Thanks in large measure to a massive array of third-party apps, the Apple iPhone has been riding a seemingly unstoppable wave of popularity. Developers have flocked to create apps to distribute through Apple's App Store to leverage the popularity of the iPhone and reach Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch customers. Recent actions by Apple have disgruntled users and the development community and potentially opened the door to the competition.
But Apple has retained draconian control over which apps it allows onto its platform. Users can only access the App Store and download or purchase apps using iTunes. Developers must submit apps to Apple for review and approval before Apple publishes them and makes them available to the public.
As the marketing campaign claims, think of almost anything, and "there's an app for that." There are more than 25,000 apps available, ranging from simple ones that turn your phone into a flashlight, to apps that make your iPhone or iPod Touch into virtual bubble wrap you can pop, and others that help you find where you parked your car or where the nearest restroom is.
It is not as if Apple has been all that discerning. There are about 50 apps dedicated to making your iPhone produce various fart noises. Earlier this year an app game was developed in which a baby would cry and the goal was for the user to shake the iPhone vigorously until the baby shut up. That application was quickly pulled after backlash angry parents reached a fever pitch.
If fart noises and baby-shaking meet Apple's standard, then you have to wonder what is going on inside Apple that has caused a string of recent app rejections which have drawn the ire of developers and brought the attention of the FCC to investigate how Apple chooses which apps to approve and whether the company is exercising unfair bias.
In the past week, Apple has rejected a Google Voice app, and subsequently pulled other Google Voice-related apps which had already been approved. The company then purportedly rejected a dictionary app for containing objectionable words.
Some disgruntled developers who have been frustrated by the apparently arbitrary or capricious app rejections by Apple, or that simply resent Apple exerting excessive control over what is or is not available, have turned to developing an underground app store. The app store, called Cydia, requires that the users first ‘jailbreak' their iPhone- a process to hack the system and circumvent controls put in place by Apple.
Meanwhile, other mobile phone platforms are attempting to create similar environments for their devices. RIM has BlackBerry App World for Blackberry phone users. Palm developed the Pre device and has held PreDevCamps to promote app development for the Pre. Microsoft is launching an app store for the Windows Mobile platform and has published guidelines for porting iPhone apps over to the Windows Mobile platform in an attempt to woo the massive army of iPhone app developers.
Competition was inevitable. Of course RIM, and Microsoft, and others were going to fight to gain market share in the mobile device market and try to capitalize on the things that have made the iPhone and iPhone apps successful. The attention that recent iPhone app rejections have received and the backlash it has caused in the user and developer communities though may mean that Apple has unwittingly opened the door to these competitors and leveled the playing field.
Apple isn't going to fade away and they certainly aren't in any danger of losing significant market share just yet. But, the barbarians are at the gate and Apple is accelerating things from the inside by giving users and developers a reason to consider alternative mobile devices.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.