That this post was originally published August 1, 2009 on factoryjoe.com. I’m republishing it here for posterity. You can view the original version with comments on Archive.org.

Steve Jobs hates the App Store

Photo by David Geller, shared under Creative Commons

Ok, Steve Jobs doesn’t hate the App Store. It’s a friggin’ blockbuster success as far as the pundits can see. It’s everything and more than anyone ever thought it could be. It’s the salvation of weak business models. It preserves the patriarchic walled garden hierarchy of app-lockin and single-vendor-mediated consumer experience! Hooray!

<<Grumble>>

For the sake of argument, and to make a point, let’s say for a moment that Steve Jobs really did hate the App Store — and everything that it stands for. What if deep in his gut he realized that he’d been wrong to give in to developer demand? What if his illness was caused by the guilt he felt over what he’d wrought by launching the App Store? What if every ounce of his gaunt figure yearned for the demise of the App Store? (Bear with me.)

What would he do?
 
 Well, I bet he’d start by capriciously and indiscriminately rejecting applications, raising the ire of developers (as well as famous rockstars) far and wide.

Then he’d label any app that connected to third-party servers or the web with the equivalent of an NC-17 rating — cutting off anyone whose phone is locked down by parental controls. To make matters even more interesting, he’d put the entire control of the rating system in the hands of monkeys and people on Mechanical Turk (or at least make it seem that way).

Then he’d go and introduce a new hardware device in response to years of speculation and change up the form-factor and screen real estate for apps, forcing developers to port their apps to this new resolution, resulting in even more headaches (ed: this hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a nice touch to top it all off).

Oh, and the price of an app would be perpetually driven down towards zero as reuse trails off after mere days of use, while only a few breakthrough successes would make any money whatsoever (unless you’re in the gravity-defying games business).

If all that didn’t succeed in killing off the App Store, well, he’d butter up a few tasty carrots to entice developers away from building native iPhone apps by making WebKit a formidable development and deployment framework for leveraging the web and web content. He’d spin out an R&D lab of kids to push the boundaries of what’s possible when you embrace the browser as a development constraint. He’d invest in the beginnings of Apple’s next generation cloud service (“MobileMe”) and plant the seeds of the greatest identity platform ever (I mean, “me.com”? Don’t you get it?)

Of course, he spelled out this entire strategy in 2007 when the iPhone originally launched. Except the announcement went over like a lead balloon. He just couldn’t keep his loyal Mac developers happy because they were unwilling to see the future he saw. Just as Tim O’Reilly coined the phrase “Web 2.0” to try to refocus Linux hardware hackers on the notion of the “network as platform”, Steve Jobs tried to kick-off a new revolution in web application development. But people weren’t ready for the revolution, and the familiarity of the desktop application metaphor proved too powerful.

So, in the biggest backpedalling since David knocked Goliath on this ass, Apple launched a “proper” iPhone SDK in March of 2008.

And then a few months later Steve Jobs became ill. Ill with contempt!

Ever since it launched, Jobs had to have wanted to drown the App Store in an aluminum-clad, precision engineered, unibody bathtub. He had to have intentionally set up the system to fail — to the point where other people would make the case for iPhone Web Apps — absolving him of convincing people to adopt his original vision.

Now, of course I’m making all of this up. It’s wild conjecture. But I highly doubt that Steve Jobs is anti-internet. He’s pro-good-experience, but that doesn’t mean that he hates the web.

In 2007, in an interview with USA Today he made an interesting statement about the similarity between the iPhone and the iPod Touch: If anybody is going to cannibalize us, I want it to be us. I don’t want it to be a competitor.

And so it goes with the web. Rather than let it cannibalize Apple, Apple will cannibalize the web by becoming it — as Google has — as Neo became part of the fabric of the Matrix! App Stores in general are a flash in the pan — hardly a competitor to the net. They’ll last a couple more years, but the web will win, if it hasn’t already — the missing piece is discovery — which is why iTunes is so critical to the iPhone’s success. We’re in the Yahoo! Directory phase of the application web — but rapidly entering the world of searchable, on-demand functionality. Are you really trying to tell me that I need to keep installing apps for the rest of my existence when I can just type URLs and pull down any app I want on the fly? Puh-lease.

I’m writing this post today because iPhoneDevCamp 3 is taking place in Sunnyvale this weekend. As a co-organizer of the original iPhoneDevCamp, I wanted to reiterate the reason why I originally pitched in to an event that focused on a closed platform — that is, because I believe that the iPhone has always been about the web — even if few people see that yet — and even if the web isn’t the development panacea it is destined to become.

Steve Jobs hates the App Store for the same reasons I do: development for the iPhone platform is a distraction. It’s taking our eyes off the ball, and ignoring the bigger shift that’s happening beneath our feet. Developing iPhone apps now means postponing a better and more capable web until later, because so much energy is fixated on the cool whiz-bang effects in the iPhone platform that just haven’t been implemented in browsers… yet. We’ll look at this period as a great Dark Age that preceded the real next leap in computing — the age when we moved away from the stale metaphor of applications and moved to a world of ad-hoc connected identity agents living and feeding on a mesh of interwoven open data.


Parting thought: If the future is anything like the Matrix, Steve Jobs was Neo up until the App Store. Now he’s looking a lot more like Agent Smith, and I’m guessing that’s really, really depressing.


Originally published at factoryjoe.com on August 1, 2009.

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