What About the iPhone?

Friends, family, customers, and co-workers have all asked me when I’m going to develop an iPhone application. For a time, my answer was, “when I come up with a good idea.” Now my answer is, “when Apple changes its attitude.”

No Idea Whatsoever

Let me explain my earlier response. I’m not the kind of guy that creates solutions then looks for problems to which to apply them. For me, the idea of sitting and dreaming up a software application for the iPhone for the sake of developing an application for the iPhone is silly. My best ideas come from existing problems with no solutions that are adequate for my needs, or for the needs I suspect others would have. In the case of the iPhone just couldn’t think of any such problems that either hadn’t already been done well (or a thousand different ways) or would be permitted by Apple’s strict control of the platform. This latter realization slowly morphed into my latest stock response.

Bad Attitude

I understand Apple’s desire to control the platform. A consistent spread of poorly-written applications with poor, crashy performance reflects upon the iPhone in most consumer’s minds. What I don’t understand is the myriad other issues that make developing for the platform unsatisfying and outright risky for any serious developer with any desire to run a lasting, stable business. Let me count the ways …

One, One-Thousand – ‘Ware the Troll

As a desktop software publisher, the Internet has empowered me to spend my time pursuing a vision in which I truly believe. A problem-solver application about which I am passionate (because I had a problem I knew others had as well). At the end of each new application, I am always excited (and a little frightened) about the prospect of launching. There’s always a mix of praise and hate-mail (“great app! you nailed it!” and “you suck! not ready for prime-time!“), but the experience is always rewarding. Why? Because it usually goes very well and, more importantly, nobody is standing between me and launching my product. When and whether or not to launch is in my control. I’m the author. It’s my business, my product. If I were to develop a product for the iPhone platform, however, my months of labor could be rendered pointless by the proverbial bridge troll.

Imagine, if you will …

An eager merchant, I traipse down the golden path, proudly pushing my cart full of wares toward the mythical city of AppStore. My head is full of dreams of the fabled marketplace and I’m certain – so certain – my wares are irresistible. I’m humming a happy tune as I approach the bridge when suddenly a shiny aluminum-and-glass troll pops out, gnarly and rude.

“This be my bridge!” the troll exclaims. “Ye cannot pass!”

Try as I might, I can’t convince the troll to let me pass. His reasoning ranges anywhere from quality to a potential conflict with something he himself may want to build. Perhaps he’s decided small children could spell “boobies” by typing 5318008 and turning the device upside-down, the poor dears. Crestfallen, I must turn my cart around and go home. Nobody will buy my wares now. The twinkling lights of the AppStore at my back, I return to my hovel to mourn the passing of my dream.

… and scene.

In the interest of saving the drama fo’ yo’ mamma, I’ll get to my point: being stopped by the Apple Bridge Troll is not only possible, but likely enough to be an unacceptable business risk. I’m not a high school kid with “nothin’ but time” – I’m a working adult with 50+ hours divided among some pretty serious duties, not even considering personal and family time. I just can’t invest the time it takes to create a good, solid software product, only to be shut down by a bitchy troll.

Two, One-Thousand – No Dinner, No Movie

To make matters worse, you’re not selling your application. Apple is. Customers who buy your app belong to Apple, not you. You have no say in refunds, discounts, upgrade policies, technical support management, promotions, conflict resolution, unfair reviews, nor even pricing (due to precedent set by Apple).

If I’m going to be screwed, the least my suitor could do is buy me dinner and a movie first. Make the attempt. Woo me. Make me at least think I might want it, maybe. At a bare minimum, give me beer goggles and something for the pain …

Three, One-Thousand – THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Point-blank: Apple’s censorship policies are absurd. So absurd as to be an industry joke. A sad one, sure, but a joke nonetheless. Apple’s reviewers – whoever they are – are inconsistent, intolerant, inflexible automatons who deserve every bit of ire they’ve drawn.

An e-book reader specializing in old texts was banned because it could be used to search the Kama Sutra … a version without pictures that suggests rubbing your dick with the bristles of some insect to improve it somehow (I didn’t read the details). Here’s some news for you: So can any web browser. Interestingly, there’s ample proof all over the web that these parental control filters just don’t work. Kids who are old enough to even understand such a text are smart enough to use one of the many methods of bypassing such filters.

Let’s leave alone the fact that it’s not our computer’s job to raise our children. It’s ours. The humans. The people who should be monitoring these things. If something like the text from the Kama Sutra falling into your child’s hands worries you, why in the screaming depths of hell are you allowing your children unsupervised access to the Internet anyway? If little Billy is pulling his pudd to ancient textual advice on sex, be thankful – there’s some really sick shit out there in picture and movie form the Kama Sutra doesn’t even approach. Which would you prefer he access? The alternative is to make little Billy a eunuch. I digress.

Apple should definitely provide basic security for parents to block casual attempts at “smut”, but that’s where it should end. Any attempts beyond casual indicate the need for the parent to step in, not for Apple to work harder to nanny their wayward young at the expense of good software.

Four, One-Thousand – Hurry Up and Wait

The review process itself, clearly, leaves a lot to be desired. To add insult to injury, it takes far too long. This is bad for initial releases as well as updates if you’re the type of developer who likes to be communicative about your progress. This makes timing your marketing just about impossible. That’s it. No snarky quip.

Conclusion

Until Apple changes its attitude toward the developers who work so hard to give its platform the universal appeal it now enjoys, the iPhone platform simply isn’t attractive to me. Others have jumped right to calling it “hostile toward developers”. I agree. Plenty of well-known Mac developers have quit the platform entirely. I have better things to do, too. Bartas Technologies (or even Joshua Nozzi) won’t be investing the time or money (unless someone else is paying for it) in this platform any time soon, it seems. I’ll stick to the Mac desktop platform.

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