One of the reasons I started Take was to make a clean break from my previous site Waffle where I'd gotten into a rut. There's a whole world full of things to write about, and somehow I centered on the same subjects and with the same mentality and tone, and it wasn't very positive. Now, for good reason, the innate failures of the App Store are in the news again, and I'm writing about it again and while it feels good to be topical, I do want to do something different and highlight the reasons I am so frustrated.
In October 2007, Steve Jobs posted an article to Apple's Hot News page announcing the development of an iPhone SDK. Before this, he was hounded by developers of all stripes and from all places (including inside Apple) to be able to develop apps for the iPhone, including getting into a spat with John Carmack who wanted to put games on the thing. The first iPhone was a watershed in hardware capability for a phone, in being able to deliver applications that weren't just "pocket" versions, to the point where Nokia spent the rest of the day of the original announcement in denial, saying that it must be fake. The demo was carefully choreographed along a working path, but it wasn't fake, and it shipped five months later.
Everyone saw the potential. There was a jailbreak of the then iPhone OS shortly after its release, which allowed for unlocking the carrier lock, and let me import one that fall. I wrote the beginnings of an iPhone app with the jailbreak makeshift SDK - it was not pretty, but it did work, and the Cydia package manager that quickly appeared and was bundled with jailbreaks contained many apps, some polished, others not quite so polished.
The next WWDC, Apple announced iPhone 3G and iPhone OS 2.0, which included the original App Store. If they hadn't done something to pull in developers, and even if they'd included all apps they make themselves, my guess is that iPhones would now occupy something like 4-7% of the market, instead of the 35-45% it currently does.
The iPhone's killer app was apps. Apps that could live and frolick on hardware and a platform that strived to be something more than the prototypical real-time embedded OS of the time.
For nine months in 2007, Steve Jobs told people that the reason there was no apps was because AT&T doesn't want their cellular network to go down, which is straight-up bullshit. There is a resource management and security aspect to having apps run in a constrained environment with sensitive information, but the ways you deal with that does not affect the carrier's network any more than it proscribes how those apps are distributed or what they actually do. More so than on Mac OS X, he wanted control, and the App Store gave him control.
Now, in 2020, the App Store is still the App Store. Apple is forced to justify contradictory and inconsistent stances on what's a valid app or not, to allow in apps that they probably do not really like to be associated with them because otherwise there are consequences and to deny apps that they probably would want to be associated with because of business decisions. And it has turned into Chekov's gun, where as a completely unnecessary funnel point, Apple can be pressured by dictatorships to drop apps that are politically inconvenient for bullshit reasons.
I tore into Phil Schiller, Apple SVP of Worldwide Product Marketing and de facto boss of the App Store, because of the things he said in defense of the recent actions, and other responses have set the worst possible tone for Monday's WWDC opening. Everyone of us who are reacting to this, everyone who's writing apps, everyone of us (I'm told there are 20-30 or so) who are still holding off on writing iOS software because of the App Store in general... we don't want to do this.
If I had five minutes with Phil Schiller, I'd ask him if it was worth it. Is it so worth it to not renege on a silly compromise formed to placate a difficult, if often brilliant, man? Is it so worth it that you end up antagonizing the people who build on your life's work? Is it worth it to be remembered for being a politruk, an apparatchik, spouting an opaque party line no one in view of the world and the facts agree with, instead of for having the courage to see a solution that no longer works and take action to fix it? All the status quo gives him and gives Apple is money at the cost of lost trust and long-fomented frustration.
We don't want to do this. What we want is the same we have wanted from the beginning, from before there was an App Store, from the moment we saw a pill with an arrow and the words "slide to unlock".
All we want is to write apps.
Real apps, good apps, innovative apps, apps that make money sunstainably for their creators, apps that build on what's there to go further, apps that make life better, apps that respect the time of their users, apps that are great because they have paid attention to details.
Why won't you let us?