There are two related posts up on Business Week this morning. The first reports on an interview with Apple SVP Phil Schiller where he strongly defends the app store approval process.
"We’ve built a store for the most part that people can trust," he says. "You and your family and friends can download applications from the store, and for the most part they do what you’d expect, and they get onto your phone, and you get billed appropriately, and it all just works."
"Whatever your favorite retailer is, of course they care about the quality of products they offer,"
These arguments are philosophical in nature and I think they are key to the way Apple sees its role and relationship with its customers, and whilst a paternal, controlling approach might have been appropriate to get the market started it won’t scale and I can’t see them abandoning their philosophy and changing their approach any time soon. (One piece of evidence which supports this view is that it is that Apple could today allow developers to publish to an un-approved list whilst maintaining their approval process and app store as it is, but they have decided not to.)
Arik Hesseldahl, author of the Business Week piece, put it this way:
The software market for personal computing has existed in this way for nearly three decades, and while there have certainly been some problems along the way, I’d argue that overall we’re better off without Microsoft or Apple or some other organization approving software applications before they’re released to the market. PC users have learned to be careful about what they put on their computers through unhappy trial and error.
Mobiles are of course different to PCs. They are more personal and always with us which raises new possibilities for criminal practice – e.g. an app which surreptitiously records everything you say, or broadcasts your GPS position without your consent, but these are problems which good anti-virus software can (and will) take care of. In fact over time I expect the distinction between mobile and PC to become increasingly blurred. Rather we will want to access our services across a range of devices, networks and form factors from desk-top PCs, through wall mounted tablets, to large laptops, small netbooks, and mobile devices.
Coming back to smartphones, right now Apple has the market to themselves but that will change, which brings me to the second Business Week post. Gartner are predicting that by 2012 Android will be the second most popular smartphone OS after Symbian, and we can expect Symbian to have gotten their act together a bit by then as well and as a result we will all have many more good non-Apple options than we have today. I fully expect that once mobile becomes more mature and there are a range of good choices for both developers and consumers, Apple’s app approval process will become a serious competitive dis-advantage.