30% of the future

I believe the iPad is the future of mainstream computing, not just of mobile devices. That’s why I picked it as the first platform for Tweet Library. But forcing developers to use in-app purchase shows that Apple’s version of success for the iPad looks much different than mine.

Apple’s tight control over iOS has always been troubling. If there’s no way to install an app on the device without Apple’s approval, then Apple can make or break any business that builds for the platform. It’s an added risk for the thousands of tiny development shops for which the iPhone and iPad are otherwise perfect.

There was such huge growth in the development community because of iOS that I’m not sure anyone was paying attention to where we’d end up. We saw a new phone instead of the future of computing. We saw the gold rush but not the damage, so we let it happen. We let it happen by not sending Apple a clear message: total control over distribution is bad for developers and bad for users.

And now we’re letting Apple take 30% from every company that wants an iOS app to complement their business, whether it has anything to do with software development or not.

From Matt Drance:

Whatever the fine print says, Apple is no longer letting developers do things it had been letting them do — and build businesses on — for almost two years, and many developers are quite understandably upset about that.

And Marco Arment:

A broad, vague, inconsistently applied, greedy, and unjustifiable rule doesn't make developers want to embrace the platform.

I hope we’re wrong about the worst-case interpretation — I like this Steve Jobs email much more than the reality of Readability’s rejection — but because Apple fails so spectacularly at communication we won’t know for sure until more rejections come in.

I’m not comfortable with a future in which 30 cents on the dollar goes to a single company, no matter whether it’s from app downloads (where Apple offers hosting and discovery) or content sales and web service subscriptions (where Apple offers little). If the iPad grows like many of us expect it to, siphoning a third of the cash flow around everyday computers will create a completely different economic environment than exists today. It’s unprecedented.

And it would ruin Apple. Not the company’s finances, but its focus. John Gruber wonders what he’s missing, and this is it: Apple is embracing a model that is fine for Readability but runs counter to Apple’s core business. The iTunes Music Store wasn’t a business in its own right; it helped sell more iPods. The App Store shouldn’t be a huge revenue stream; it makes the iPhone and iPad better.

Apple’s strength has always been selling a great product to end users — “the rest of us”. The new Apple has fallen into the trap of thinking they should also be an advertising company and an overpriced payment processor. It’s a slippery slope from here to becoming just another mega-corp that has their hands in everything that can make money instead of standing for something.

Manton Reece @manton