As a Mac nerd, sometimes I catch myself mid-speech when debating issues that affect users and the software they use. I catch myself saying things that I then realize are completely unrealistic assumptions and expectations of the average “normal” user.
On the desktop operating system side of things, OS X still allows us the freedom to choose whether we want to install apps from third party sources, or we can go directly to Mac App Store–further cementing ourselves into the Apple ecosystem, which is rather a good thing for many reasons. With the Mac App Store, it’s easier to surface great apps–even easier to buy them. Regardless if you’re a seasoned Mac nerd or not, you no longer need to rummage around your mail client looking for software licences. I haven’t looked back since the release of the Mac App Store, and I’ve made a concerted effort to purchase all of my software through it. There are a few small exceptions of course, like certain backup applications that would never be approved by Apple because they don’t meet the App Store criteria. Since I don’t want to deal with software licences anymore, I’ve been slowly repurchasing apps that I acquired pre App Store days.
Developers know that come March 1, 2012, going forward they will need to submit fully sandboxed apps to the Mac App Store.. Although sandboxing is not a panacea to all security issues, it sure is better than nothing. This being said, for the foreseeable future, users such as myself still have the freedom to choose what sources we get our apps from. There is without a doubt a smidgen of fear at the back of my mind that one day Apple will prevent us from installing apps from places other than the Mac App Store. For now, this fear is unwarranted and is not something I try to think about.
On the mobile operating system side of things, iOS is undoubtedly a very closed ecosystem in comparison to OS X. Most of us are already aware of the benefits that this platform enables for both developers and users alike. As a refresher on some of these benefits, they are: sandboxing and security, reliability, and a certain amount of user experience and user interface guidelines. With human beings reviewing each and every app that is submitted, Apple for the most part has some sort of quality control over what gets into the App Store. Sure, things slip by once in a while, but most of the time things get rectified pretty quickly by the App Store review team. Moreover, users surely benefit from the rules and guidelines that have been set in place by Apple. Today users also expect a certain level of quality and reliability from the apps they buy with their own hard earned money. I think many people would agree that by having strict guidelines in place–in conjunction with the App Store review process–user expectations have been met for the most part.
What users know
The average non technically savvy user knows that they just want their software to work for them, as opposed to them working for the software. People want computers to be helpful and make their lives simpler and easier to get the things done–you can also add with the most minimal of effort needed.
What users don’t know
Most users don’t know have a lot of insight into the technical underpinnings of the software we make for them. They don’t have or don’t care about how things work. I sincerely doubt that the average person is even cognizant of what’s going on with Mac and iOS development. These people are not likely to be concerned with the future state of our favourite platforms that we use. They’ll just use whatever software is available that gets the job done well. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe most people appreciate well designed software with great features, but it’s more of an emotional feeling and less being aware of the technical minutia.
This is why it irks me when I read things like what Dave Winer recently wrote about the open web.
What about users? I think more will care over time, as the corporate platforms restrict what they do more and more, and extend their reach into areas more users consider off-limits.
I, like Dave Winer, am a huge proponent of the open web. I think it’s unequivocally true that we must continue to fight and keep the underpinnings of the web open. Open in the sense that no one person, corporation, or government has control over any significant component of the web.
My gripe with Winer’s statement about the App Store model in general is that he believes more users will care over time about the restrictions of the platform itself. Unless I’m misinterpreting his comments in any way–which in and of itself would be unintentional–by “users” I’m thinking he’s talking about the average non technically savvy person. Considering widely available evidence, the iPhone and iPad are the most popular and profitable mobile products in the world. People are arriving in droves to Apple stores all over the world to buy these devices. Apple simply can’t make enough of them as we speak to even fulfill demand. So how is it that anyone can believe more users are going to care about the platform’s restrictions? This is by and large very doubtful.
Currently there are hundreds of thousands of apps available for iOS. People are delighted by games, productivity, social networking, lifestyle, and entertainment apps in all of their varying complexities. How many average users do you know that ask about how they can’t access the file system on their iPad? For those who are truly annoyed and feel limited by what you can’t do in iOS, there’s always Android. There are plenty of people who love Android, and there’s a high probability that there will be plenty more in the future. Let’s not mistake these people with the average iOS user though. To do so would be disingenuous at best.
Just because you make some app that has no chance in hell of being approved by the App Store review team, does not mean users will one day wake up and be outraged by the “restrictions” of the iOS ecosystem.
The truth is people are spending shed loads of money on apps today. They have been since the App Store model first debuted back in 2008. If we simply look at historical data and observe current trends, we can project much larger future growth for iOS as a platform. Any developers who want a slice out of the Apple pie have–or will be jumping onto the iOS bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that developers who want to hock their wares elsewhere can’t make money. I strongly encourage these people to seek whatever avenues they see fits their product and business model, and wish them best of luck. There’s no reason why anyone like Winer can’t go and build a great product and sell it to people directly on his own website right now. I’ll even go farther as to say it stands to reason that Android may be a better suited development environment for those like Winer who have no hope to get their apps approved for iOS.
The last thing that I think we should be doing is making assumptions about what users will find restricting on iOS. Instead, I’d rather see developers focus on just trying to make the best possible products that solve real world problems for most people. There’s probably more success to be found on iOS right now than anywhere else, however if you find another platform that works better for you, once again you have the freedom to pursue that path as well. This is what makes having choice so great and what makes the current times we live in so very interesting.