September 13, 2008

Having a Development Platform Doesn't Mean You Stop Competing

When Google's Chrome browser debuted, I openly asked if we ever thought the application would see the light of day on Apple's iTunes App Store, or if Cupertino would keep the door closed, giving Safari a leg up in the new round of browser wars. This weekend, things got clearer, as Apple turned down a tool that could be seen as competing with iTunes. As I had expected, Apple is not going to let the iPhone's development program get in the way of their leading software applications. And you know what? While they could certainly do better to communicate this up front to the development community, they shouldn't have to give competition the keys to the kingdom.

With so much of the Web community's efforts going toward open source programs and open platforms, it's almost become expected that companies are going to stop acting like businesses and start acting like charities. But not all will.

Google's Chrome was launched with promises that its improvements would be given back to the open source community. The browser, which could have come embedded with a load of Google-centric items, actually offers multiple options for search engines, amid some's concern that Google's growing influence in the search and advertising space was making it a monopoly.

In another example, Twitter famously gives its XMPP feed to FriendFeed, a site which many thought could replace the microblogging service outright. They could have instead told FriendFeed to pound sand and get their updates the old-fashioned way, but they didn't, which played a big role in helping FriendFeed grow to the point where it is today.

But neither of these examples typically is how the world works in business. Businesses focused on revenue and profits (which Google Chrome and Twitter aren't yet) don't usually kowtow to the competition and make things easier for them in the name of openness.

While it could be argued that Apple has introduced competition to MobileMe by making it easy to add Yahoo! Mail, GMail and Outlook to the iPhone, we realize they're not fools, and as e-mail access is essential, being flexible has broadly opened the iPhone's opportunity in the business market and with consumers outside of the MobileMe customer list. But there's no real strong reason for Apple to continue this trend and open up to provide iPhone versions of FireFox, Chrome, Opera or Internet Explorer, were Microsoft ever to have a change of plans regarding the Mac platform or the iPhone.

I also wouldn't expect Apple to make room on the iPhone for desktop photo applications that compete with iPhoto, or anything that offers an end-run around AT&T, so long as that business relationship is in place.

And Apple's not the only company to play this way. Jason Goldberg of SocialMedian has mentioned a number of times that he's made no headway in having that service's activity reflected in the aforementioned FriendFeed, which he assumes is due to them being perceived as competition. While I believe it's more likely due to SocialMedian being so new, and the FriendFeed team having other priorities, there's really no reason they should go out of their way to letting a rival service get hooks into its users.

Apple has got to do a better job, in advance, of letting developers know what the limits are for what they can build, and where they need to stop. But this isn't a not-for-profit game. This is business, and it shouldn't be expected that a company's providing developers with the ability to make an application is an open invitation to replace their crown jewels.