Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thoughts on iOS Content Purchase

Eucalyptus developer James Montgomerie (via Jason Snell):

The intent behind Apple’s policies always seemed consistent to me in the past. The policies themselves may have been opaque and sometimes confusing, and were often inconsistently and capriciously applied, but the intent behind them didn’t seem to change. I certainly didn’t agree with all the policies, but they at least seemed reasonable. I could respect them. Apple seemed to have integrity. With this change though, that’s no longer true. Apple has simply changed the policy for what apps are allowed to do to one that’s not only different, it has a different intent behind it.

It is no longer possible to rationalize that the intent is to benefit the consumer, though I’m sure there are those in the mothership who sincerely believe that forcing people into the Apple monoculture is good for them. Montgomerie closes with some thoughts on 1984. Apple is forcing a choice between excellence and freedom. If only Nixon could go to China, only Apple can build the Orwellian world.

More food for thought:

  1. Having read and thought about the guidelines, it seems clear to me that the intent is to ban viewer apps.
  2. What does Apple define as “content” and thus subject to the compulsions of section 11? What will be considered content tomorrow? What use are the guidelines, if even their intent is subject to change?
  3. Since all content must be available for purchase through Apple, this means that all content must be approved by Apple. Apple already bans certain types of content. It claims not to curate the allowed types, but this policy could change, and Apple would be in a position where it could enforce a content ban.
  4. If content includes digital services, apps that provide native interfaces for services such as Flickr, FogBugz, Lighthouse, Basecamp, and others would be banned.

Update: Hank Williams explores point #4 and the effect on service businesses.

9 Comments

It’s really stunning to me just how similar the Apple of 2011 is to the Microsoft of 1997.

Both of them had the exact same mantra: Expand our revenue stream beyond the box. Leverage our lock-in to capture a guaranteed share of money our users spend out there on the internet.

@Chucky I seem to recall Douglas Coupland having a line in Microserfs about how Apple and Microsoft were a lot more similar than you might think. Apple just had more turtlenecks and smoking.

Another difference is that Apple has taste and production values. That at least makes this reprise better for users. But it makes it worse for developers. As Mark Pilgrim once quipped: “Steve Jobs doesn’t build platforms, except by accident.”

What I don’t understand is why it took the world 4 years to catch on. Why do people listen to people over their actions? The closedness of the iPhone told the story from the very start, even if it took 4 years to get to the point where Apple started disappointing even some of those who root for them. And every episode in the meantime has only reaffirmed the direction. Why do people ignore the means as they are put in place until the first unrationalisable abuse happens?

Another issue is with institutional subscriptions. I've got access to various medical sites through my school, and there are iOS viewers for it (example). Should site licensing somehow be incorporated into the app? This seems ludicrous.

"I seem to recall Douglas Coupland having a line in Microserfs about how Apple and Microsoft were a lot more similar than you might think. Apple just had more turtlenecks and smoking."

I did read the book, but don't remember the quote. The bon mot is nice. And I'm sure that working at all of the similar Silicon Valley companies is alike in many ways.

But Microsoft in 1997 had a very specific corporate strategy. They had a temporary situation of great market leverage. And rather than concentrating on making better products for their users, they began to concentrate on two objectives:

1) Using their leverage to avoid the rise of middle-wear.

2) Using their leverage to grab a rent-seeking slice of the commerce their users did out on the internet.

Microsoft in 1997 was willing to be incredibly evasive and disingenuous in its pursuit of those goals.

Does any of this remind you of Apple in 2011 in any way?

(FWIW, I think item 1 has both good and bad sides to it. It's a grey zone that is dependent on the situation. But item 2 is just sorta flat-out evil.)

@Chucky The odd thing, to me, is that item 2 seems to be at odds with making/keeping the platform dominant. Apple is already making lots of profits; what they are losing is marketshare. Why would they want to give developers and publishers a reason to consider the other platforms? Apple must think that it’s in such a superior position now that the rent-seeking is not, actually, a risk.

"Apple is already making lots of profits; what they are losing is marketshare. Why would they want to give developers and publishers a reason to consider the other platforms? Apple must think that it’s in such a superior position now that the rent-seeking is not, actually, a risk."

Lots of possible correct answers here.

One possibility is that they're just looking to extract a lot in the short-term to keep the stock market happy.

Another possibility is that it even isn't about short-term profits. That, instead, the current Apple high command is deluded enough to think that folks will just let them own 30% of the planet.

Hubris happens.

"The odd thing, to me, is that item 2 seems to be at odds with making/keeping the platform dominant."

It's a sucker's bet for a megasized corporation. Microsoft used to have the largest market cap of any Silicon Valley company. They don't anymore.

I definitely don't think Apple's current strategy is a smart, unless your vision ends within a couple of years.

Microsoft hasn't had a successful new product in all the years since 1997. And if Apple stopped expanding and fell back on its 'core monopoly', its fall would be far sharper and harder than Microsoft's...

[...] comment from “Chucky” on a post from from Michael Tsai: Microsoft in 1997 had a very specific corporate strategy. They had a temporary situation of great [...]

> Microsoft hasn't had a successful new product in all the years since 1997.

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