple been able to check out my code, I’d actually be really happy to have some sort of certification attached to my app, so people know at least it’s been through some sort of “check” by apple (but given the issues of the current submission process, that doesn’t actually mean lot).

    All I really want to see, is the ability to distribute my own apps without the need to go through the app store. I have no issue paying for the dev libraries (although Microsoft just released there’s for free), I have no issue with having to have my code signed, I just take exception at the need to have to use apple’s market place for apps that just don’t belong there.

  7. I agree with you but I think the end result of Apple controlling the apps is beneficial to the iPhone ecosystem. It makes sense to only allow applications that are not harmful. Of course removing some application from app store because Apple doesn’t like them is very ridiculous. I am not talking about that. What I am talking about is that most people want their phone to just work. They don’t want to worry about how I use it may break it or what app I install on it will damage it. Seriously guys, isn’t it funny that you have to find and remove viruses on your phone? I think the idea that the computers should be problem free for everyone is a great idea and apple pursuing that dream.

    Open system? Google open sources andriod because it was the only way for it to compete in this market. They never do that with their search engine. Why can’t we write plugins for Google Search engine?

    Anyway, I think one thing that apple could do is to officially allow the jailbreaking or something similar but, if you chose to jailbreak (or whatever apple calls it) your iPhone or iPad then you are on your own. There is not warranty and there will be not update. You are responsible for all the damages and costs that it makes. They do it all the time in hardware. If you open your computer you will lose your warranty.

  8. That whole blog post is ridiculous if you think about it. It quite plainly proclaims that Apple is a danger to the free, open web, which is complete and utter nonsense.

    The only limitations apple has placed on the internet is that Safari can’t run Flash. This can be frustrating at times, but it’s arguably for good reason and really entirely up to them (i personally have read the pros and cons and side with Apple on this one that it’s better off to not have Flash run at all on the iPhone). That’s it. Apple is not doing anything against free, open access to the internet. In fact, the mere idea that they have created the most popular mobile-internet device the world has ever seen should be seen as Apple SPREADING free, open information to anyone who wants it.

    Besides that, Apple can and will do nothing to stop anyone from making a web-app that behaves very nearly identical to most native apps. They even tried pushing this solution in the beginning only to be (for good reason) bludgeoned by angry native-app hungry mobs. They even provide excellent tools and guidance to do it.

    Google sucks, and one of these days the Google Sheeple will see them for what they really are – an advertising company whose only purpose in life is to gather as much personal information about you as possible so that they can sell more ads. Wow, that’s the kind of company that I really want to support!

  9. on the one hand, i see where everyone is coming from. in its truest form, apple does not censor the net through any of its ‘ibranded’ products. on the other hand, apple does limit what content can be published to a device that has been purchased by an end user.

    ive become somewhat of an apple fanboy in the last six months since purchasing my macbook pro for school, along with the final cut suite and my ipod touch. so much so that im converting over from windows 100%. but since buying my droid eris in feb., ive ditched my ipod touch. my eris does everything my ipod did and more all without being restricted on what i can and cant put on it. so for now im sticking with apple for computers and google for phones.

    • “on the other hand, apple does limit what content can be published to a device that has been purchased by an end user.”

      the same can be said for Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, hell even Google itself. Does everyone seriously not remember that Google bans apps from it’s store as well? Sure, but they’re banned AFTER everyone downloads them and realizes they are steaming piles that crash their phones. Hell, with Google’s system a developer can make a malicious app that gathers personal data and collects it in the background, and only people that pay attention or know to care will even think twice when the chat app says it needs to access contacts and the internet. At least with the Apple app store you can trust what you’re installing, which is a good thing since, you know, people actually hold Apple accountable for things when they screw up.

  10. If apple were only controlling the app store, I might have aniPhone andI would probably get an iPad. What Apple is doing is controlling what apps I can put on the iphone or iPad. Imagine if that idea is carried to the Mac– No firefox , no photo shop, certainly no window shade or onyx or any number of great Apps that modify the OS in ways that Apple doesn’t. That’s why I will never have an iPhone or iPad.

  11. Others beat me to it, but I’ll echo their sentiments anyway. Apple isn’t trying to control the web, they’re just controlling the App Store, which last time I checked, was still 100% owned by Apple.

    Mobile Safari is an awesome browser and developers can do amazing things with it including offline access, local data storage, smooth animations, GPS, etc. HTML5 and CSS3 (plus some WebKit-specific features) make this possible. A webapp can even be saved to your home screen just like a ‘native’ app — you really can’t even tell you’re using a webapp if it’s done well. The only real limitations are access to device-specific hardware features like the camera and accelerometer.

    Honestly, I think this is the future of mobile (and perhaps desktop) application development. Google certainly thinks so, and Apple does not seem in any way opposed to it. Webapps haven’t really caught on yet, but given the increasing developer frustration with the App Store and the steady rise of other mobile platforms (like Android), I think we’ll see another increase in web app activity. Developing web apps eliminates Apple’s cut, review time, potential rejections, and allows developers to reach devices other than the iPhone with the same application and distribute it any way they want.

    I think the biggest benefit of the App Store (for developers) is the ‘free’ advertising that reaches millions of iPhone users that you get by having a place on the App Store. On the other hand, the App Store is so packed with junk, it’s getting harder and harder for users to find apps that aren’t in the top 10, so this may not affect smaller or specialized developers.

    There will always be a need for native applications (3D games are a great example), but I really hope that, instead of giving up on the iPhone as a platform as it seems so many are, high-profile developers recognize the power of web applications and show everyone how much they can do without Apple’s ‘permission.’

  12. So, which websites does Apple forbid us to access?

    Apple HAS to control the apps and Google will have a hard time if they don’t. Imagine the security consequences of letting developers access the full hardware stack any way they want. I’ll bet that Android has many of the same API restrictions that the iPhone OS has.

  13. Tim Bray has made a very significant mistake in his criticism. Apple is not trying to change the mobile Internet at all. What they’re trying to do is exert control over mobile *apps*. You can still view the Internet and all its debauchery just fine in Mobile Safari.

  14. Tsubame

    On one hand, I understand where he is coming from, and understand the Apple can be a bit draconian in how they handle the App Store.

    So what. Seriously, the internet freedom people and open source crowd seem a bit over-eager to praise the virtues of open-source development when it really isn’t that great. I can’t think of a single open-source app I use over a closed app, because they are just better.

    As a consumer, I’m going to use whatever product is best, I don’t care if it’s open or closed development, or how much freedom it promotes. Yes, the tech elite care about that, but most people don’t. They care about the best product, the best user interface, and the best user experience. They don’t care about the developer who got his app rejected (sorry it is true). Heck, they don’t care about the developer who got his app accepted, they just care about the end product.

    So if Apple is going to maintain a closed market, that’s fine, they aren’t the only ones to do that. If you are that upset by it, instead of condemning Apple for a choice they make (which by the way, it was their freedom to make that choice) then make an open/free version that is better. It seems to me that many people complain Apple doesn’t do what they want, but offer no alternative. As of yet, Android’s App Store (while open in every way) is just vastly inferior to Apple’s.

    Maybe Apple is on to something by having a closed and moderated forum for the exchange of apps. It’s not like they limit where the browser itself can go. I don’t really want an app store cluttered by porn, which it would be if it were allowed.

  15. Nuno Campos

    I’m curious. I have an iPod touch and its Mobile Safari doesn’t filter (or censor if you prefer the word) the Internet or the sites you can view. I thought the iPhone was the same in that aspect but apparently I’m wrong.

    The Google hero writes — “The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what.”

    Uh, what? Or is he talking about the lack of Flash support? From what I can recall Google sometime ago dropped official support for Internet Explorer 6 on theirs Flash is more widely used than Internet Explorer?

  16. It seems as though developers want one thing (total freedom) and the public wants another (reasonably reliable apps that aren’t too nasty). Sorry developers, you’re outnumbered.

  17. Michael

    I think what Apple is doing is a very good thing, and I’m really glad to see it. Apple has long had a special place in schools, in educational settings, and in families. They are presenting a product in the iPhone that can be safely used and enjoyed by many kids as well as adult.

    It seems to me that Tim Bray is thinking only of his own perspective as an adult. He wants to be completely free to use an iPhone for anything he chooses. I can see why he’d feel that way, but I think Apple is acting less like a merely self-centered individual but more like a responsible adult who needs to consider the needs and values of families and children as well.

  18. I really don’t get this argument at all. Tim Bray is arguing two completely different, separate, things.

    There is the App Store.

    And there is the web.

    There have always been vendors for applications – software – that isn’t new. There have always been software publishers (which is what the App Store is). There have certainly been vendors who have provided locked down / walled gardens, either through applications, or even on the web. Such as AOL.

    Then there is the web.

    Apple are pushing web standards. Full, open, non-proprietary web standards. The iPhone – and iPod touch, and iPad, and Mac – are all fully compliant with web standards, they push these over proprietary web technology – Flash – and Apple do not block any websites or web content on their devices. And, in addition to that, they launched Web Kit, which is used as the core of Chrome and WebOS, for example. Hardly a closed, walled garden.

    He is completely wrong. Apple are NOT censoring the web at all.

    So, what is he on about, exactly?

  19. Perhaps Apple’s just worried about being sued by every parent looking for a lottery win. “Apple allowed my little Johnny to see porn!”. If it’s just on the web, it’s not Apple’s domain. But as a native app… perhaps.

  20. crucialwax

    i don’t see it quite like it’s painted. it’s not like apple is stopping mobile safari from visiting any site you choose. google is pushing an OS that is *only* a browser, and I see that as far more limiting. ipad/iphone do that, plus other apps.

    consumers aren’t heavily impacted by apple’s level of control over the app store. developers might be, but that’s apparently not stopping them. one might argue that the level of control apple has is precisely the reason the public will adopt it on a large scale. it’s safer/easier.

  21. Well said, Andrei.

    Besides, Apple’s not limiting your freedom – Go buy another phone.

    BTW what CAN’T people do with Apps, that they want to, except the sex-related stuff you posted about a while back?

    Is there any reason why Apple should NOT limit what “works” on their retail product?

  22. Apple does get a little too strict on the content control front at times, which can be concerning. But I think they have shown that in some part managing the apps makes the hardware just run better which is what users want to a great degree. In this case giving away some freedom on the app front to gain reliability on the phone front is worth it, especially since Apple does not put a limit on what can be done using Safari. That is the point that Bray is missing. As far as the iPhone is concerned the Web still is a platform without a vendor and Safari provides access to that platform. The apps provide additional functionality due to the capabilities of the hardware and I think that the primary motivation for Apple to control the App Store is to maintain a high level of functionality. In the end you get both the freedom of the Web and the reliability of the hardware. Sounds good to me.

  23. Andrei Dragan

    I think it is good that Apple contols the content of the software that runs on the iPhone. They offer an experience and it has been proven that the Apple experience is a good one, even if they do it in a controversed way. Think of the software that goes on the iPhone as additional functionality – Apple hardware was always “limited” to the options they wanted (I mean available hardware, available connection ports, etc). One could argue that it is not fair that they don’t offer the possibilty to make your own Mac. But where would we be now, today? I think we can all agree that if some bright minds control the experience they sell, it is a success. The PC jungle is not that pleasing, nor the open source, free Linux world. Apple is an experience, not just hardware. At least, that’s why I buy their stuff, thinking that what they approved is working ok and does not have indecent content. It’s because for the most us the users it’s more important to have the guarantee of quality the the guarantee for the freedom of the developers. It isn’t fair, but it’s better for the majority.

  24. I like what Apple are doing to ensure that the iPhone works and it retains its quality, especially with so many third party apps. I had a Windows Mobile Phone many years ago and as soon as I put third party apps on, it kept resetting and wiping out all my data.

    I however, like open systems so long as the quality remains. By controlling the quality of the iPhone, Apple essentially reduces its customer support for the iPhone, not sure if Google even has any customer support.