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Apple's WWDC events are always big news, and yesterday was no exception.

Steve Jobs himself took to the stage as the company unveiled its first official look at iOS 5, which is now available in beta to iOS Developer Program members.

When it comes right down to it, Apple's success largely stems from the user experiences it has been able to create. It is able to take its knowledge of what consumers expect from both hardware and software and apply that knowledge in a way few other companies in the technology industry can, and it does it consistently.

With iOS 5, Apple continues its legacy by adding a bevy of new features to the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

But there's a problem: if Apple's goal is to create what it thinks are the most compelling experiences it can, the company, in theory, has a carte blanche rationale for doing just about anything.

Yesterday's WWDC highlighted that. Apple's press release promoted the fact that iOS 5 includes "200 new features," and many of them encroach upon existing apps.

Those apps include Instapaper, whose founder, Marco Arment, responded to the day's announcement with a single word, "Shit." He later tried to console himself by observing, "At least they're hitting a lot of other apps too. Could be worse." By the end of the day, he appeared to be in full denial.

While some may argue that this proves that it's foolish for entrepreneurs to build businesses around features for third party platforms, one can't ignore the fact that Apple, in building up the most prominent developer ecosystem out there, has encouraged people to do precisely this.

Thus far, it's largely been a win-win: developers have made billions selling to Apple's highly-desirable audience, and Apple has kept a 30% cut of their sales.

But Apple apparently wants some pies for itself, and it isn't afraid of taking the slices developers have carved out in the App Store. That means one thing: it is increasingly going to build its own apps.

This begs one question: is Apple biting off more than it can or should chew?

On one hand, it's hard to argue with success. If Apple starts adding more "features" to iOS and generally does it well, there's no reason to think that consumers will complain. On the other hand, the more Apple tries to own and control the iOS user experience, the more it risks.

At some point, Apple will make mistakes, particularly as the scope of the experience it controls expands. Even if it doesn't mess up completely, feature creep can easily turn into bloat. But most importantly, it will eventually risk driving developers away from its ecosystem.

Even if it doesn't feel it needs them, it's hard to deny that they've built a lot of value for Apple's products and platforms. In fact, one might even argue that without its developer ecosystem, the company would probably lack a lot of the 'inspiration' for its newest features. After all, the company seems to have 'copied' a lot for iOS 5.

At the end of the day, betting against Apple isn't for the faint of heart. From this perspective, iOS 5 is another sure-fire winner for the company. But the bigger they come, the harder they fall, and it doesn't seem the least bit concerned about becoming too big. That in and of itself is a reason for concern.

In the meantime, of course, entrepreneurs and developers looking to participate in the App Store economy probably have little choice but to go along for the ride knowing Apple isn't sharing the wheel.

The best strategy: get it while the getting is good, and hope that your app isn't so successful it catches Apple's eye.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 June, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Tom Hallett

When this happens, it's usually a case of "jack of all trades; master of none" - Apple should just let those talented developers work on their respective niches, and continue taking their 30%.

about 5 years ago

Crystal Rose

Crystal Rose, Owner at Onvi.com

On the flip side, Apple is also helping developers make a lot more money by integrating the App Store into the new OSX. That's a big opportunity for desktop software to get a boost in the market, and a step forward for devs considering all other app platforms are currently for devices. They are also introducing in-app purchases.

All third-party developers are aware of the inherent risks of building a business around another platform, and this spans to all types. Take Twitpic for instantce, whos million-dollar ad revenue will come to a screeching halt when Twitter integrates their own photo sharing service. Many early-day Facebook apps are long gone after feature integrations and policy changes by Facebook.

Even as a company developing for the web, it's a constant evolution to keep up with browser and server technology and the rise of platforms and devices.

Developers live with the notion that the device/platform/application they create for is subject to change, evolution, and expiration. That's a risk that comes with the job. Certainly if something works well enough it's also subject to duplication and core integration. But none of these apps and micro-businesses would have the opportunity to exist if there wasn't a platform and marketplace available to them. Let's not forget Apple has put a lot of money into developers' pockets -- it's just a matter of who gets the claim on doing it first.

about 5 years ago

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Andy Hopkinson, Industrial Placement - Marketing Communications at Mercedes-Benz UK

I highly doubt developers will move away from Apple because of the chance that they will integrate the app into the next iOS.

At the end of the day, Apple is making a feature available to everyone who owns an iPhone, rather than the select few who know about and have bought an application.

That itself is improving the customer experience. Apple would not have had the same success if after purchasing an iPhone you had to download 50+ apps which offer an array of standard features, just because the idea was from a 3rd party developer originally.

I think they are very wise incorporating them into the newest iOS. Do you really think this will drive developers away? I can't help but think the amount of customers and extremely healthy Apple ecosystem will keep the best developers creating for Apple devices.

about 5 years ago

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