Apple (hates) Developers?

As anyone who trawls the technology sites knows by now, Apple have as of OS 4.0 banned the use of anything other than C/++ or Objective C/++ for iPhone or iPad development. Effectively, this bans Adobe’s Flash to iPhone targeting technology, MonoTouch and several other techniques. I can think of only two (tenuously) justifiable reasons for this.

  1. Perhaps, during the beta, they want code written in C (and derivatives) to aid in debugging framework bugs. Rather than “My App doesn’t WORK!!!!! (Using MonoTouch Vxxyy)”, they can get a repro using a stack they know and control top to bottom. In this case, I can see it as justified.
  2. If it’s specifically to target cross-compilers as a business decision, to ensure that iPhone only gets “exclusives”, then I suppose it’s their prerogative. It will probably backfire long-term, as their market share isn’t that dominant. “Browser, Palm, Android + all else” or “iPhone” makes the iPhone a secondary port target versus a first class platform.

Gruber gives a third, pretty sensible conclusion – that they just don’t want to hand control of their platform to another vendor, and become a commodity target – just another checkbox inside Flash alongside “Web” and “Android”. If developers started using these meta development tools, all of the iPhones advantages vanish – it’s just another smartphone that runs Flash based applications.

For Apple the platform holder, this makes sense. For developers, any of the reasons are overly restrictive. This is, at best, ethically dubious without inconveniencing real development (which is all going on in Objective C already). At worst, it’s indicative of an ongoing schizophrenic pathology within Apple management where, despite winning ongoing customers through applications, they are happy to slap developers around just to see how far they can go before everyone decamps to Android.

We already exist with the capricious Application Review policy whereby you’re playing Russian Roulette with your development time – there’s no way to know that tell which perfectly innocent development choice will lead to rejection. Add this new restriction, and one has to wonder what choice made today will be retrospectively banned tomorrow. It’s an odd strategy, as there are plenty of innovative developers who are now scared of targeting the platform, whilst coding sweat shops keep flooding the channel with $0.10 an hour developer dross; developers who will use whatever they’re paid to use, be it Objective C or Flash. Pump enough stuff in, and some of it leaks through.

I can take two solaces from this personally. First, it literally can’t ever sensibly apply to OS X – the historical baggage makes this kind of restrictive move possible only on the closed and dominant iPhone platform. Even if they ever decided to make a “Mac App Store”, there would always have to be a standard development path lest they lose the thousands of platform portable apps that they current have (and really, OS X is still missing large swathes of desktop software that Windows has). Second, it makes my Objective C skills more valuable.

I still think it’s a poor move technically and ethically, but the iPhone platform has always been rife with these land-mines. Whether it turns out to be a good move from a business perspective, the market and time will tell.

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