iOS vs MacOS Rethunk
Well, the nice thing about this little blog of mine is that people disagree with me. Some of them are too
wussy or stubborn cool to comment in the open but do me the kindness of setting me straight over dinner.
I stand, mostly, corrected regards the distinction I was making regards what I’d tolerate from iOS products vs. what I’d tolerate from MacOS and thank Dave Nanian for giving me most of the reality gasket. I should point out, Dave wasn’t slagging Apple off and neither will I. He, and others, have pointed things out to me that I should have considered.
I stand corrected, unequivocally, on a major premise point of my thesis: “we rent our phones”. I was wrong in meaningful ways. My old iPhones are still mine, as they should be. I can and do use them as a WiFi device. I will use my 3GS as a universal remote for my home theatre when I get around to choosing which system I want to go with. The fact is, if I couldn’t keep using an iPhone I’d paid for, I’d have sold it and, unlike any other phone I’d let get a year old, it still had some resale value. I knew all this. I just didn’t give it proper weight and, with that gone, the rest of the argument I made pretty much falls completely apart.
The weird thing about iPhones is they last. They last in a way no other cell phones I’ve owned have. No other cell phone I’ve owned has survived more than 9 months and many much less. Buttons go bad, hinges have failed, screens have lost a color or half an image. Calls dropped more and more often. Antennas bent or broke off. Batteries, quickly, stopped holding a charge. That I find it weird how long iPhones last, how, comparatively, durable they are is testament not to the quality of iPhone (though they are beautifully made) but to what epic junk my 3 samsungs, 4 or 5 RAZRs and a coupla-three Sony-Ericsson candybars were. None survived as working devices for even barely a year. Touch screens, for all their missing tactile feedback don’t leave you with a sketchy 7 key. I had been acculturated by junk to consider a phone ephemeral.
I was also forgetting the past, Windows Mobile (WinCE) phones and Palm’s Treo’s didn’t have the kind of constraints about what can be installed and what can’t that iOS devices do. The ‘we’re protecting the network’ argument doesn’t hold a lot of water in retrospect.
Something else came up in feedback I’ve gotten. I knew it but had paid too little attention. Apple’s alleged curation of the apps in the app store? It’s hardly adequate to provide meaningful confidence that no iOS app could ‘go rogue’ and, in fact, because iOS is so closed, I can’t do any of the things I do on my Mac to protect myself.
How do I know Apple’s curation is inadequate? At least one developer already snuck past a feature that bypassed AT&T’s tethering limits and ended up getting banned from the app store. Apple’s review didn’t catch it. it was pulled after release when word got out. In other words, for all of Apple’s claims that curation keeps the phone safe, it doesn’t except to the extent they can slam the barn doors shut after one horse escapes and have somebody to go after for doing it.
The other indication curation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be are the numerous examples of rankings and reviews clearly being gamed. Yes, Apple is cracking down and yes, I think that’s a good thing but, the fact is, App discovery is still really best done via word of mouth and web.
This truth, that Developers’ future in the app store will always rest on their web reputation and that should be a major hint to them about how to manage their businesses and their exploitation of the Mac App Store as well.
Another indication that it ‘s not all wine and roses in iOS App Store-land is that, the App Store is a cluttered mess. There are just too few ways to find the ‘right’ app for the purpose you have in mind. For gamers? Sure, it’s an embarrassment of riches. But for folks like me who’s idea of phone gaming isn’t PlayStation-style EA “How did they do that on a phone?” but rather remakes of Klondike, Othello or air hockey, the selection in the iOS App Store is a lot of noise and a lot less signal.
I really am not especially interested in games. I am, perhaps, the only person I know who tried to delete Game Center and has never seen Angry Birds. I’m interested, on my phone, in apps that make me more effective when mobile and it’s hard to filter to find the best tools to do that. That most apps in the App Store for iPhone seem to be games or other entertainment seems to be what the market wants but sheer volume of junk apps irrespective of genre and the less than ideal discovery experience are clear indications the app store is well past Apple’s current capacity to manage it.
I do actually think this clutter in the store will improve. iTunes has become a fairly good way to discover music. At least as good as any retail experience even compared to the heyday of vinyl 45s and too-cool-for-school retail tastemakers with pierced eyelids and face tattoos . Apple will find better ways to make apps more discoverable. They will manage to improve the ‘review spam’ problem. They will improve browsing and discovery experience in the app store though, quite likely, they’ll need iPad screen real estate to do it as well as possible. They’ll improve it because it’s gotten worse than it should have.
I was willing to tolerate Apple’s total control over iOS. I’m not prepared to get into the tangle of jail-breaking. That hasn’t meant, for a moment, that I’ve begrudged the efforts of those who keep cracking iPhone. More power to them. I don’t consider it theft they way I do piracy of software or content. You paid for your iPhone. It’s yours to break, or crack. I don’t recommend it, but it is and should be your option.
Some of the root of my error was also what I perceived the alternatives to be. Windows Mobile? Never a good experience for my world. Always dumbed down Windows more than smartened-up phone to me. PalmOS phones? Saddled with carrier-specific junk, relatively expensive apps, media format fragmentation and no really good harmony on my Macs even with the help of the laudible; Missing Sync and Kinoma. Just because Palm Desktop stomped Newton’s desktop integration didn’t make it actually good. Just because, on the Mac, Palm Desktop was a re-badged Claris Organizer didn’t make it actually good as a way to integrate Mac and Phone.
(iTunes being the front end to iPhone isn’t completely making my day either by the way.)
Soon after iPhone, there was Android. I’ve tried to like Android devices. I’ve tried to look past my ever deepening worries about Google’s ever increasing creepiness. I’ve even, occasionally, looked into how I could make an Android device play nice with my Mac. Even if I’d managed to get over those issues the deal breaker for me is this: The Android ecosystem is a goat rodeo. Many, many will disagree with me. I stand by it. Android’s a mess. It’s Windows on a phone and I don’t mean Windows from an “it’s ugly and awkward” perspective though I do happen to think it’s a bit of both. The real reason it’s a windows-like mess is that it’s a tangle of compatibility and vendor-specific modifications/versions deployed. It’s also a mess from a carriers-have-too-much control perspective.
The uptake for the current version of Android is hideously bad on existing devices. The ‘which apps will work well on my device and which not?’ situation is a mire. This has to be an utter nightmare for developers. How do I handle updates? Uggh.. messy.
Until recently, the lack of a ‘blessed’ and coherently promoted store for Apps in the Android ecosystem has also substantially contributed to the difficulties App Devs have actually making any money in the Android space.
We are seeing indications Google is slowly gathering up a greater measure of control, not by fiat but by example. That said, expect fiats from Google when Malware does more material damage to Android’s rep. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/01/android-malware-fears/
[Prediction: Android is Open Source and will stay that way but Google will start using trademark and badging restrictions to bring carriers and manufacturers to heel.]
Android will get better and it will become a more legitimate threat to iOS and iPhone. The techie-machismo of much of the UI design and the Terminator-Marketing of many Android products is appealing to a certain sort of geek. Apple’s missteps are beginning to alienate. (more on that in the forthcoming discussion of in-app and subscriptions).
Now, while there may be more Android devices selling than iPhone, it’s dozens of manufactures commoditizing hardware and selling an OS Google makes no money from. It’s nothing like Windows vs MacOS in the bad old days but it may become that way, soon.
As for Apple’s iOS control? Yeah, I was wrong. We need to push back some. Not for something self defeating like platform licensing. Not for something Apple will never do like endorse non-appstore Apps. What we, customers, need to demand is that Apple make sure our devices remain useful once we drop cell service. We need to make sure we vote with our wallets when it comes to our app purchases and content buys. We need to keep Apple’s feet to the fire about making iOS more developer/content producer friendly. We need to demand more ability to get under the hood of iOS.
Somewhere, there’s a better middle ground than we have now on iOS and there’s making sure we don’t lose a stitch of self determination on MacOS by getting just as sucked into the Mac App Store.
One personal factor that muddied my judgement is this: I have negotiated deals with Apple. I won’t say it’s easy but my experience is, generally, they tend to be essentially reasonable. I won’t say success with them doesn’t involve tea-leaf reading, recognizing where they may have internal disconnects and remembering, always, you’re dealing with a company, like any other, that is out to make money. What makes Apple, to me, relatively easier to deal with is that they are exceptionally smart and, in a meaningful way, they care at their core about good user experience. Get above ‘Genius’ level employees (And I’ve known some amazing ‘Geniuses’ too) and most of the folks you deal with at Apple are almost universally just plain smart. Smart, in my experience, usually means you can work something out. If you play by the rules, some unwritten, Apple just doesn’t tend to steamroller the way most other similar companies do. That’s my personal experience. You’ll hear counter-stories. I’ve been aware of some of the most loudly discussed counter-stories and I wish I could tell you how not what you read, the real story was. (PowerComputing -cough-)
If I had to guess what the underlying reason was that I fell for the hype that Apple was doing 100% the right thing being as closed as they are about iOS on iPhone, I’d say, beyond all of the above, it was this: Apple managed to bludgeon the carriers into basically shutting up and providing connectivity for a fee.
I LOVED that. A carrier, to me, is a carrier. Connectivity should be a commodity. There’s no intrusive carrier crapware on an iPhone. No branding, no carrier-specific ugly. This was such a win for me over prior experiences with Sprint. Cingular and AT&T. It was so much better than the days when Verizon could disable BlueTooth and intermediate themselves in the syncing of my contacts that I just took the ‘We’re just taking care of you” claims by Apple 100% at face value. I do, still, think a lot more of Apple’s motive is a deeply ingrained desire to deliver good user experience than their detractors admit but yeah, iOS should be more ‘mine’ than it is when I pay for it.
I was wrong in my last piece on this topic. I’m not usually that stupid. I stand corrected and I thank Dave for being the primary, but not only, swinger of the clue-bat in my direction. Thank him too…. go buy SuperDuper!