Steve Jobs hates the App Store

Steve Jobs and his little friend by David GellerPhoto by David Geller, shared under Creative Commons

Ok, Steve Jobs doesn’t hate the App Store. It’s a friggin’ blockbuster success as far as the pundits can see. It’s everything and more than anyone ever thought it could be. It’s the salvation of weak business models. It preserves the patriarchic walled garden hierarchy of app-lockin and single-vendor-mediated consumer experience! Hooray!

<<Grumble>>

For the sake of argument, and to make a point, let’s say for a moment that Steve Jobs really did hate the App Store — and everything that it stands for. What if deep in his gut he realized that he’d been wrong to give in to developer demand? What if his illness was caused by the guilt he felt over what he’d wrought by launching the App Store? What if every ounce of his gaunt figure yearned for the demise of the App Store? (Bear with me.)

What would he do?

Well, I bet he’d start by capriciously and indiscriminately rejecting applications, raising the ire of developers (as well as famous rockstars) far and wide.

Then he’d label any app that connected to third-party servers or the web with the equivalent of an NC-17 rating — cutting off anyone whose phone is locked down by parental controls. To make matters even more interesting, he’d put the entire control of the rating system in the hands of monkeys and people on Mechanical Turk (or at least make it seem that way).

Then he’d go and introduce a new hardware device in response to years of speculation and change up the form-factor and screen real estate for apps, forcing developers to port their apps to this new resolution, resulting in even more headaches (ed: this hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a nice touch to top it all off).

Oh, and the price of an app would be perpetually driven down towards zero as reuse trails off after mere days of use, while only a few breakthrough successes would make any money whatsoever (unless you’re in the gravity-defying games business).

If all that didn’t succeed in killing off the App Store, well, he’d butter up a few tasty carrots to entice developers away from building native iPhone apps by making WebKit a formidable development and deployment framework for leveraging the web and web content. He’d spin out an R&D lab of kids to push the boundaries of what’s possible when you embrace the browser as a development constraint. He’d invest in the beginnings of Apple’s next generation cloud service (“MobileMe“) and plant the seeds of the greatest identity platform ever (I mean, “me.com“? Don’t you get it?)

Of course, he spelled out this entire strategy in 2007 when the iPhone originally launched. Except the announcement went over like a lead balloon. He just couldn’t keep his loyal Mac developers happy because they were unwilling to see the future he saw. Just as Tim O’Reilly coined the phrase “Web 2.0″ to try to refocus Linux hardware hackers on the notion of the “network as platform”, Steve Jobs tried to kick-off a new revolution in web application development. But people weren’t ready for the revolution, and the familiarity of the desktop application metaphor proved too powerful.

So, in the biggest backpeddaling since David knocked Goliath on this ass, Apple launched a “proper” iPhone SDK in March of 2008.

And then a few months later Steve Jobs became ill. Ill with contempt!

Ever since it launched, Jobs had to have wanted to drown the App Store in an aluminum-clad, precision engineered, unibody bathtub. He had to have intentionally set up the system to fail — to the point where other people would make the case for iPhone Web Apps — absolving him of convincing people to adopt his original vision.

Now, of course I’m making all of this up. It’s wild conjecture. But I highly doubt that Steve Jobs is anti-internet. He’s pro-good-experience, but that doesn’t mean that he hates the web.

In 2007, in an interview with USA Today he made an interesting statement about the similarity between the iPhone and the iPod Touch: If anybody is going to cannibalize us, I want it to be us. I don’t want it to be a competitor.

And so it goes with the web. Rather than let it cannibalize Apple, Apple will cannibalize the web by becoming it — as Google has — as Neo became part of the fabric of the Matrix! App Stores in general are a flash in the pan — hardly a competitor to the net. They’ll last a couple more years, but the web will win, if it hasn’t already — the missing piece is discovery — which is why iTunes is so critical to the iPhone’s success. We’re in the Yahoo! Directory phase of the application web — but rapidly entering the world of searchable, on-demand functionality. Are you really trying to tell me that I need to keep installing apps for the rest of my existence when I can just type URLs and pull down any app I want on the fly? Puh-lease.

iPhoneDevCampI’m writing this post today because iPhoneDevCamp 3 is taking place in Sunnyvale this weekend. As a co-organizer of the original iPhoneDevCamp, I wanted to reiterate the reason why I originally pitched in to an event that focused on a closed platform — that is, because I believe that the iPhone has always been about the web — even if few people see that yet — and even if the web isn’t the development panacea it is destined to become.

Steve Jobs hates the App Store for the same reasons I do: development for the iPhone platform is a distraction. It’s taking our eyes off the ball, and ignoring the bigger shift that’s happening beneath our feet. Developing iPhone apps now means postponing a better and more capable web until later, because so much energy is fixated on the cool whiz-bang effects in the iPhone platform that just haven’t been implemented in browsers… yet. We’ll look at this period as a great Dark Age that preceded the real next leap in computing — the age when we moved away from the stale metaphor of applications and moved to a world of ad-hoc connected identity agents living and feeding on a mesh of interwoven open data.

. . .

Parting thought: If the future is anything like the Matrix, Steve Jobs was Neo up until the App Store. Now he’s looking a lot more like Agent Smith, and I’m guessing that’s really, really depressing.

Steve Jobs having a Neo moment

32 Comments

  1. xtfer said
    at 8pm on Aug 1st # |

    You had me disagreeing with you right up to the end, when I realised you were spot on. Despite my current love of the iPhone App process, which has opened up mobile computing in a way not previously possible, it is still early days. I don’t believe it will be Apple which makes the next leap though…

  2. Mason Lee said
    at 8pm on Aug 1st # |

    Damn, dude. It’s a deep question.

    There’s no theoretical reason you couldn’t download a compiled binary on the fly, where the developer has tailored the app to your specific device. A lot of those iPhone apps are smaller than some webapp’s javascript. We already see webpages returning different HTML for different user-agents– why? Because one-size does not fit all. Different devices have different capabilities for doing different things. Input/Output devices will never be reducible to the lowest common denominator. For example, are webapps going to deliver augmented reality?

    Enjoyed the piece!

  3. David said
    at 9pm on Aug 1st # |

    It’s interesting thinking about this from the perspective of a Pre owner and developer. The entirety of developing for webOS involves knowing HTML5 and javascript. Graphics are all through the canvas tag, and it runs well (though it can’t draw the kind of stuff you could do natively). Once the next gen JS engines come out, I bet it’ll be even better. Want to invoke a Pre widget? Add x-mojo-element to an input tag. It isn’t to the point of just typing a URL to load our apps off the web (and having it scale nicely into a browser as a by-the-way), but it isn’t a hard thing to imagine. Maybe the iPhone will get passed by.

    I don’t think anybody really disagrees with Steve’s vision. I certainly don’t. The technology *just isn’t there yet*, and what are we supposed to do in the meantime? Tie our hands behind our backs while we wait for open standards to free us? Will that really speed up the revolution? Tell kids they can’t play Super Monkey Ball 3d on the iPhone until we figure out how to make javascript fast enough? It’s like saying we shouldn’t use Flash…just wait until markup evolves to encompass it (then again, maybe you would say that). =P

  4. at 10pm on Aug 1st # |

    Chris
    Kudos for a very well-written article.

  5. James said
    at 1am on Aug 2nd # |

    I’ve never read such link bait bullshit before in my life. Stick to your day job.

  6. at 6am on Aug 2nd # |

    Interesting insights .. and much on the lines of some of my comments on the open web foundation ..

    I agree with the general theme of the article and the need for a viable web platform .. however .. the iPhone’s main business innovation is not the technology but the ecosystem(especially the revenue share and the on device discovery). That was the missing bit. Can the same be done based on the Web? yes. but there are gaps but these are being filled. Fred wison said on twitter .. if you lie with the dogs – you come up with fleas. Apple had no choice but to do what it did(and come up with fleas in the process!). The point here is: inspite of the limitations, the iPhone and appstore is still better than what we had before it. (70/30 rev split)

    The main problem with the iPhone is: it is not a generatibve device(see Jonathan Zittrain’s views on generative devices http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7364901.stm) – not just the iPhone but even in support of communication technologies like MMS which were absent initially

    So, in that sense it is a stepping stone (ie interim step) towards an inevitable direction led by the Web.

    As a final note, I may add that – it indicates the need for the web to also speed up especially in standards and in creating pragmatic/business driven open standards which are flexible considering the future complexity(offline browsing etc etc)

    Many thanks.
    kind rgds
    Ajit

  7. Constable Odo said
    at 7am on Aug 2nd # |

    I fail to understand the ire against the App Store and Apple.

    Apple has built one of the finest mobile platforms within a year. It bristles with enthusiasm from developers and users. Apple has tried to make submission to approval time relatively short considering the amount of developers there are. Nobody seems to consider the App store a relatively ground-breaking concept that needs to undergo maybe a couple of years of changes. To this date, there are over 65,000 apps that have been approved against maybe a 500 (my uninformed guess) or so that might have been temporarily pulled or totally rejected. Apple has pulled apps and then reinstated them. Maybe it takes time to look at the app in it’s entirety and impact on the platform.

    Why the heck are you people making such a stew about one or two pulled apps? First of all, Apple runs the show. Yes, they should in good faith talk with developers to clearly point out why an app is rejected. But clearly it is Apple’s App Store and they call the shots. Any developer knowing this beforehand should not get on the Apple platform knowing this risk. It seems as though users and developers have a better understanding of the iPhone platform than Apple, even though Apple seems to be winning the mobile platform wars and getting the most done in such a short period of time. Most of you people probably couldn’t even run a corner candy store without upsetting customers and vendors.

    You really should be thankful for what Apple’s iPhone has brought to users instead of harping over what Apple has taken away. Apple will certainly make plenty of mistakes, but they’re probably making less mistakes than most other mobile platforms. Cut Apple some slack if they blunder. This Google app problem will be resolved in time. You don’t know what Apple has planned possibly in place of the Google app or if this app affects some future development plans.

    That being said, developers and users can just as soon mosy on over to some other smartphone platform that allows the app if they’re so unhappy. Losing one app out of 65,000 seems relatively trifling to me. Time will tell if Android becomes a much better platform than Mobile OSX and never has any problems with apps that don’t work quite well with others. Good luck with that perfect dream.

  8. at 7am on Aug 2nd # |

    Seriously, if you haven’t already: Check out Palm’s webOS platform. It’s early days yet and things are a little rough around the edges, but it’s the closest to an open platform I’ve seen yet.

    True, the Mojo core and such are proprietary, but it’s an embedded Linux device – not some weird alien technology that happens to have Linux under it, but a real Linux OS with an ipkg package manager and a webkit-based UI on top.

    And, despite Mojo and such being proprietary – you get most of the source in the SDK. Not Free as in Speech or Beer, but that’s uncommonly open and standard as far as mobile devices go.

  9. at 10am on Aug 2nd # |

    I almost believe EXCEPT for the huge gulf between what native can do vs. Web: things like camera access, motion access, etc. Fix that (window.camera.click()) and I’ll buy your rant whole hog

  10. Shawn said
    at 10am on Aug 2nd # |

    The concept of web-based applications is great in a Utopian society where everyone has easy / fast access to data. But when I need to access data in a rural area that has no broadband or “high speed” wireless, there’s nothing worse than having to download the data AND the mobile application GUI with all its bells and whistles.

  11. at 11am on Aug 2nd # |

    @l.m.orchard I totally agree with you about the WebOS. It is incredibly easy to develop for (which is good and bad). I developed my job search application in just two weeks. Granted I am a web developer by trade so I already knew JavaScript. To check out my app go to the PreCental forums or my website. http://forums.precentral.net/homebrew-apps/194863-jobr-job-search-v0-7-5-7-28-a.html or http://www.webfusion5.com

  12. andrew said
    at 11am on Aug 2nd # |

    Nice the way you got the life-threatening illness in there in a jokey way…stay classy

  13. Johan said
    at 11am on Aug 2nd # |

    As stated, Google has become part of the fabric, but is Google “Neo” or “Mr Smith”?

    I sometimes wonder when Google will fall under it’s own pressure…

  14. Povlhp said
    at 12pm on Aug 2nd # |

    Troll bait. Happy with the app store. 2 apps there. Afraid of rejection though.

  15. Ben Toth said
    at 2pm on Aug 2nd # |

    Well, SJ discussed the rise of web based agents in a Wired interview years ago … and then developed iTunes and the iPhone. I don’t think he’s frustrated with iPhone apps, he’s just a dreamer with a strong pragmatist streak, and an unusually good understanding of users.

  16. at 5pm on Aug 2nd # |

    Steve probably does hate the app store because it wasnt his idea.

  17. fe kaylius said
    at 6pm on Aug 2nd # |

    the web is winning, it is the future universe.

  18. Joe said
    at 10pm on Aug 2nd # |

    The 1990s called, it wants its delusions back.

    Seriously, this was a profoundly clueless article. I guess its good trolling though.

  19. ARJWright said
    at 5am on Aug 3rd # |

    You know, this is a pretty nice piece. And for the most part in makes sense and I agree with it. However, I don’t know if its “Steve” that’s the issue; remember, it was the blogging and developer universes which pined about “native” applications. And then, being slow to embrace the restrictions when native apps were allowed, they are now moving to the web as another platform. I would think its more or less that its “us” finally getting the point, not necessarly Apple.

    Funnily enough, I think carriers were in the same pot as developers/bloggers too. Only, they still deny the fun for them that web apps would cause on mobiles :)

    Do submit this to the Carnival of the Mobilits. This is a solid thinking piece for that colletion.

  20. at 8am on Aug 3rd # |

    Web apps were possible since the very first iPhone, so, if they are such a good idea, why didn’t web apps take off the same way native apps did?

  21. at 5am on Aug 4th # |

    Great post. In the end it boils down to if you want a walled garden or not. Open tends to win over time, same should be true here. And open here clearly means web. Technology is not the only deciding factor, and over time there shouldn’t be much difference between “web” and “app” anyway. But it needs to be as level a playing field as possible, as open as can be.

  22. Roy norton said
    at 6am on Aug 4th # |

    So creazy.But a interesting opinion.

  23. jwaustincrowe said
    at 2am on Aug 6th # |

    I was very ‘anti’ until I digested this whole article. Brilliant! And it rings true, the hoops I had to run through to browse available iPhone apps, ie, download iTunes, then find the link, etc., indicates that you have to be ‘in the club’ and also, in the mindset, that you are doing something very special and contained/condoned by going through the app store. Apple _must_ see Linux and windoze approaching with web apps in tow, also, see Adobe and their air/flex/flash/swf excellence defying the odds. Well done factoryjoe.

    Joe.

  24. Shawn said
    at 10am on Aug 11th # |

    Fantastic and provocative post Chris. When the iPhone app store really started to get going, I was mystified. To me it felt like the days of the CD-ROM all over again (before the web as we know it existed). I expanded on your conclusion (and quoted you quite a bit) in a blog post of my own: “Why Android Will Win the Mobile App Wars”

    I’d love to know what you think. Find it here: http://bit.ly/5r0kA

  25. Pokpitch said
    at 9am on Aug 21st # |

    I almost believe EXCEPT for the huge gulf between what native can do vs. Web: things like camera access, motion access, etc. Fix that (window.camera.click()) and I’ll buy your rant whole hog

  26. Chris said
    at 11pm on Aug 24th # |

    Steve Jobs has always been Agent Smith.

  27. henry h said
    at 9am on Sep 24th # |

    I don’t buy it.

    Have you looked at the $ which are coming in from the App store (for very little work outside of creating the platform) which contributes to the bottom line?

    Have you look at Valve’s Steam platform for distributing games over the wire instead of through retail stores?

    What about the Apple iTunes store?

    Apple knows the value of bundling a product with a service. This is what they get right every time they come to the market with something new.

    Have you looked at Apple competing with portable gaming systems? Do you think games will run very well over the web? What happens if you want to play a game and you have no Internet connection?

    Seems to me like you’re taking a very myopic view. Not everything is suitable for the web. Perhaps I’m missing your point, but the App store will be around for a long time and it wasn’t an “accident” or a way to “appease developers” as you’re implying.

    My 2 cents.

  28. koala said
    at 3pm on Dec 17th # |

    Mobile phone development is taking where the PCs left off; there were some apps that could never be developed on the PC because you could not take the machine with you. “Owning” an application on your local machine is just too enticing to ignore. It _is_ a smartphone after all, you’d like it to be smart! Like do things. By itself. A fast net connection is never guaranteed, something that is taken as a fact by successful software like Git (brainchild of Linus Torvalds). We have survivalist tendencies, we want our tools to work, do things with least amount of dependency. Web should be treated as source or sink of info that is digestable, sendable in small chunks. There are a plathora of vision, AI based apps that can (and will) be written for mobile phones. Any Web there? No.

    Plus, for app developers, paying a hosting provider for servers that may or may not be used is not a risk worth taking. If an app can run disconnected, purely on mobile phone, I would write that app for local use only.

  29. at 9pm on Jan 4th # |

    This is a great article but very debatable. Im going to say that Steve Jobs absolutely loves the App store simply because it has been such a huge part of the iPhones success. It has made the iPhone so much more appealing simply because of all the awesome apps that developers have created for Steve Jobs phone, the iPhone.

  30. Adam Wride said
    at 9am on Jan 14th # |

    Bingo – I wish I had read this when you first posted it =)

    But I found it for a reason.

    You said:
    “Steve Jobs hates the App Store for the same reasons I do: development for the iPhone platform is a distraction. It’s taking our eyes off the ball, and ignoring the bigger shift that’s happening beneath our feet.”

    This is right – BUT the App Store has done something very good for web apps. Jobs has shown us the way. As in, he’s shown us that when the store is done right, when the ecosystem is working, awesome things come from it and huge value is created for everyone.

    Web apps are just not there yet. We’re all busy building (and rebuilding) purchasing mechanisms, login systems, etc.

    I’m not suggesting that we need a heavy handed overlord to give us the web app store that we need, but that we all start working together a little more closely so all ships rise.

    We recently published a spec for an open web app store api here: http://www.bigbrassband.com/blog/2010/01/app-store-for-web-apps/ and have received good feedback. But the common response is that “it’s hard” or “what about the case where…”

    Our problem is that web apps are still so immature that we’re all trying to support an infinite number of use cases and the net effect is we don’t support the ones that matter.

    We’re too busy building to connect.

  31. Jakk Ogden said
    at 10am on Mar 1st # |

    Gets you thinking doesn’t it! I liked the theoretical issue brought up surrounding Jobs anyway, but the bottom line is that he is a slick marketeer ;)

  32. Gary said
    at 3am on Jul 26th # |

    The issue with web development is what the issue is with Android is; fragmentation. Its much easier to develop for one platform with one toolset. Sure the web is now starting to deliver feature rich UI’s and some clever stuff but the first issue a developer has is, what framework shall I use? The choice is many and varied and as a dev you are constantly thinking have I made the right choice?

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