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Apple and Oracle Must Let Developers Have Their Say

It’s getting harder to be a monopoly these days. Microsoft (s msft) owned the desktop for decades, milking its Windows platforms every step of the way. Apple (s aapl), on the other hand, hadn’t even managed four years of iOS dominance before Google’s (s goog) Android staked a serious claim to the mobile market.

This isn’t because Microsoft is somehow smarter than Apple, but rather because the underlying dynamics of the technology industry have fundamentally changed. In brief, the technology world is increasingly embracing “write” communities, as Jono Bacon calls them, not simply “read” communities. Open source may have kickstarted this trend, but open APIs and open data are taking it to new heights.

Read communities aren’t characterized by a dearth of developers, but rather by what those developers can do on a given platform. After all, few can claim to sing to developers as eloquently as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer does, but there’s a (big) difference between talking to developers and letting them talk back. In your code. On your platform.

As noted, it’s telling that the shelf life of Apple’s dominance is much shorter than Microsoft’s decades-long dominance. Microsoft, after all, never had to deal with competing write communities, as Apple does with Google Android. Major developers like Facebook find Android more flexible: It allows them to write into and draw from the platform the capabilities they need.

Hence Apple, once the no-brainer first choice for developers despite its heavy hand on the development process, is increasingly losing out to the more free-spirited Android, which analysts see claiming over 50 percent of the smartphone market in just a few short years. Apple has responded by loosening its grip on iOS application developers, but it may be too little, too late.

Android isn’t perfect, of course, and still suffers from a worsening fragmentation problem. But its comparatively open nature makes it an inviting alternative to the closed iOS development. As but one example, try to get meaningful analytics data out of the iPhone. If you’re Apple, you can do that. If you’re anyone else, particularly Flurry, you’re out of luck.

Apple giveth, and Apple taketh away.

Contrast that with Google Android, which has an open-source logging/analytics tool developers can use called Logcat. Android is open source, which prevents Google from exercising control over how developers collect analytics data on Android devices. While one can make an argument that it’s good to have potentially sensitive analytics information guarded well by a responsible party like Apple, given Apple’s record of somewhat arbitrary and heavy-handed control over its platform, I’d vote for freedom on this one.

This isn’t just an Apple vs. Google story, either. It’s just one example of how innovation happens generally, no matter the industry. As Steven Johnson points out in The Wall Street Journal:

[I]deas are works of bricolage. They are, almost inevitably, networks of other ideas. We take the ideas we’ve inherited or stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape. We like to think of our ideas as a $40,000 incubator, shipped direct from the factory, but in reality they’ve been cobbled together with spare parts that happened to be sitting in the garage.

The problem, as Johnson goes on to highlight, is that governments have largely pursued innovation in the past 100 years by doing the exact opposite of what is actually required to foster such innovation. The same is equally true of individual corporations like Apple or Microsoft:

[I]ntellectual property, trade secrets, proprietary technology, [and] top-secret R&D labs…share a founding assumption: that in the long run, innovation will increase if you put restrictions on the spread of new ideas, because those restrictions will allow the creators to collect large financial rewards from their inventions. And those rewards will then attract other innovators to follow in their path.

The problem with these closed environments is that they make it more difficult to explore the adjacent possible, because they reduce the overall network of minds that can potentially engage with a problem, and they reduce the unplanned collisions between ideas originating in different fields. This is why a growing number of large organizations—businesses, nonprofits, schools, government agencies—have begun experimenting with more open models of idea exchange.

It’s this sort of open exchange of ideas and code that leads to economic historian Eckhard Höffner to conclude that Germany closed the gap on England’s industrial revolution in a short span of time due to the wide-open nature of the country’s publishing market in the mid-1800s. Weak copyright law enforcement sent innovation into overdrive in Germany, while a comparative monopoly on publishing in England stymied that country’s early industrial lead.

Eventually, Germany followed England’s lead, and innovation slowed there, too, but ramped up in the United States, where “borrowing” the works of Dickens and other great European authors, not to mention technological inventions, was standard operating procedure. European creators didn’t like the Yankee “thieves,” but loose IP protection led to greater adoption of their works, industrial and cultural progress, and the authors still managed to get paid.

Since then, the industrialized West, including the United States, has increasingly clamped down on intellectual property in the interest of fostering it, but with the opposite effect. As numerous studies attest, patents and other intellectual property tools have slowed innovation, not accelerated it. Industrial innovation has accordingly moved to areas like Brazil and China where IP protection is light.

This isn’t just a matter for economists, but also for business strategists. It’s possible, for example, that Oracle’s integrated approach to product development will prove successful, but likely not over the long term. Such an all-consuming, go-it-alone approach breeds powerful enemies, including within one’s own customer base. It certainly creates distrust within the developer ecosystem.

Oracle (s orcl) may profess not to care, but competitors like Microsoft increasingly recognize that they must care. Software developer Dave Newman declares that “The .Net community operates in a non-collaborative vacuum,” and then announces he’s abandoning .Net. Microsoft can’t afford to lose too many Dave Newmans.

Neither can Oracle.

In today’s market, companies need community. They need adoption of their APIs. No company is smart enough to come up with all innovation on its own, so the best companies will create read/write platforms through which third-party developers have the flexibility and distribution to reach customers.

Open source is an essential part of this, but isn’t sufficient of itself to crown any particular vendor or technology king. Linux is rapidly taking over in the mobile market, but has yet to make a dent on the general consumer desktop. But the fact that open source isn’t sufficient of itself to decide a winner is no reason that platform vendors, specifically, and technology vendors, generally, shouldn’t be making the most of open source to enhance their attractiveness to third-party developers.

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23 Responses to “Apple and Oracle Must Let Developers Have Their Say”

  1. Given my experience with developing products for record labels, I don’t trust Apple any longer with innovative products. They were clearly working on the unsuccessful LP product, but hindering others efforts to provide services in order to protect the iTunes market is in my opinion short sighted. The effects on the music industry are in my mind a confirmation.

    Without a viable ecosystem the entire house of cards is bound to collapse. The publishing industry is rightly wary of a similar gutting of the primary market.

    Android offers less technical sophistication, but frankly most people don’t notice. They notice what they can do. As Android increases in sophistication the market is bound to shift. Innovation will also shift to the market that offers the best possibility for financial success. Right now that is Apple, but increasingly, developers are less likely to take the risk.

    Apple has slighted more than a few, and those developers and entrepreneurs are not coming back.

    • Right on Nicholas. I am one of these slighted developers. I really like my iPhone but I HATE the “Bullshit” Apple pressures us into doing. Yes the money is there, but as soon as its not, out of here. And that is what is driving those stats saying the long term in Android, as all the developers are thinking the same.

      And lets get it straight, all you “APPLE” fan boys who dump on this article, it is this one eyes, ignore the signs, type attitude that makes sensible people want to leave Apple world faster. I don;t want to be associated with fanatics. No one does.

      And finally, I would like to mention how an old “considered dead” company is likely to eat Apple’s lunch.
      Microsoft, phone 7 is pretty much the poster child in many media organisations (not US based) as..
      Phone7 will allow third party purchases completely independent of Microsoft. Unlike Apple who gets a % of every transaction, direct and indirect, Phone7 will not do this. Allowing the big media companies to keep their customers without letting apple get its greedy little hands into the equation.
      Apple has a conflict of interest. What are they selling here? A phone or a tax on your life?
      This makes all big media organisation want to move of Apple once a equivalent system is available.

      Thats WHY there is a lot of data saying iPhone in the long term does not look good. Even if APple changes the policies, the damage is done. You cannot un-rape some one.

  2. What a stupid, stupid article. You write like you think you’re the next great philosopher but your ideas are all over the place. Your (somewhat unspoken) basic premise at the top that Apple is a monopoly just like Microsoft and hell bent on “control,” is just plain faulty. At best you over-simplfy the landscape in preparation for the screed lower down.

    The “read” and Write” community metaphor is basically nonsense. Why not just come out and talk about open source without all the quasi-philosophical garbage?

    Lastly, I agree with most of what you say about copyright and how it stifles creativity (but mostly for different reasons that you don’t get into), but this is a complete branch from everything you said earlier about competition, monopolies, and the whole Microsoft/Apple comparison you have going on at the top.

    The kindest thing I could say is that this is actually two unrelated articles and the one at the top (before you get into the copyright issues), should have been left on the editing room floor sort of speak.

  3. also, if gigaom had a tighter control on its content, such useless articles would never get published. which is what Apple is trying to do. Can you imagine the plethora of stupid, bloated, buggy and garbage apps that would be around?

  4. dear dave. your article is stupid and baseless. and the stupidity of this article answers the questions that you raise: why cant apple be more open.

    (i am sure you are an intelligent well meaning person, and I am sure this post was written in a hurry without thought having passed through your head, to meet publishing deadlines)

    Market Share: Statistics: You journalists keep writing about iPhone vs Android Market Share. Its like ONE phone on ONE network vs gazillions of phones on many networks. How stupid is that. Why dont you compare iPhone vs Droid X?

    MArket Share: Consumers: The fact is, consumers dont care about the technology. they care about the user experience and the emotional benefit of owning a desirable brand. thats it. they buy iPhone because it has a fantastic user experience and an awesome brand image. Android has no brand image apart from some developer geeks.

    I am not a developer. I have friends who are not. They buy phones by (a) brand image or (b) features. Heres how:

    “Hey I want an iPhone”
    “iPhone is too expensive. I am looking for a phone with email, internet aacess and GPS. Hows Samsung Galaxy? heard its got Android.” and ends up buying a Nokia E72 because it has all the features (rational benefit) this person is looking for.

    People are buying iPhones because they love them. People buy Android because it gives them the basic three four features they are looking for.

    Its pretty much love marriage vs arranged marriage.

    You can fall in love with a person and theres no rationale. But when you are looking for someone via arranged marriage setup, you draw up a long list of rational benefits, age, salary, medical history, background, looks etc.

    People fall in Love with iPhone.

    Developers can rave and rant all they want, but they will never understand this. The consumer doesnt care a flying two hoots about multitasking, open API (???), which language the damned phone is coded in, etc etc. They dont.

    which is why very few open source softwares have become mainstream. I dont know ANYONE who uses openoffice (apart from some geeky developer friends). I dont know ANYONE who dared to install Linux on her computer. I dont know ANYONE who uses Inkscape over Illustrator and so on. Perhaps the most successful open source consumer software is Firefox.

    if Apple opened up iPhone development to whatever developers want, it will be a fragmented experience with bugs. I have used a Google phone. It sucks in terms of user-experience. Who cares if you can conrol the Sputnik from your Android device. The multi touch sucks. big time.

    compared to an iPhone. The iphone really works. You browse the net. You read your emails. You can make calls. You can loginto Facebook. what more does any consumer want? The only mass consumer complaint with iPhone was perhaps its inability to copy paste. Now it can do that too.

    Android needs to warm up. Its a cold geeky OS which is not desirable. Regular consumers dont gift their loved ones (unless they are geeks) Android Devices. But they DO gift iPhones and iPods.

    Steve Jobs knows this. Google doesnt. Which is why Google has till now failed in anything Social.

    • “”compared to an iPhone. The iphone really works. You browse the net. You read your emails. You can make calls. You can loginto Facebook. what more does any consumer want? The only mass consumer complaint with iPhone was perhaps its inability to copy paste. Now it can do that too.””

      -I’m pretty sure Android can do that as well, idiot.
      -Multitouch sensitivity varies from handset to handset.
      -You call Android users geeks, while you see these pathetic shell of a people lining up days before their phone comes out.
      -Granted, they may love their iPhone. Who’s to say an Anroid user couldn’t Love their phone?
      -Android, as an OS, is being build bigger, badder and stronger much faster than the iOS software.
      -There are Android phones being made, coming out later this year that are faster than the iPhone.
      -Androids don’t need to wear a jacket to have signal.

    • “parambyte” writes nonsense esp love marriage & arranged marriage. what crap!! this is a tech blog.
      fanbois also have a right to fart their drivel.. but not here, barf your apple love / android love on the dimwit blogs

      dont pollute these blogs thats all

  5. Hm. I see a lot of hyperbolic assumptions in here.

    It’s worth pointing out that, currently, Apple is dominating the smart phone market with a single model via a single carrier in the US. Android, by contrast, is represented by between one and two dozen phones from four carriers.

    While Apple did not, back in the 90s, have a majority of the market in personal computers, they had a plurality, and they were the only company that made any significant money at it, since the rest of the pie was divided up between scores of companies competing to see who could shave their margins the thinnest.

    Those who fail to learn the lessons of history really are condemned to repeat ’em. Wait ‘n’ see.

  6. As Horace Dediu pointed out the other day, how is “open always wins” working out for Symbian? Symbian becoming a “write platform” (stupid neologism) has harmed it more than it has helped it.

    Hell, let’s take your own example: am I really supposed to believe that Brazil is more innovative than America because they freely abuse copyright? Really?

    Which company has/had the better business/technology strategy: Oracle or Sun? Anyone really want to try to argue that Sun’s strategy of having their CEO blog the whole day through makes more sense than Ellison gobbling up every failing business that turns to open source?

    • The evidence doesn’t bear it out in the smart phone space. The “write communities”, like GNOME Mobile and the LiMo Foundation ultimately had little impact. The heavily controlled platforms—and Android is not a “write community”, unless you’re Google or perhaps a major phone manufacturer—are the ones that seem to be ahead.

      I’m not seeing actual “innovation” from either China or Brazil, really. Which groundbreaking devices have we seen coming out of either of those geographies…?

  7. Great article.
    I have been proclaiming the “problems” of Apple for a long time.
    Yes they have a fantastic platform etc. But the way they run it is, like this article points out, a kiss of death.
    Just imagine if Apple was open. iOS would truly dominate.
    However, Steve’s ego and his use of deceptive marketing practices is in his blood.

    Tho, this could all be turned around.. If Apple released OSX for white box and relaxed all developer restrictions on their platforms.. The profits (For Apple) would be… unimaginable.


    • “Just imagine if Apple was open. iOS would truly dominate.”
      And they’d probably be broke. There’s not much money in open it seems from the percent of the money pie (profits) Apple takes compared to others.

      • Open is an over used word.
        I should be more detailed.

        Open in this sense means open to others using the technology any way they think they can and not closed in the sense that they will not let others innovate if they think its a good idea and could make money of it.

        Open does not mean FREE.

        iOS devices are good, they sell because they are well made and iOS is easy to use.

        If apple sold Cars, as a Radio station, I would have to pay to let people listen to the radio in that car.

        As a Radio station, or in this case a developer… Cool, as you sell the only cars that run well right now, I will put up with it. But, I am busting to get of that platform.

        This is Steve’s big mistake. He probably will make it more open as he has the developer restrictions (He is already getting HUGE heat on this from developers). But the damage has been done, we know Steve and his nature.

        And as we always know, developers are the heart of a platform. iOS will likely do OK, as its so good in many ways, but like a husband who has hit his wife, the memory never completely goes away.


  8. Is it the *market* that’s making these demands? Developers demand developer friendliness, of course (a nearly tautological idea), but the jury’s still out on whether the Android *market* gains of the moment are due to developer love, or due to opening new carriers.