Apple is losing its iPhone Value Adders

Before I start, for those of you who don't know me (or haven't attended any of my talks on User Experience), let me reiterate that I have the utmost admiration for Apple's focus on UX. A strong focus on UX necessitates saying "no" many more times than "yes". It appears, however, that this "no" culture can also permeate into other parts of a company's psyche, and create a certain arrogance that can damage a company's relations with its developer community.

The company in question, of course, is Apple and the issue I'm writing about is the App Store review process.

Apple is losing its Value Adders

You all know the numbers: there are more than 100,000 apps on the App Store and there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of iPhone developers out there. But numbers never tell the whole story and a company like Apple, with such a strong focus on UX, must understand that quality trumps quantity in the Age of User Experience.

So there are developers that create fart apps and there are developers that not only create apps overflowing with value but also contribute to the community by sharing their knowledge, creating open source projects, and extending the platform. These are the sort of developers I call Value Adders and their presence or absence can make or break a platform.

One such developer is Joe Hewitt.

How Apple lost Joe

When Joe first started developing for the iPhone, he started with web applications. And his first contribution to the community was the iUI framework.

Then, after he started working on native apps and created the excellent Facebook application, he didn't stop there. Instead, he went the extra mile to create and release an open source framework called Three20, which he then used to build the next version of the Facebook app.

Joe is a Value Adder. He doesn't just consume a platform, he extends it. He is exactly the developer you want working on your platform. And he is exactly the developer that Apple just lost.

Back in August, Joe voiced his misgivings about the App Store review process. They apparently fell on deaf ears. Then, this week, he announced in a Tweet that he was leaving iPhone development due to his disenchantment with – you guessed it – the App Store review process. You can read more about Joe's views on the subject in his blog post titled On Middle Men, where he talks about the importance of the web to the future of software (a topic that is close to my heart and one that I recently attempted to address):

We're at a critical juncture in the evolution of software. The web is still here and it is still strong. Anyone can still put any information or applications on a web server without asking for permission, and anyone in the world can still access it just by typing a URL. I don't think I appreciated how important that is until recently. Nobody designs new systems like that anymore, or at least few of them succeed. What an incredible stroke of luck the web was, and what a shame it would be to let that freedom slip away.

His conclusion, especially, is one that we all should take to heart:

In short, the mobile web needs better tools, better standards, and better browsers, and it needs them fast, before the only technologies that matter are the ones controlled by the gatekeepers.

You can read more about Joe's departure in a Techcrunch article titled Facebook iPhone Dev Quits Project Over Apple Tyranny. Om Malik also has a thoughtful piece on the subject titled Cupertino, You Have a Problem.

Joe is not a fart app developer. And his loss to Apple and the iPhone is more than just the loss of a great developer working on one of the most successful iPhone apps out there. It spells the loss of two existing open source projects on the iPhone platform and the loss of the potential future contributions that Joe would have made to the platform.

If investors understood the value of Joe's loss, Apple's stock would be affected.

And Joe is not the only one.

No more amoebas

Hot on the heels of Joe's departure, Mac dev house Rouge Amoeba announced that they will be discontinuing iPhone development because of their harrowing experience with the App Store review process:

In the future, we hope that developers will be allowed to ship software without needing Apple’s approval at all, the same way we do on Mac OS X. We hope the App Store will get better, review times will be shorter, reviews will be more intelligent, and that we can all focus on making great software. Right now, however, the platform is a mess.

How many more prominent developers and Value Adders have to quit the iPhone platform before Apple starts listening? It's time for Apple to at least address the App Store review process issue and tell us what they are planning to do about it. Preferably before all we're left with on the platform are fart app developers.

In the meanwhile, I urge developers to at least keep an eye on the alternatives. Especially gatekeeper-free and more transparent alternatives like Palm's WebOS and Google's Android.

A personal note

This isn't just a current interest item for me as I've been developing for the iPhone for quite a few months now and I've personally been affected by Apple's faulty App Store review process – but that, as they say, is the topic of a separate blog post.

Stay tuned.