07 May 2010

Apple’s mistakes

From the iPhone OS 4 SDK, section 3.3.1 of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement:

3.3.1 — Applications may only use Documented APIs in the manner prescribed by Apple and must not use or call any private APIs. Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs (e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited).

This is one of the ways that Apple is keeping Flash off iDevices. It—intentionally—keeps more than Flash off of them. (See “Thoughts on Flash”.)

It is, unfortunately true, that cross-platform frameworks often have lousy user experiences. Not merely “un-Mac-like” but just plain bad. It’s true that they often only end up supporting the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t have to be like that, however. Cross platform frameworks can support platform-specific features. I’ve worked on ones that have. It is all too rare though.

There’s also the fact that some apps—especially some games—don’t really need standard user interface elements. Flash (and other options) can work well for these things. If anyone chooses to use Flash for another sort of app, they’ll quickly lose to non-Flash apps. I’m glad not to have Flash in Safari on my iPhone or my iPad, but I don’t mind Flash apps.

Section 3.3.1, however, doesn’t only ban cross-platform frameworks. It bans writing honest-to-goodness Cocoa Touch apps written in any but the specified languages. (“Platform Control” by Mark Bernstein.)

It has been suggested that a compromise might be to require any frameworks to be open source. (“A reconciling proposal” by Michel Fortin.) That way, any developer that needs access to a specific feature can add it to the framework. That’s a good idea. Yet, the truth is that such extensions to a framework can be a lot of work—especially for someone who normally only uses the framework.

Ian Bogost has written that “Flash is not a Right”. He is right, I suppose.

Putting aside rights, however, I have to wonder if this is really in Apple’s best interest. I have to wonder if this is really in the best interest of Apple’s customers. Apple’s biggest mistakes, I believe, are when they try to compete via the law. Whether through intellectual property or license agreements. They compete and win in the market. They don’t need to play the legal games.

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