The long-closed nature of Apple's iPhone OS ecosystem is coming to a head with the addition of major new restrictions on developers. If there ever was a time when the Android world had a chance to out-innovate Apple, this could be it.
Each day this week, developers have pointed out another indignity Apple's legal framework subjects them to. Could this be the pressure that gets resolved by the rise of a compelling Android offering? It seems like a long shot.
People creating applications on the iPhone and iPad platform are apparently no longer allowed to build in development environments abstracted from the preferred form of code, 3rd party analytics services are believed to be no longer allowed to track use of apps, Apple has baked in its own advertising platform and the essential requirement of winning Apple's permission to deploy apps on its platform is feeling more onerous every day.
At the same time, no one else has come close to building a User Experience that can rival the iPhone and iPad. If someone could, a grand battle could emerge. Instead, right now it's looking ugly. On the positive side, the number of Android applications is growing faster and faster.
Prominant iPhone developer Dan Grigsby articulated today what could become an increasingly common sentiment in a goodbye post announcing the closure of his popular iPhone development blog Mobile Orchard:
Ask permission environments crush creativity and innovation. In healthy environments, when would-be innovators/creators identify opportunities the only thing that stands between the idea and its realization is work. In the iPhone OS environment when you see an opportunity, you put in work first, ask Apple's permission and then, only after gaining their approval, your idea can be realized.
I've always worked at the edge; it's where the interesting opportunities live. None of the startup I've created would have been possible in an ask permission environment.... I won't work in this ask-permission environment any longer.
As Google's Chris Messina put it well in some poignant speculation this afternoon, "It occurs to me that Apple is crossing a chasm. To where, I don't know. But its early proponents seem to be being left behind."
Another Perspective: Despite Its Problems, Apple's Ecosystem Remains the Best
Raven Zachary, President of leading iPhone development shop Small Society, offers another perspective.
Android needs a better OS before we'd even begin to see iPhone developers leave. I didn't fall in love with iPhone OS due to the elegance of Apple's legal terms. It's the platform that I fell in love with. It's the best mobile platform out there, and while I appreciate the analysis by the community and the hard questions being asked, I remain committed to the iPhone platform.
Of course the most probable outcome of all this is that most developers will stay where the users, the money and the best user experience are. Some will be unhappy and some will leave - but probably not enough for consumers to notice.
If only someone could build an Android device that rivaled Apple's hardware, and if the issues with different versions of Android across devices could be fixed, if the Android OS was just betteer - then there would be an incredible opportunity to lure away developers and finally get more users drawn to their applications. The iPad is really incredible though and there are a whole lot of very big "ifs" in play.
An effective challenge by Android sure feels like a long-shot right now, doesn't it?