Update 3:39pm 6/22: Minor changes in references from Xcode to Objective-C made. Thanks to Mike Rundle (@flyosity) for pointing out the error. Something bothered me about those paragraphs when I wrote them and Mike clarified what it was.
Steve Jobs and Apple are interesting and unique stories in American business. Wildly successful, they generate a degree of compassion, excitement, and coverage that's disproportionate to even their level of success.
Apple has often been the tech industry's trend-setter, from GUIs to mice to WiFi, and now tablets, mobile apps, and even music and movies. Where Apple goes, the tech industry follows.
This is to Apple's credit. They are tough competitors and, unwilling to simply follow others, they're often out front, either with trend-setting designs, breakthrough technologies, or both.
But despite their old marketing campaign, Apple is not the company "for the rest of us." Apple's primary goal is meeting Apple's goals, often without regard to who is hurt along the way.
Of course, Apple is not alone in this behavior. When Palm moved from Palm OS to webOS, they purposely left many of their third-party developers behind. Whether that was good for the company in the long run is still unclear, especially in light of the HP acquisition. But their actions definitely hurt thousands of small developers and cost jobs.
Weirdly, Apple seems to be almost purposely searching out segments of the tech industry to destroy. Whether it's Apple's war against Flash, its completely capricious application review and denial process, the way its terms of service intend to lock out third-party ad companies like AdMob, its option to remove of all Web-based advertising from Safari, its lock-out of any development environment besides Xcode language besides Objective-C, or even the company's complete lack of acknowledgment of Mac developers at its recent World-Wide Developer's Conference, Apple seems determined to undermine developers and their ability to make a living.
You could argue, of course, that Apple is performing like any mega-corporation, putting the interests of its shareholders above those of its so-called partners. But Apple has always positioned itself as the company of the Volksputer, the people's computer, using ad themes like "The computer for the rest of us" and "Think different."
The pain Apple is causing developers
The issue isn't that Apple is making internal changes based on where it wants its technology to go. The issue is both a matter of timing and the pain its causing developers.
Take Flash, for example. No one argues that Flash is the very best media production format, but it is very broad reaching. More importantly, it's an environment that many companies use, and many individual programmers have taken the time to develop expertise with. By blasting Flash and Adobe, the collateral damage is to all those little development companies and all those developers, many of whom may find themselves without an income stream.
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Or look at the app review process. The problem with how Apple does this is there's no guarantee that an app you build will ever see the light of day. The problem is, if you can't be sure to be able to bring your app to market, can you afford to waste a year of your time building a substantial piece of code?
Many developers can't and most developers shouldn't. This is why there are so many silly iPhone and iPad apps, and why there are very few exceptional apps of serious substance.
But the issue isn't even whether or not developers gamble with their time and investment, it's that Apple keeps changing the rules.
The Pulse application was summarily dropped from the App store (coincidentally on the very same day Steve Jobs demonstrated it to the world) when the New York Times bizarrely complained that an RSS reader was reading its RSS feed.
Hundreds of developers found their applications summarily dumped from the App store this spring when Apple changed it's mind on whether or not it liked breasts. Thousands of other developers found their incomes interrupted when Apple changed its terms of service to disallow the use of application generators to create iPhone apps.
This, of course, speaks to the issue of using Xcode Objective-C. Xcode Objective-C is a single, obscure, somewhat fussy development environment language, but Apple won't allow you to develop software for iPhones or iPads unless you use it, and use it on the Mac.
Those with other programming skills need to learn Objective C and, then, again they have no idea if their product will be allowed to be sold. More to the point, application generators can cut hundreds of hours off an application's development cycle, providing a far better ROI for the risk.
Apple is happy feeding a generation with "consumption" but it blocks creation. The iPad, which is big enough to be considered a computer, is unique in that you can't develop new programs on it. The key reason the original Apple computer was so popular was because it had Basic installed, and people could learn the language and build things. Apple explicitly denies any application that has any programming language, completely limiting the ability of these new users to create.
Apple also seems to want all ad revenue for itself. There are two parts to this: the company's iAds and its pressure on AdMob, and its new Safari Reader feature. The iAds/AdMob issue is simple. Apple wants to sell in-application ads for iPhone and iPad apps and doesn't want a company owned by Google to get the revenue. Forcing AdMob out, of course, forces all those developers whose applications incorporate AdMob to both recode their apps, and accept Apple's more draconian terms of service. Effectively, Apple is once again holding their apps hostage.
But where things become even more nasty is the inclusion of a feature in the Safari Web browser called Safari Reader. This is a mode in Safari that lets you read your Web pages without all those nasty ads. While I'd be the first to admit that ads are intrusive in the Web experience, they also pay for the cost of producing the content we all want to read.
If Safari removes ads, then the content you read will only be by those who are comfortable producing free content, or Google or Apple-approved voices. Suddenly, the rich, diverse nature of information on the Web will shrink, as those who are experts, but also have families to feed, look for other ways to make a living.
I've documented six ways in which Apple seems to be trying to kill off developers and their means of income. Like I said at the beginning, Apple obviously has the right to innovate. Equally valid, market leadership does not obligate a company to coddle its camp followers, or protect them from the market forces it stirs up along the way.
Finally, of course, no developer has been forced to develop for OS X or iOS. But many have made substantial investments, showing both their belief that there's some profit to be made and showing their loyalty to Apple itself.
That loyalty is not being reciprocated.
We're in the middle of a deep recession and this is a bad time to put people out of work. Apple has risen to success on the backs of its developer partners. Without partners big and small, Apple's offering would have been far less compelling.
What's most disturbing isn't the fact that change happens. What's disturbing is the apparent gusto Apple as a company, and Steve Jobs as its leader, seem to have for disrupting the lives of its partners.
There's just something deeply disturbing about a guy with a personal net worth of $5.5 billion dollars seeming to take such joy in throwing developers out onto the street.