The App Store Isn’t about Control

by Chris Seibold Mar 17, 2010

With the iPad just around the corner you're starting to hear the familiar grousing about the App Store. The complaints usually consist of claims that the App Store is a cash grab, a way for Apple to shut out third parties who weren't up to par, and most egregious, a way to maintain control over what you do with your device.

When the App Store was first announced people's imaginations ran wild. There were those who imagined the App Store would feature only Applications carefully vetted by Apple to match the company's focus on quality and usability. That notion was dispelled as soon as iHold hit the store. It was obvious that Apple wasn't exactly focused on the quality of the Apps. That still leaves the cash grab option as the impetus behind the App Store, after all, if Apple will let just about anything in the App Store then the company is certainly after the cash right?

That would be the easy conclusion, but when you see App Store prices you realize that generally 30% of jack is not a lot of dough. Sure, Apple sells billions of programs but chances are the company isn't raking in a ton of dough off the App Store. For more concrete evidence let's take a look at last quarter's income statement. You'll note that Apple doesn't give the revenue from App sales its own category, like the iPhone, iPod or Macs so it is safe to say the revenue from the App Store isn't a big driver of Apple's profits.

Money and quality reasons out of the way, we are left with only one option. Sadly, it is the most nefarious option: Apple wants to control the device you own. Nothing can go on the device that Apple doesn't approve. You might as well slap Steve Jobs on the big screen and let that freaky looking girl throw a hammer through his face in the famed 1984 commercial.

Except that isn't really right, is it? Is Apple being super controlling, was that the company's goal all along? If you think about the first iteration of the iPhone the answer is clearly no. Recall that when the iPhone first arrived there was no App Store, all the apps were web-based (hey, they were leveraging Dashboard and all) and you could do whatever you wanted without any interference from Apple. The truth is, you still can. You want to make a baby shaking, nude girl prancing, finger pulling application you're free to do so, it just has to be a web app. Unfortunately, web-based apps are tough to monetize.

The web based approach was flawed. The original iPhone relying on web was a flawed idea. Edge was slow and monetizing web apps was difficult for developers. People wanted native apps on the iPhone and they wanted them badly. So Apple responds to customer desire and people love it.

The reason the app store is there has nothing to do with money, control or quality. The reason the app store exists is to make it easy on the average user. You're not that person, you're a techie, you know a lot, you can handle the various things the world of ones and zeroes throws at you. Congrats, you are the exception and not the rule.

Most people aren't like you. They aren't, necessarily, incapable; they just don't care. They've got things like girlfriends and kids to worry about. For those folks, the vast majority, they don't want control they want convenience. You already know this because chances are you're tech support for everyone around you.

Apple knows this more than you. You get a few calls a week and Apple gets hundreds of calls an hour. If you want to make the iPad easy, and Apple does, you have to control the variables. Controlling the variables means controlling the App Store.

Some people hate this. Recently Google employee Tim Bray said he hated the iPhone:

"The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet's future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It's a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord's pleasure and fear his anger."

Tell us how you really feel Tim. Tim has a point though, if you're a developer you do serve at the whim of Apple. Thing is, instead of the usual landlord tenant relationship, Mr. Ferley doesn't come looking for the rent, he stops by to hand out buckets of money. Mr. Bray would also do well to remember that people pony up exorbitant sums of money to visit Disney. They do it not because Disney is a more fun version of real life, they do it precisely because it isn't. People don't want yet another computing hassle with their phone, they want a solution.

In the end, Apple isn't being overbearing for the cash or for the quality, Apple is being overbearing because people want easy, sterile, mobile computing. This might make them idiots but they are willing idiots, idiots by choice rather than having stupidity foisted upon them. And there's nothing wrong with that. Pumping a septic tank isn't hard (I'd bet) but it's a chore I'm willing to remain blissfully stupid about.



  • “you could do whatever you wanted without any interference from Apple. The truth is, you still can.”

    Great.  I’ll just pop over to Vimeo and watch my videos using Flash….oh wait.  I can’t.  Because APPLE won’t let me install Flash on my iPhone.

    I think it’s about control, but it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.  You’re “blissfully” defending a vertical monopoly and its monopolistic practices.  I remember when such practices use to outrage the Apple fanboys.  But unsurprisingly, they find a way to excuse it away when Apple does it.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 17, 2010 Posts: 2220
  • well, you know me beeble, I never criticize apple.

    But your example isn’t quite right, if you can find a way to do it with a web app you could pull that off.

    I’ve never really hated microsoft too much and that company’s rise in popularity has more to do with failings by Apple than a monopolistic power grab. The GUI Apple sued over was a: A silly thing to sue over and b: agreed to by contract.

    AS for monopolistic control, I don’t see it with the iPhone. You have lots of other choices. RIM has more share and I think dumb phones are still way more popular than smart phones. So there are options.

    If you want to talk about the mp3 player market I think you’d have a better case. Apple does rule that market (and online music) I guess the number 2 player would be a zune but that is like comparing WIndows to Mac, a case where number two really means “almost irrelevant”

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Mar 17, 2010 Posts: 354
  • Since the beginning apple have being about easy-to-use computing and the iPhone OS is the clearest proof of it. The Mac was more like a secret cult of rich people`s computer platform until the launch of the iPhone. There were Apple computers in the movies but it was hard to see`em in the wild, nowadays I see iPhones and MacBooks everywhere. There are better capable smart phones and laptops than the Apple branded but at the end what it really matters for the average Joe is the operability of such devices, in other words is not much about how much technology is in it but the way it is implemented.

    tropicoco had this to say on Mar 20, 2010 Posts: 8
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