Apple Needs To Formulate an iPhone App Submission Policy
This week, Google released an iPhone web app for Google Latitude, their location-aware social networking tool. The weird part was this program was just a web app running in the iPhone's Safari browser and not even an app like Google has made for almost every other phone. Here's a snippet from the TUAW post about it:
As Google's Mat Balez notes in his blog post announcing the Latitude release, Google actually developed a native app for Latitude... only to have Apple, uh, suggest that the big G redo the concept as a web app to avoid user confusion with the Maps app. Really? Must have been an interesting phone call.
No kidding. Google spent all their sweet time, no doubt, making a really nice and powerful iPhone app to allow you to manage contacts and see where your friends are on a map. Then, while submitting it to the iTunes App Store, they're told that Apple will not accept this. Great, that's a couple months of programmer time down the drain for Google.
Hold on a second here, though. When Apple announced the App Store, they announced their venture capital friends were putting together a fund for new small businesses to make apps for the phone. One of the first companies that got in on that cash was Pelago Inc., which started a service call Whrrl. I've since then deleted that app and used one that a number of my friends are on called Loopt. All of these apps are already doing the same thing that the Google Latitude app wanted to do, but apparently because Google is a much bigger partner and competitor of Apple's they do not get the option to do an app like this. It doesn't make any sense, and it costs Google thousands of dollars down the drain just because Apple can axe anything they don't like for their phone.
It's even a bigger problem for Apple and third-party hardware makers. Apple does give an API to interface with hardware devices that a company develops and plugs into the iPhone. Companies have already made nice car mounts that will charge your phone and add a couple other features. Medical service providers have made adapters to hook up various types of medical equipment, and Apple has been fine with this. But add some cool thing that will let you do things with still or video cameras? A cool way to import video to your iPhone? The company will likely spend millions developing that hardware component and thousands creating a cool iPhone app to interface with the hardware. But, in the end, if Apple wants to say "no" to the app submission the company has a cool hardware gadget with no way to use it.
On one hand, Apple does all this controlling of applications in the iPhone App Store in the name of protecting the customer, and in some cases they are protecting us from crappy products. But, with situations like this (and some other things that they should have protected us from but got out) it's proving that not only are they doing a terrible job of protecting us, but Apple is too often blocking the cool stuff. Often Apple is even blocking the cool stuff because they want to release their own version a couple months later.
I think that Apple should keep the platform more open. We would get more crap, but the iPhone App Store ecosystem would be even more healthy and have even cooler solutions for iPhone users. Besides, without Apple protecting us from the crap, we would still mark it as crap and not use it. I'm not saying that Apple cannot host the app store, but let it run free and see it become even more useful and powerful.