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Android vs. iPhone: No Contest for Developers

Android vs. iPhone: No Contest for Developers

The official announcement of the first Android phone was naturally cause for much discussion on the Linux blogs last week. We take a look at the issue through the eyes of developers, who see an application market unencumbered by the restrictions of Apple's iPhone App Store.

By Katherine Noyes
09/29/08 4:00 AM PT

Well, Android made its first showing last week in the form of the new G1, and as is so often the case when a brand-new product arrives, there were at least two noticeable effects. The first was a general quickening of the market's commercial pulses, as consumers began to salivate over the iPhone contender and new latest thing. Second, of course -- and our favorite part -- was that tongues began wagging afresh throughout the blogosphere.

While countless articles have already chronicled the many differences and similarities between the Android G1 and the iPhone from the user's perspective, what's often of greater immediate concern in the FOSS community, of course, is the developer's point of view.

And that, coincidentally, was a sore subject for those developing for the iPhone last week, as Apple began applying nondisclosure agreements to rejection letters sent to those developing for its App Store. What that meant, in other words, was that the developers in question could not reveal or discuss the reason their applications were rejected.

'The iPhone Is Doomed'

The reaction among bloggers suggests a dark outlook indeed for the iPhone's future with developers.

"As of today's news, it appears that the iPhone development process is like this," wrote Thomas Teisberg on the Linux Loop on Tuesday:

  1. "Ask Apple for permission to make an application.
  2. Sign a non-disclosure agreement.
  3. Invest time and money into an iPhone application.
  4. Ask Apple for permission to sell or give away your application.
  5. If Apple says YES: start making money and hope Apple does not change their minds.

    If Apple says NO: shut up and deal with it. If you say anything, Apple can sue you, further raising the wasted investment money."

As a result, "the iPhone is now doomed," Teisberg asserted.

Running Out of Patience

"Apple has not shot itself in the foot -- they shot themselves in the leg or heart," Teisberg added. "If Apple does not loosen up on their NDA policies soon, developers may leave the iPhone for the much more open Android platform or another more open platform."

If that happens, "Apple has suddenly doomed a potentially promising and incredibly successful platform," he said. "The only question that remains to be seen is how far iPhone developers are willing to be pushed? My guess: not much more."

Others agreed with Teisberg's evaluation.

'A Very Stupid Thing'

"Apple has done a very stupid thing," concurred John Bailey on the Loop. "I'll be interested to watch the Android phones mature, and I would love to see them carve out a nice big market."

Indeed, "the iPhone was doomed from the start, as soon as people realized what a vastly overpriced, cheaply made, poor performing product it really is!" added kb0hae. "The only reason there were any sales at all is that Apple managed (as it somehow did with the iPod) to get the iPhone to be thought of by a lot of people as some sort of status symbol."

Because anti-Apple sentiment reached such a fever pitch last week among developers -- and because that happened to coincide with Android's arrival -- we here at LinuxInsider thought it would be worth taking a closer look at the iPhone-Android rivalry from the developer's perspective.

'Optimistic About Android'

"I'm optimistic about Android, and the ham-fisted way that Apple's been handling developers for the iPhone has made me even more optimistic," Slashdot editor Timothy Lord told LinuxInsider. "Apple's not done anything I consider evil by restricting the apps that iPhone users can download, but it shows they're giving the iPhone the same treatment that makes me unhappy with OS X -- deciding that their way is the way a certain thing will be done."

A case in point is the "yanking" of the MailWrangler mail application, Lord noted.

"As a Java developer, obviously I like Android better," Slashdot blogger Mhall119 told LinuxInsider, "but from a general developer perspective, Android is a potential market, while the iPhone is just a potential partner."

No developer, "whether an individual or a corporation, would want to put the availability of their product at the mercy of Apple's own corporate interests when they have the option to sell directly to the Android market," he asserted. "I think Apple will be forced to allow competing apps on the iPhone, though they will likely continue to restrict applications in order to maintain the iPhone brand."

'Terrifying' Openness

Whether the mobile phone industry is ready for the kind of openness that will make or break Android, however, is another question, Mhall119 added.

"Up until now, they have been able to keep their networks secure and stable by limiting what uses them," he noted. "Once they allow people to run Android apps that use their network resources however they want, they are going to have to shift gears and start protecting their networks from their own users, like ISPs have been having to do for a while, and I think that prospect is still terrifying to most of these companies."

In the end, users will likely dominate, he predicted.

The YouTube Effect

"If YouTube and Facebook have proven anything, it's that user-supplied content will overwhelm corporate-supplied content by sheer volume alone," Mhall119 said. "I suspect that Android applications will be the same, and carriers will have to come to terms with the fact that they are no longer selling their customer a product, they are merely the way those customers get to a product made by someone else. That means the carrier will lose out on that piece of the pie, and I don't see them letting go without a fight."

Can an open platform alone bring about such seismic change?

"The cell phone market is one of the most closed markets I've ever come across -- telcos often demand that cell phone makers allow them to disable features to protect their own profit margins," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. "I'm honestly not sure what a more open platform can change in the face of such blatantly anticonsumer behavior."

Promising Future

Still, Android has at least the potential to bring new openness to a market known for the reverse.

"I'm not a big fan of cell phones generally, but Android-style openness -- if it remains as open as people hope it to be -- may change my mind on that," Lord said. "I certainly hope that it puts an end to the foolishness of people paying dollars for ringtones, or [getting] funneled into awkward and expensive picture-sending systems just to get photos off their phone. Shouldn't every phone already allow users to drag and drop files?"

T-Mobile needs to "crow about how open the platform is," Lord added. "It's 2008, and I still hear people asking the questions that seemed to dog anything 'open' 10 or more years ago, like whether something so transparent can be safe from malicious hackers."


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