There has been some stir around a change in the software development kit for the iPhone. See the Tao Effect Blog for an exchange between an iPhone developer and Steve Jobs on the topic.

Apple decided to change the wording of the license to forbid use of non-approved development tools. I believe that Steve Jobs is dead wrong on this one. Our own application requires an interpreter, which was pretty much already verboten. The new language in the SDK makes it even worse, blocking some workarounds we could have considered. Well, there is no way I would go for a subpar solution and substandard user experience just because Steve Jobs happens to have a beef with Adobe at the moment. So we will skip the iPhone platform entirely.

I can only hope that our application will one day matter enough that people will make it a factor in their choice of mobile phone. But even if it doesn’t (quite likely), I can’t imagine that we are alone in this situation. It only takes a few killer apps that can’t reach the iPhone due to Apple’s control-freakness to tip the balance away to some other platform.

Steve Jobs should know, of all people. Apple was once so dominant in the field of personal computers it could laugh at IBM, much like the iPhone in smartphones today. Well, guess what? A few years down the road, IBM’s presence in the Macintosh core market was no longer laughing matter.

The parallel is striking. Back then, Steve Jobs wanted complete control on the Macintosh, to the point of not allowing expansion slots. The iPhone has no expansion of any kind, no SD card, nothing, except for an Apple-proprietary connector. The Macintosh unique software would not be licensed to anybody. The iPhone OS only powers the iPhone. To program a Macintosh, you had to buy a Lisa. To program an iPhone you need a Macintosh. Apple told you what was OK and not OK on their platform (Inside Macintosh User Interface Guidelines), and still does (SDK license agreement and AppStore approval process). Microsoft got advance notice of the Macintosh, and they loved it. Google got advanced notice of the iPhone, and they loved it.

But Microsoft didn’t want to become Steve Jobs’ puppet, and after a while they walked, something which Jobs took as a betrayal. Years later, Google didn’t want to become Steve Jobs’ puppet either, and they too walked. And Steve Jobs felt betrayed again. Twenty five years ago, Microsoft ended up developing their own competing platform. Steve Jobs saw that as stealing their IP, and sued. Today, Google ended up developing their own competing platform, and Steve Jobs is suing (HTC).

I can’t help but wonder if there’s something that I’m missing. Steve Jobs must be smarter than this, after all he’s contributed to our daily lives. Yet history is repeating itself. Steve Jobs seems to believe that he’s entitled not just to benefit from his own creativity (perfectly legitimate) but also to control and limit the creativity of others (perfectly not legitimate). That’s quite unfortunate, because the iPhone rocks and keeps getting better, like the original Macintosh did. Still, if the iPhone in a few years turns into a marginal platform with a shrinking market share, Steve Jobs will only need a mirror to look at the person to blame. No amount of suing will repair the predictable result of his own mistakes.

Nothing is irreversible at this point, though. Steve Jobs is smart, and the team at Apple is top-notch. Maybe someone at Apple can convince Steve Jobs that he should return to what he does best, winning by delivering insanely great products, rather than be at his worst by delivering inanely closed products. Please Steve, for the good of your own company, get rid of paragraph 3.3.1 in the iPhone SDK, and then work a plan to attack Android where it would hurt them, e.g. by licensing iPhoneOS (gasp) and allowing other teams to not just use your device but improve it (re-gasp). Otherwise, it’s safe to predict that in a few years, I will be using an Android phone and regret the good old times when the iPhone had a shot, much like I was forced to use Windows for most of my professional life and hated it.


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