Monday, April 12, 2010

The Great Debate

So - The new shiny thing is out for the iPhone, OS4, which contains a change in the Terms-of-Service that seems to have everyone talking. There are some great posts discussing the TOS changes from John Gruber over on Daring Fireball, here and here. There is also some additional commentary, including an email exchange with Steve Jobs, over on the TaoEffect - here with a follow up due to user comments here.

What I have been wondering reading all of the various commentary about the TOS change is this:

Other then form factor, what makes the iPhone platform so substantially different from a MacBook?

You could talk about computing power, the iPhone obviously has a lot less over all computing power then a MacBook. Yes, very true. So what - it still seems to run programs just fine.

You could talk about screen size, the iPhone screen is obviously a lot smaller then your typical MacBook @ 15 inches or so. Yet somehow the information from the programs on the iPhone still seems to make it to the user just fine.

You could talk about the lack of multitasking, however as I recall macs well into their golden age, before OSX came out, used to do cooperative multitasking (which arguably gave the appearance of multitasking without really doing it) - which with a few tweaks looks alot like the multitasking being introduced in iPhone OS4.

On the MacBook I can write applications in:
Ruby
Python
C
C++
Objective-C
Java
Perl
Erlang
JavaScript
And the list goes on.

On the iPhone I can write applications in:
C
C++
Objective-C
JavaScript (WEBKIT Only)

So the only substantial difference is the programming languages I can utilize to write for the platform? Ok, I admit that this is an oversimplification of the situation, but it does make for a good talking point.

So why is the iPhone so limited in regard to the languages one is allowed to use to write applications? I think the answer is simple, Apple is attempting to control every single aspect of how their software/hardware is used in the name of 'Good user experience'. Apple has, as a company, always tended to lean in the direction of 'control everything' - take their historical stance on mac clones as a for instance. However the control Apple is attempting to wield on the iPhone is much tighter then that of the computers that they also market. I can write in any language I choose on the MacBook - but I need Xcode, Objective-C and Apples blessing to write an iPhone app. The platforms are not different enough to warrant the 'language' restriction. Add to the concern that the last item on the above list, Apple's blessing, can be very difficult to come by if your application happens to compete with Apple's interpretation of 'good user experience' (i.e. if what you write using the tools they say, competes in anyway with the built in functionality).

It seems to me that Apple is not interested in the user experience - just their own bottom line... like any other market driven company. Apple's stance seems to be working, at least for now, based on their current stock price as of the time of this post. I do question however if the stance Apple has taken will work in the long term - people may start to take notice and do what I have done... vote with my dollars and not purchase the things that they produce. Essentially avoiding the 'Apple Tax'. Make no mistake, this is not an Apple bashing exercise - I believe that they do make a very unique user experience and a lot of coders could learn from the 'little' things and polish on development that they do so well. I just think that those things don't make up for a corporate stance that is attempting to squeeze everything that isn't C based on a Mac out of the iPhone development picture.
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