The way Apple runs the App Store has harmed their reputation with programmers more than anything else they've ever done. Their reputation with programmers used to be great. It used to be the most common complaint you heard about Apple was that their fans admired them too uncritically. The App Store has changed that. Now a lot of programmers have started to see Apple as evil.
How much of the goodwill Apple once had with programmers have they lost over the App Store? A third? Half? And that's just so far. The App Store is an ongoing karma leak.
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How did Apple get into this mess? Their fundamental problem is that they don't understand software.
They treat iPhone apps the way they treat the music they sell through iTunes. Apple is the channel; they own the user; if you want to reach users, you do it on their terms. The record labels agreed, reluctantly. But this model doesn't work for software. It doesn't work for an intermediary to own the user. The software business learned that in the early 1980s, when companies like VisiCorp showed that although the words "software" and "publisher" fit together, the underlying concepts don't. Software isn't like music or books. It's too complicated for a third party to act as an intermediary between developer and user. And yet that's what Apple is trying to be with the App Store: a software publisher. And a particularly overreaching one at that, with fussy tastes and a rigidly enforced house style.
If software publishing didn't work in 1980, it works even less now that software development has evolved from a small number of big releases to a constant stream of small ones. But Apple doesn't understand that either. Their model of product development derives from hardware. They work on something till they think it's finished, then they release it. You have to do that with hardware, but because software is so easy to change, its design can benefit from evolution. The standard way to develop applications now is to launch fast and iterate. Which means it's a disaster to have long, random delays each time you release a new version.
Apparently Apple's attitude is that developers should be more careful when they submit a new version to the App Store. They would say that. But powerful as they are, they're not powerful enough to turn back the evolution of technology. Programmers don't use launch-fast-and-iterate out of laziness. They use it because it yields the best results. By obstructing that process, Apple is making them do bad work, and programmers hate that as much as Apple would.
How would Apple like it if when they discovered a serious bug in OS X, instead of releasing a software update immediately, they had to submit their code to an intermediary who sat on it for a month and then rejected it because it contained an icon they didn't like?
By breaking software development, Apple gets the opposite of what they intended: the version of an app currently available in the App Store tends to be an old and buggy one. One developer told me:
As a result of their process, the App Store is full of half-baked applications. I make a new version almost every day that I release to beta users. The version on the App Store feels old and crappy. I'm sure that a lot of developers feel this way: One emotion is "I'm not really proud about what's in the App Store", and it's combined with the emotion "Really, it's Apple's fault." Another wrote:
I believe that they think their approval process helps users by ensuring quality. In reality, bugs like ours get through all the time and then it can take 4-8 weeks to get that bug fix approved, leaving users to think that iPhone apps sometimes just don't work. Worse for Apple, these apps work just fine on other platforms that have immediate approval processes. Actually I…