Wednesday, July 7, 2021

iOS: Closing of the Frontier

Francisco Tolmasky:

I think the @AppStore may represent a “Closing of the Frontier” moment (in the American history “Frontier Thesis” sense) that may in part explain the dramatic slowdown in UI and UX innovation in iOS (and even more so in iPadOS) following the iPhone’s initial dramatic launch.

It’s no secret that macOS has… borrowed many of its now familiar workflows from 3rd party devs. Spotlight (Watson and QuickSilver), Widgets (Konfabulator), and iCloud Drive (Dropbox) to name just a few. And to be clear, this a good thing and has generally been wll received.

The key thing here is that these utilities started on the “fringe”… the frontier.


And IMO a big reason for that is because there’s no “frontier” for enthusiasts to experiment and possibly break into the mainstream. Innovation can only come from Apple, where changes are riskiest. The ecosystem has no way to derisk through organic growth in the market.

And jailbreaking doesn’t (and can’t) serve this role. It’s a big scary binary switch (that is constantly being mitigated by Apple). You can’t install “one well known cool system extension.” There’s either jailbreaking your phone, or not.

No one can invent the next Dropbox on iOS, and perhaps not even on Android. I guess the frontier is now the desktop platforms, but do they have enough mindshare for the next big thing to break through?

Tanner Bennett:

On iOS, the features they take come from jailbreak tweaks.

• Control center was SBSettings
• BiteSMS had quick reply before iOS
• PredictiveKeyboard (obvious)
• Someone delivered multitasking before  did, but it’s a stretch to call that a Sherlock; same with dark mode

It’s actually crazy how many things the community beat Apple to, year after year. Most of them are obvious steps forward, but still a lot of them are definite Sherlocks.

Dan Grover:

Even before “Sherlocking” became a verb, like half of System 7.5 was random 3P hacks that Apple bought out -- including the menubar clock! Sandboxed app stores were a faustian bargain: less stuff to Sherlock, but it bridged gap and made regular users behave more like power users.


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> "and perhaps not even on Android."

Why not? It's even open source, if something can't happen in Android, how would it happen on iOS even if Apple's dominance through the App Store is broken?

@Fitz Because, open source or not, most customers don’t make their own OS builds or even sideload apps. So it would be difficult to gain traction for a mass market product that’s not available from the store.

I used stuff like SBSettings and jailbreak-provided multitasking back in the day. Even today, SBSettings was more flexible than Control Center — as I recall, you could put arbitrary apps in there (and maybe there was an API to write actions? Not sure). I don't necessarily need that, but it is slightly annoying (and antitrust-adjacent) that Calculator, Camera, etc. in Control Center are hardcoded to Apple's apps. (There are security considerations there, to be fair. As we've seen over and over, it's actually hard to make a Control Center- or Lockscreen-available app bulletproof.)

I do indeed worry that iOS innovation is stifled by this.

I'd disagree with the thesis. There never *was* a consumer-facing frontier for wild, do-anything experimentation on iOS; the frontier was closed from Day One on the platform. The next Dropbox probably can't emerge from iOS as it stands today, but that's eliding the fact that the last Dropbox wasn't developed on iOS either.
One can point to random features "from" Jailbreak, many of which probably existed elsewhere, but, either way, you also then have to point to random features that definitively emerged from iOS apps in the App Store, like pull to refresh. But that would work against the seemingly pre-determined thesis that iOS has somehow ended innovation everywhere.

@Eric I think the thesis is saying that the iOS frontier was always closed (outside of Apple). Pull-to-refresh is certainly innovation, but it fits within the app paradigm. And, even there, one could imagine that in classic Mac OS or in the early haxies days of Mac OS X there would have been an extension or input manager to enable it system-wide. That sort of thing can’t happen now.

[…] via Michael Tsai – Blog – iOS: Closing of the Frontier: […]

It does not seem fair to blame mostly Apple and Google for tightening AppStores.
Massive privacy invasion and malware are a big reason for a need for a greater control.
Mobile phones made the market for computing massively larger and with that came a lot of bad players. Yet the success of this market explosion is based in big part on the more "guarding" rules.

@Dmitri You can debate whether it’s good or bad, but it’s a direct consequence of the App Store and sandboxing model. That’s not fair or unfair; it just is. The idea that this model is the reason for the success of iOS is an assumption. We can’t turn back the clock to see whether a different model would have resulted in more innovation or a stifling amount of malware. And, despite Apple’s rhetoric, the Android model is more similar than different, so it’s not a very useful comparison.

Kevin Schumacher

@Michael We can see what differences there are, even with the (as you point out) limited daylight between iOS and Android currently. Malware is certainly a much larger problem on Android, even in apps that go through the Play Store and its more limited app review. Seems like it's fairly routine now that I see an article on Ars that another group of Android apps installed by hundreds of thousands or millions of people contained some form of covert data-stealing (as in, stole data from elsewhere in the system that wouldn't be possible without user approval on iOS) or outright had malware embedded in it.

I'm not saying malware has never happened on iOS, but you can see significant differences between the systems, even subtracting out Apple's hyperbole. I think you can also compare to a limited extent between desktop and mobile device, although the comparison is more problematic there if Apple's assertion that most Mac users don't download a lot of software is true or even mostly true, since the less that's downloaded, the less chance of a bad thing happening.

I also don't think Dmitri was saying the success of iOS was because of the sandbox model, so much that the success of iOS (and smartphones more generally) naturally attracted bad actors, and the further hardening of the OSes was a natural response because of the expanded nature of private information we tend to have on there, even moreso than desktop/laptop computers in a lot of cases.

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