Say “No” to a Commodity Experience

Let’s come right out and say it. Apple’s recent change to the Developer Agreement may be good for Apple specifically, but it’s better for users of the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

If you use one of these devices, it is a good thing. Period.

Why is it good? Counter Question #1

To answer why this change is a good thing, a different question needs to be answered. Why do you like your iPhone? For that matter, why do you like your Mac (assuming you have one)? Why do you hate certain applications (again, assuming you have a Mac, but the answer is relevant to any platform)?

For most people, there are special characteristics of a device, of an operating system, of an application, that make one “brand” better than another; the features offered, the user interface, the aesthetics. For each person, the reason(s) may differ, but the decision to purchase (or use) one choice over another rests on the sum of these attractions (or requirements).

So, each of us who think to choose, choose based on what makes sense to us, what makes a difference. This is important.

Why is it good? Counter Question #2

Now that we can reasonably assume that there are benefits to your existing choices, whatever they are, what would happen if those benefits disappeared? Depending on how much time you spend using your device or software, your feelings might range from mild displeasure to pure, unadulterated fury. (For a similar reference, think Mac Word 6.) But surely absent a seemingly draconian policy from Apple, the software you know and love isn’t going to vanish and the devices that are so revolutionary fail to materialize, right?

Why is it good? Counter Question #3

Ask yourself why you have an iPhone instead of a BlackBerry, Palm, or Android phone. Ask yourself why so many people bought iPods. Ask yourself what is it that kept the Mac OS alive when it seemed that the entire world of conventional wisdom predicted its demise? The answer lies in the heart of what makes a Mac a Mac. The experience.

If you’re anywhere close to being a Mac person, you understand the concept of Mac applications compared to any other application. It’s the look. It’s the feel. It’s the way it interacts with the hardware, with the OS, with the user. It’s fused into the DNA that clearly shows when a piece of software was designed for the Mac rather than “ported” across. Why is it such a stellar achievement when a cross-platform application is embraced by Mac OS users? Because it is so hard to serve multiple masters well enough to satisfy all.

Which brings us to the very heart of why this change is a good thing for the iDevices. This policy protects the very innovation and experience the market not only cherishes but has come to expect from Apple and those applications on the devices.

A different market demands different protections

The arguments already being presented that claim this is designed to stifle innovation are misplaced at best. Quite the opposite, this policy helps to preserve the competition that breeds true innovation. As the lessons of desktop software teach every day, crapware, when prevalent enough and cheap enough, can drive out quality experience, quality hardware, and quality usability.

Is allowing intermediary technologies a guaranteed path to crapware? Actually, yes. It’s not that every instance of software generated from this path will indeed drive the dagger deeper, just as there are some decent desktop applications from similar sources, the ratio of poor results to excellent will become so high as to drown out the quality.

It can be argued that for Apple’s vision (and really, the vision of every one of us who use the devices, who make or want to make software for them) to succeed, this rule must be in place, to protect the market from those for whom lowest common denominator is acceptable, from those for whom “good enough” really is, from those for whom “changing the world” is someone else’s job.

That’s pretty damning of thousands of software developers

It is definitely true that many of the sources of crapware don’t intentionally produce it, nor is it even tasteful to them in many cases. However, many of the elements discussed here are business decisions. Effort vs. result. Cost vs. benefit. Risk vs. reward. Few businesses (and even fewer individuals) have unlimited resources to devote to a given project. In fact, that limit on resources is behind many decisions to use cross-platform tools in the first place, under the aegis that the results will be “good enough”. Depending on the target market, they might be. But there is no toolkit out there that perfectly emulates every OS feature and every hardware feature on every platform the toolkit supports. Therefore, compromises are made by default, even when the developers have the best of intentions.

Speaking of business, isn’t this just another way of saying this is to protect Apple’s business interests?

It is true that Apple benefits as a business from a policy such as this. However, only those who suffer from a lack of long-term perspective, who willingly choose to ignore historical realities, or simply lack the experience to recognize the situation for what it is, will claim that this policy does no good for anyone other than Apple.

This decision helps ensure that the value of Apple’s vision and creativity, in the hardware design and operating system implementations, has the best chance of surviving the ordeal of being encapsulated into the creations of software developers and therefore, passed along to the market which has so passionately embraced that vision.

If you like the iPhone, if you demand innovation, and if you consider it important to preserve competition, this policy change is for you.

Even if you think you don’t want it.

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