Will Developers Ditch Apple for Android?

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The iPhone had a big head start over Android when it comes to apps, and there are still far more apps available for the iPhone and iPad than for Android. But at least one prominent observer warns that if Apple continues to treat developers shabbily, as it does now, developers may desert Apple for Android. Users go where the apps are, and they would no doubt follow.

There's a very long list of developers who have had their apps rejected by Apple for reasons that appear to be random and illogical. For example, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore had his rejected for no clear reason until an embarrassed Apple changed its mind and let it through.

More recently, Apple rejected an iPad app that was a cartoon of the James Joyce novel Ulysses for obscenity because it depicted a scene from the novel in which a woman's breasts were exposed.

Apple has also banned the use of cross-platform development toolkits, and, of course, has banned Flash.

Overall, the iPhone and iPad are closed platforms --- you can only download what Apple lets through, and there seems to be little logic or reason about what it lets through and what it doesn't. It bans some apps of women in bikinis, but then lets others through, such as one created by Sports Illustrated.

The effect of all this may be to drive users and developers away from Apple, and towards Android. Megan McArdle, the business and economics editor for The Atlantic, offers compelling evidence that this may be starting to happen.

She writes in The Growing Geek iPhone Backlash:

"Last year, almost every computer scientist in my group at Princeton had an iPhone. This year, two of my colleagues have bought Android phones, and I'm leaning toward getting one myself when my iPhone contract runs out next month."

A bigger problem than users deserting, she warns, are developers doing the same thing because of how shabbily Apple treats them by rejecting apps for no apparent reason. She says:

"Apple has a seemingly never-ending and constantly-changing list of reasons to reject applications. Earlier this month, for example, Apple rejected a photo-frame app on the grounds that (as Steve Jobs put it) "we are not allowing apps that create their own desktops." Many of these rules aren't written down anywhere and they can change without notice.

"As you can imagine, this sort of behavior doesn't endear Apple to prospective iPhone developers. Because the rules aren't written down anywhere outside of Cupertino, every iPhone developer is in danger of devoting thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of work on an app before running afoul of some previously-unknown clause in Apple's rulebook. Even worse, Apple's stranglehold over the iPhone app market means that an app developer is forever at Apple's mercy. Apple can decide to boot your app from the app store at any time without explanation or opportunity for appeal. You'd be a fool to bet your company's future on that kind of arrangement."

She then concludes:

"So far, Apple's early lead in multi-touch technology has allowed it to dominate the market for mobile "apps." But if the company continues treating its developers badly, that can't last. The developers will flee to another platform, and a year later users will start to notice that the best apps are available for some other platform."

She's absolutely right. Ultimately, users care more about apps than underlying hardware. If Apple continues to treat developers poorly, they may abandon Apple for Android, and users will follow.

This story, "Will Developers Ditch Apple for Android?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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