While Apple's new in-app purchase feature for iPhones is being widely touted as an antipiracy measure, Apple's more overarching motive seems to be that of keeping the iPhone at the development forefront for the coolest new apps for mobile users.
At one time, the iPhone held that distinction more or less to itself. But particularly with the advent of online application stores for other smartphone applications, the iPhone now faces more and more competition — among app developers along with consumers — from Google's Android, Palm Pre, Microsoft's Windows Mobile, and other rivals.
If you haven't heard about it yet, Apple's new iPhone feature lets users of free apps upgrade to expanded capabilities from directly inside the apps; a visit to the online Apple App Store is no longer needed.
Some are arguing that this approach will stop interlopers from stealing apps by involving servers on both the Apple and third-party developer sides, thereby making developers more aware of who is using their software and how. Although others counter that a truly determined and crafty thief can steal an app anyway, just about everyone seems to acknowledge that the in-app feature will at least help to slow down application piracy, if only by a little.
There's much more agreement around the notion that the in-app upgrades will save time and resources for developers by ending the practice of creating free "lite" and non-free "full" editions of the same software program.
If either of these possible benefits for developers actually pans out, iPhone users could win, too, by continuing to be the first to get interesting new software apps.
Unthinkable as it might have sounded a year or two ago, this isn't necessarily happening anymore. For instance, before this week's announcement of a new content delivery app for iPhone, CBS News apparently introduced the app first — or at least concurrently — on the RIM Blackberry. The same app will be available later this fall for Android and Pre. Other examples are plentiful.
In fact, some app developers are now finding it so hard to make money on the iPhone platform that they're leaving it behind entirely, in favor of other platforms in either the mobile or non-mobile space.
For one, Second Gear developer Justin Williams has just quit the iPhone fold, selling his Fitness Track and Emergency Information apps to BitBQ's Patrick Burleson. According to Macworld, Williams complained that iPhone app development is "too much effort with too little reward when compared to distributing software on my own terms on the Mac platform."
Maybe Apple's new in-app purchase feature will help curb any emerging iPhone developer bleed.