September 28, 2008
@ 09:51 PM

I'm in the market for a new phone and I've been considering getting an iPhone 3G to replace my AT&T Tilt (aka HTC Kaiser). The Tilt is a great PDA (thanks to Windows Mobile 6) and I love the slide out QWERTY keyboard. My main problems with it are the relatively huge physical size, small amount of storage space and needing two hands if I want to send email or text messages.

Although I've recently seen a lot of hype around Google's Android operating system and T-Mobile G1 (aka the HTC Dream), I haven't had any interest in it since it has no support for integrating with Microsoft Exchange which is the only reason I want a smart phone in the first place. However I have found it interesting that a lot of recent blog posts about the iPhone are about how it is in a weak position against Android because Google's open approach will trump Apple's closed approach with regards to their developer platform.

A typical example of this trend in iPhone coverage is Antionio Cangiano's blog post entitled Don't Alienate Developers which is excerpted below

Apple, a company that is generally considered far from “sinister” or “evil”, on the other hand, is trying their best to alienate developers.

Their first idiotic move was to place an NDA on a finished product like the iPhone SDK (including the final version).

Apple then decided that it was a good idea to charge people for the privilege to develop for the iPhone: $99

These were two blatant mistakes, but, if you can believe it, Apple managed to alienate developers further still. A few thousand people put up with the NDA on the SDK, with the cost of the Standard Program, and with the lengthy and bureaucratic process it takes to access the only viable distribution channel, the iPhone App Store. Some of them spent months trying to create excellent, innovative applications for the iPhone, only to see their work rejected for no good reason other than that it competed with Apple’s own products (e.g. Podcaster) or was inconvenient for their business partner AT&T (e.g. NetShare).

I fail to see Apple’s usual business insight and only see blind greed, the kind that acts as a highly effective cautionary tale against developing for Apple’s platforms. This all comes at a time when Google is promoting a truly open platform, Android, which poses a few challenges due to the heterogeneous nature of the devices it will be deployed on, but is equally interesting from a technical standpoint. Google even went so far as to award ten million dollars in prize money through a contest that they held, to attract new developers and applications. Android is definitely welcoming new developers and it’s doing so free from glaring restrictions and limitations. I suspect that many will put up with Java, to get a cup of freedom.

This kind of thinking is particularly naive because it fails to consider why developers adopt platforms in the first place. Developers go where the users are. Users go where they can get the best user experience for the right price. Openness of the platform only helps if it improves the user experience, thus attracting more users and reinforcing the virtuous cycle.

Rory Blyth recently a very insightful which compared to "open" approach taken with the Windows Mobile developer ecosystem with the "closed" approach of Apple's iPhone ecosystem. In his post entitled iPhone vs. Windows Mobile - Apple vs. Microsoft - It's the Little Things Rory wrote

Here, from what I've learned, is how iPhone and Windows Mobile rate against these criteria.

---- Windows Mobile

  • My access to your money: If you have a WM device, you probably have money. Even with carrier "discounts" they're not cheap. If you know what to get, it's worth the moolah, and you'll take advantage of what your chosen device has to offer by downloading apps that make use of it. This is as easy as:
    1. Trying to figure out where the big app stores are. There are a few, and they don't all support Windows Mobile, nor do they all have apps that will run on whatever version of WM you've got. It can be frustrating because Microsoft's practice of renaming products and slapping weird version numbers on things that are meaningless without context can easily leave you wondering what version of Windows Mobile you have (and wondering if what you've got is  the same as/compatible with PocketPC, WinCE, PPC, etc.).
    2. If not big stores, then searching the small independents where devs post their stuff on sites that look like they were made with a beta release of the first version of FrontPage.
    3. When you find an app, you go through whatever arbitrary transaction process the store/dev is using. This might mean creating an account with a site you'll never return to, handing your credit card info over to an independent whose trustworthiness is unknown, or even going through PayPal and then having to wait for the dev to check his email and manually respond with a serial number (or whatever).
    4. Run the app on your desktop which will kick off ActiveSync's install bits that install stuff on your PC in addition to the device.
    5. After clicking "Yes" or "I think so" or "Sure" on a few dialog boxes that pop up on the desktop and on the device, a CAB file is opened on the device and a local installer runs. This can mean more dialog boxes, and it can also mean having to make choices about things you don't understand (many users aren't going to comprehend the impact/difference between installing to the device's memory or to an expansion card).
    6. Run the app! Easy as 1-2-3-4-5-6!

  • App distribution options and ease of install for the customer: As you may have figured out from my "Easy as 1-2-3-4-5-6!" list above, finding, buying, and installing apps on WM devices has always been a pain in the ass. Going back to my first PocketPC (the first iPaq (the 3630)), I wondered why I needed ActiveSync just to install some stupid little app. ActiveSync makes sense if, say, I'm syncing something with the desktop like mail or calendar data, but it doesn't make sense if I'm installing Super Solitaire 5000 Deluxe Color Edition. Where do you sell your app? How do you get the word out? I haven't looked into it for a while because it frustrated me so much in the past. I'm going to take a look again, and, because I plan to target one specific platform for my app, I also plan to develop for others. In the case of Windows Mobile, I'm hoping Microsoft copies Apple's model.

    ---- Apple's iPhone

  • App distribution options and ease of install for the customer: Apple users have been bitching about using iTunes to install iPhone software. If they had any idea what it's like with other platforms, they'd shut it. While iTunes as an app store feels wrong and stupid and lame and stupid to me, at least iTunes is an app everybody has nowadays (aight - not everybody, but many, and that's good enough). Not that it matters much - with the introduction of Apple's App Store, you can browse apps on your phone, pay for, and install them without having to do some stupid syncing thing. You could be out at a bar where Jolene Blalock is hitting on you, and without having to run home to your iMac, you can buy, install, and run a crossword game before you've even had the chance to realize you've just made the biggest mistake in your life by ignoring her. And when you do realize it, and you see Jolene running off with another man, at least you'll have your crossword puzzles.
  • This is just one example of how a "closed" approach where a vendor supplies the entire end-to-end user experience provides a superior experience to an "open" approach where the vendor leaves it up to other developers to fill in the gaps. Apple's approach seems to be working well for developers some of whom are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month thanks to how good of a job Apple has done in making it easy for users to find, purchase and install applications on their iPhones.

    The key thing Apple has brought to the table is building a user experience that its customers love to use instead of one that they merely tolerate. Getting this right is way more important than the "openness" of the ecosystem. Customers and developers can put up with a closed ecosystem that limits choice as long as it improves the quality of the user experience. Where Google Android has to shine is in building a better user experience for the same price or a comparable experience at a lower price. Everything else is just noise.

    Don't take my word for it, here's what the John Wang of HTC [Chief Marketing Officer of the company that is shipping the first Google Android phone] has to say about the topic in an article from Digitimes

    Some believe the success of Android handsets will rely on their open source platform. However, this is not true since Linux-based handsets have already been on the market for a while, Wang argued.

    The key element is innovation, said Wang, noting that the T-Mobile G1 is being rolled by combining Google's Internet services, HTC's proven capability in smartphone manufacturing, and T-Mobile's telecom network resources.

    Apple is definitely ticking off developers but until another vendor shows up with a phone whose hardware and software provides a better experience for customers then it will continue to get the lions share of attention from top mobile developers.

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