The Apple-ication Tax

Imagine for a moment that you are a brilliant person. Are you with me so far? Ok, now imagine that you’ve created a software application that everyone wants. Maybe it’s Lotus 123, or Mathematica, Doom, or a screensaver with flying toasters.

Imagine then, that as you went to sell your application, Microsoft charged a tax for it to run on Windows (or Apple for it to run on Macs). Given the freedom we have to install whatever we want on our personal computers, this situation sounds absurd and unacceptable.

This is pretty much how it works for iPhone applications. In order for anyone to actually use your brilliant new application, you have to give Apple a 30% cut of the purchase (Palm plans to do the same the Pre, and Google for Android phones, but more on that later).

Of course, Apple has the right to charge for this distribution service. They provide bandwidth, quality control, visibility, and do most of it quite well. The problem arises, though, when Apple intentionally precludes any alternative distribution methods for iPhone applications.

If Microsoft (or Apple) decided tomorrow that the only way to install applications on Windows was through a Microsoft owned and controlled distribution system (let alone take a 30% cut), we wouldn’t accept it. There would be overturning of cars.

The trouble isn’t that Apple charges for their application distribution system. The trouble is that it’s the only means of distribution for iPhone applications. It seems unclear if Palm is going to make the same mistakes with their Pre/WebOS platform as Palm’s position on “home-brew” applications isn’t yet clear (even the term “home-brew” is a bit troubling, as it seems to imply negative connotations to non-Palm-distributed apps).

Google can do whatever they want with the Android marketplace, because you don’t have to use it – you can install applications on Android phones without using the centralized marketplace system.

Why do we accept this system for phones when we wouldn’t for our laptops?


8 thoughts on “The Apple-ication Tax

  1. My problem with this discussion is that I don’t know what to add to it. Because…I don’t accept it for phones. I don’t accept it for laptops either. I have an Android phone; I run Ubuntu. And I can’t valuably contribute to the discussion, because I honestly don’t understand how anyone would accept vendor approval over applications, and people with iPhones honestly don’t seem to understand why it’s a problem.

  2. Stuart: I’m in the same situation, but I feel like there is a large group of people that aren’t interested in (or even aware of) free and open-source software that would still be surprised to realize how closed the iPhone system actually is. That’s why I bring it up.

  3. I feel really bad for Google, and ashamed of Apple.

    Google wants to be as open as possible. Palm, too. Apple wants to want to keep everything closed and protected to maintain a consistent and stable user experience — and they’re doing a hell of a job at it. Yet the App Store’s draconian policies are prevailing in the marketplace.

    The paradox here for myself (and I think a lot of others like me) is that for as much as I’m a web standards guy that loves open source and I want openness to win I absolutely love Mac OS X, my iMac, my MacBook Pro, and my iPhone.

    Mac OS X was (and continues to be) the best hybrid of openness and creative vision. It’s unfortunate that model didn’t carry forward to the iPhone.

  4. Android needs a stronger community that promotes Android like the Firefox community promotes Firefox.

  5. It’s curious that you can draw the exact analogy to gaming consoles – as far as I know, Nintendo et al control who can make games for the console and charge a fee to do so (correct me if I’m wrong) and no one bats an eye at this.

    I agree that it’s pretty lame that Apple/Palm have a stranglehold on their app stores, but shouldn’t Android be able to quickly surpass them if openness is a superior strategy?

  6. Daniel: The game-console analogy is a good one. It’s my understanding that to release a game for the Xbox, Playstation, or Wii, you do have to get approval from, and give a cut to, the console developer.

    It is just as bad, but I’m less concerned about freedom of the games I play than I about about the freedom of the systems I use to work an organize my life. That said, as game consoles become more powerful, the line will likely blur.

  7. People allow it because Apple has stumbled upon a basic (but temporary) truth:

    Many people are more interested in appearing technology savvy while actually having their options limited enough that they don’t actually need to learn to *be* technologically savvy.

    That’s why Apple specializes in “looks nice, but is limited, taxed and locked down” technology. Sell your freedoms to superficially look like you’re told you should want to. For a price.

    Welcome to iCaptive.

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