File Under: Business, Mobile

iPhone App Store Exclusivity Is a Big Drawback

The new iPhone is open to third-party applications, hooray! However, those applications can apparently only be distributed through the new App Store, “the exclusive channel for iPhone and iPod touch applications.” Yuck.

The App Store is probably a fine thing for the type of shareware mentality that seems to populate the Apple universe: application developers take home 70% of the proceeds for apps they sell, and Apple handles credit-card processing, distribution, and all that bother.

But it imposes a level of lockdown that will probably conflict with open-source licenses, and it gives Apple and its carriers ultimate control over what you’re allowed to install on your phone. App Store applications will be wrapped with Apple’s FairPlay DRM for access control, to ensure that they can’t be distributed beyond the single phone they were bought on. It’s reminiscent of the awful walled-garden distribution mechanism for third-party apps on the Sidekick, which involve licensing hurdles and make each precious bit you’re allowed to download seem like a gift from the Lord. As a result of that, there are hardly any third-party apps for the Sidekick. For instance, there’s no real IMAP client. If there were, I’d have bought a Sidekick, with its roomy keyboard, years ago.

Compare that with the Palm platform’s so-called “open plain” distribution model. To install an application on your Palm, you can just download it like any executable, from the developer’s site or an intermediary, either directly onto your Palm or onto a computer from which you can transfer it to your Palm. You can even email apps and install them that way. By no coincidence, the Palm ecosystem has developed tens of thousands of applications, many of them free. Many of them are terrible, too, but there are lots gems in the chaff — and, if you’re so inclined, you can write your own or modify existing apps to make them better.

It’s hard to resist the pull of the flashy, newly discounted device; but resist it I shall, if it wants that much control over what I do with it.

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