No, probably not. But that’s not what some people think. Ever since it was the little guy fighting big bad Microsoft, Apple has been known as the more controlled, more protective alternative. But now that Apple is a giant in its own right, that tight-to-the-vest nature can seem a bit… possessive. Critics call the iPhone App Store a walled garden where Apple rules all and generally has too much power, while Apple itself calls the store a “curated platform,” where apps are assured to be quality-controlled and safe. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, everyone can agree that as it stands Apple is the gatekeeper to a huge amount of content, and, more importantly, brand-obsessed Apple junkies. So who’s right, Apple or critics? Maybe they’re both right. Better investigate.
From the point of view of software developers, it’s unclear whether Apple’s walled garden, including the Mac App Store, is a boon or a curse. Yes, when a developer sells their product on the Mac or iPhone store Apple takes a sizable junk of 30% of the profits simply for the privilege of being there. But perhaps more important than that 30% is the increased exposure a product gets when it is a part of the App Store, as well as the implicit Apple seal of approval. Instead of having to advertise independently and seek out ever-so-elusive customers themselves, developers in the App Store have access to an already-established audience, and one that immediately has trust in the product simply by virtue of it being in the App Store. Though some critics say that this will reduce the presence of software bundles and the amount of information a developer has on their customer, or will destroy developer independence, it doesn’t seem like many developers have rejected the App Store in favor of independence. Sure, some might object to the platform, but that certainly didn’t stop Apple from having 650,000 apps on its store as of July 24th, 2012. And the $5.5 billion Apple has paid to the developers of those apps is certainly nothing to sneeze at either. For many, it seems, it’s better to be in the club than outside looking in.
From the viewpoint of non-tech savvy consumers – and I include myself in this group, the judgment on Apple is a no-brainer. We don’t want independence; we wouldn’t know what to do with it. Rather than having hundreds of various email apps, all which differ in small, insignificant ways to me, the non-savvy, I’d rather just have a choice between two or three. While Apple may be criticized for some of its sillier rejections, on the whole, I would really prefer not to have access to a Baby Shaker app. While the Android App Store may have the smaller list of rules that the more independent-minded might crave, for those who would simply be more confused by more choice, the Apple App Store is the way to go. The only downside for those who don’t know any better is the long-term potential for less innovation. Developers making apps for a marketplace run solely in Apple’s garden are necessarily going to be limited by some restrictions, although not, I think, to the extent that doomsayers might suggest. Steve Jobs once said that “95% of all apps submitted are approved within five days.” Apple might be curating, but not that much. Besides, in this era, where the tech scene is ruled by a handful of giant companies, is dramatic innovation, rather than incremental change, really even possible? And, if dramatic innovation doesn’t seem feasible, couldn’t it be sacrificed for better quality products?
Really, the debate over the controlling nature of Apple comes down to two values: quality and freedom (with a little security thrown in) Some developers and critics may want freedom from Apple’s restrictions, but the marketplace has shown that the consumer doesn’t. As long as the majority of consumers do not realize what functions they are missing by only playing in Apple’s backyard, quality will win out over freedom for many. The rapid devotion some people have for Apple products will blind them to the alternatives. As much as Apple has been criticized for being a Big Brother figure, as long as it turns out pretty, functional products, that criticism will be confined to small minority.