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
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.
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.