Apple competition in iPhone 3.0

There’s always the risk when developing for Mac OS X that Apple will compete directly with your product. iTunes, Mail, and Safari are high-profile examples, as well as the “lightning strikes twice” hit of Watson/Sherlock and Sandvox/iWeb. That history is “well documented”… so I won’t repeat it here.

But when listening to the “Macworld podcast”… a week ago (the episode with Dan Moren and Jason Snell back from the iPhone 3.0 announcement) it struck me that iPhone software is a little unique. They made the point, which I think is true for most software, that Apple’s offering is usually simple, full of holes that could be filled with new features from third-party developers. There is usually room for a developer with a unique twist on an idea to market and sell his solution to like-minded users, even if Apple ships a default good-enough app for most people.

Except there’s one pretty significant problem, especially on the iPhone. Apple cheats.

Third-party apps cannot run in the background. So it doesn’t matter how many features a recording app has that Apple won’t bother to implement, background recording is the killer feature that will always remain out of reach for developers.

Put another way, if the Apple app didn’t record in the background and a third-party app could, that third-party app would likely be worth $5-10 to many people for that one feature alone. But give Apple background recording and it doesn’t matter how many features another app adds — syncing music, FTPing to a server, multiple tracks, sound effects, more file formats — it’s going to be a challenge to convince users they need two recording apps. I expect some audio developers to overcompensate by adding every feature listed above and more to make up for the one feature they can’t have.

Manton Reece @manton