Writing software is a serious investment of time and energy. It also carries the opportunity cost of the other things you could have built. We live in a capitalist economy. Under capitalism, profit is the reward for economic risk. Without a reasonable expectation of profit, the sensible business-person will not invest. Without investment and risk-taking, there is no innovation.
Apple's current practice of rejecting certain applications at the final hurdle - submission to the App Store - is disastrous for investor confidence. Developers are investing time and resources in the App Store marketplace and, if developers aren't confident, they won't invest in it. If developers - and serious developers at that - don't invest, what's the point?
You have to wonder if Apple wants the App Store to be a museum of poorly-designed nibware written by dilettante Mac OS X/iPhone OS switcher-developers and hobbyist students. That's what will happen if companies who intend to invest serious resources in bringing an original idea to the App Store are denied a reasonable level of confidence in their expectation of profit.
Some people might have given Apple a pass when they rejected the e-flatulence applications iFartz and Pull My Finger. Personally, I didn't. Half of my reasoning is that selecting for taste is the first step to censoring for business advantage. The other half of it is that, well, who can't think of a million uses for a TCP/IP-enabled whoopee cushion?
That said, Apple is now selecting for anti-competitive reasons. It came to light today that an app that will deliver a capability I really, really want was rejected by Apple because it replaces a feature in Apple's own software. The app is called Podcaster and it would allow one to update podcasts directly on the device over wifi. I sync my iPhone to my Mac Pro - should I have to go home to put a new episode on my iPhone? I'd buy that app in a heartbeat.
Do you want a store in which every app in the "Productivity" category is a to-do list manager? That's exactly what you're going to get because, without some a priori assurance that your idea will be accepted, the only way to know what Apple likes and dislikes is to look at what's already on the store. Clearly Apple can't get themselves enough of those ticky boxes, so why not do "your take" on a list of text cells and checkmarks? Much safer bet than inventing something new.
I said that I wouldn't write another iPhone app for the App Store as currently constituted. What would make me change my mind? Here are a few ideas:
- Publish clear and unambiguous rules for what will be accepted and what will not. I don't even care if this is a long and detailed document, but it needs to be The Rulebook from which both sides play.
- Defend those rules against external pressure from carriers (NetShare) or the media (Slasher).
- Design a process by which developers can be given official pre-approval of their idea. Possibly a general nod, possibly conditional on certain criteria. If developers are going to go and borrow money to hire talent or build out services, they need more confidence than "call us when you're done".
- Loudly and conspicuously hire an App Store Evangelist. Preferably someone with an already high profile who does not already work for Apple. In fact, it might even be best if this person was not paid by Apple but an independent developer to whom Apple would give deep access to work with the App Store team. This is an investor trust issue.
- When controversies arise, let the Evangelist get into the conversation and lay out a clear rationale for Apple's actions.
- Send the App Store Evangelist to every corner of the earth where iPhone developers gather. Unshackle them from the usual Apple constraints on public speaking. Get them on podcasts. For better or for worse, Apple has to start talking to the iPhone developer community.
[* Update: Quick clarification. "I'm out" doesn't mean I'm pulling Exposure from the store. All it means is I'm not going to invest time and money into new ideas for the iPhone until this mess is resolved. Sorry for any confusion.]