July 14, 2008

Apple's Own iPhone Apps Create Concerns for Small Developers

Apple takes great pride in the fact the company controls both the hardware and operating system for its Macintosh line of computers. In theory, this tight-fisted control can lead to higher product quality and an improved user experience. But as Cupertino expands its array of software titles from the desktop to the iPhone platform, independent developers are feeling the squeeze that comes when competing with the hometown team.

Yesterday night, just a weekend after Apple unveiled the AppStore for iPhone and iPod Touch, I got an e-mail from Kevin O'Neil of Candywriter.com, the creator of Imagine Poker, a Texas Hold 'Em game for the Macintosh. O'Neill wrote with excitement that the application had now also been released for the iPod Touch and iPhone platform for all of $4.99. But included in the good news was a foreboding note:
"When the App Store opened last week, it was revealed that Imagine Poker's rival Texas Hold 'Em game on the iPhone was actually created by Apple itself. We encourage you to check out their version of the game too (you can't miss it) but, as an independent developer, we hope you can come to appreciate the same solid game-play and sense of humor in Imagine Poker Touch that has made Imagine Poker Mac a success."
You can read between the lines and see the worry the small independent developer has with facing the Apple machine, just like Karelia Software saw when Apple introduced iWeb in parallel with their development of Sandvox, and of course, famously, when Apple embedded capabilities in Sherlock that closely mimicked their desktop search engine, Watson.

Microsoft got in all sorts of hot water when they embedded Internet Explorer in Windows, and forced third party hardware manufacturers to include the browser as part of their package, or face de-licensing. Apple, enjoying its minority position in just about all markets, has not always faced such scrutiny, even as they rolled out Apple Mail (eliminating the need for Eudora and Entourage), Safari (as IE languished), and an array of productivity offerings for free, including Preview (versus Adobe Acrobat), iCal and iPhoto. While the iPhone doesn't share the market position Windows does, it is taking an increasing share of the pie from Windows Mobile and Blackberry, and there could come a time when Apple's embedded apps or competitive apps gain more scrutiny than they do today.

Cyndy Aleo-Carreira of Profy has discussed the seeming non-balance she's already seen at the AppStore in a pair of posts: iPhone App Store: Eliminating the Competition and Advantage App Store: Two Paths to iPhone User Adoption. As she writes, "People are generally lazy, and will opt for the easiest and most convenient choice." For Candywriter.com, the easiest choice for customers just might be to keep Apple's Texas Hold 'Em game, and not seek out Imagine Poker, and this just might be the tip of the iceberg. If a small developer believes Apple will crowd them out of the market, then why try?

As for me, I did buy Imagine Poker. It's been a fun game on the Mac, and I'm looking forward to wasting more time with it on my iPod Touch.

Do you know any other third-party application developers on the iPhone who are now feeling the heat from Apple?