Forcing iPhone developers to write native apps gives Apple the ability to switch architectures more easily

Imagine if Flash was allowed to do this and a year from now let’s say 10% of the apps in the app store are going through Flash rather than writing specifically through x-code to the native SDK and Apple wants to do something with iPhone OS 5 a year from now that isn’t compatible with the output right now of Adobe Flash CS5. Well all of a sudden 10% of the apps in the app store can’t be updated to the latest version until Adobe updates their developer tools. And we’ve seen this before…

A really great point by Louis Gerbarg.

Flashback: 2003 Apple issues a recommendation, advising developers to switch to XCode developer tools. I was working on Final Cut Pro at the time. The switch from CodeWarrior to XCode wasn’t easy, but we knew we had to do it.

2005, Apple announces they are switching to Intel Macs. Developers who switched to XCode can simply flip a switch in the IDE and their application will compile for both PowerPC and Intel Macs.

By forcing all developers to use a single development platform and set of SDKs, Apple was able to change the most basic, critical, low level chip inside the Macintosh computer with minimal effect on developers and users.

Today, we see web development slowed because of compatibility with Internet Explorer. What if in the future, Apple couldn’t make massive, innovative, cutting edge changes to their platform because apps didn’t adhere to strict standards?

I’m all for being a little more strict, and a lot more cutting edge.


Note: Updated title. Was previously “IE6 caused the web to mature slower than it would have otherwise. Flash would do the same for the iPhone”


  1. All this makes sense from Apple’s point of view. And I actually like Objective-C as a programming language. It’s helped drive the great innovation we’ve seen on the iPhone. But, deep down inside, I have this nagging feeling that if Microsoft did the exact same thing people would be preparing lawsuits and talking about "The Evil Empire". I know I’m stretching this analogy, but this quote from U.S. vs Microsoft sounds familiar(Section C, 1:94):"At the same time that Microsoft was trying to convince Netscape to stop developing cross-platform APIs…" So, Microsoft was trying to block API development, and now Apple goes even further down the stack and dictates the programming language. This doesn’t give me that warm feeling inside that I usually get when interacting with Apple products.

  2. I agree with you 100%. Thanks for writing this – it needed to be said. The platform must be protected to allow for innovation by its creator, not by third parties. Adobe has no interest in promoting anything other than their own products. I don’t see why Apple should be any different, especially when they have so much more to lose.

  3. I see your point, but I still hate the idea that thousands of Flash designer/developers came that close to delivering their creations to the favored mobile platform.I don’t agree with your assessment of how cutting edge this all is. It’s more the price you pay for admission into Apple’s world. Much like they create the demand for devices that are essentially luxury items, they manufacture the standard operating procedure of anyone who wants to play along. They’ve just made you feel you’re smarter for having followed in step.Consider this: You need a Macintosh computer to run the iPhone SDK. You also need a computer to synch your iPad or to get updates to your iPhone. Apple could very easily get out of the laptop/desktop game with how successful their portables are. But regardless of whether you’re a developer or just looking for the best iExperience, you’re going to buy the whole family of Apple products, aren’t you?I’m not saying it’s not smart – it’s brilliant. Just don’t sell it as best practice or even necessarily good for the industry. It’s good for Apple and people who do business in the world of Apple.@Chris Sparno, what the heck does Apple have at stake? What do you mean "more to lose"?

  4. This is rubbish. 10% of the store can’t be updated until Adobe update their tool? What about the remaining 90% that can’t be updated until each individual developer updates XCode, their SDK version, recompiles, fixes any regressions, etc?!This is not at all analogous to the IE6 situation – perhaps when Microsoft make an iPhone emulator or something! At this stage any change Apple makes isn’t going to break Flash/MonoTouch/etc apps unless it also breaks native apps!Oh and MonoTouch (and many other banned tools) can spit out C for XCode anyway – making your point moot.

  5. @AnonYou’re missing the point. That 90% has incentive, and will upgrade their tools as necessary to continue to develop for iPhoneOS. The 10% would be beholden to – held hostage by – Adobe and their schedule, which in the past has always been something less than, "whenever we get around to it."

  6. The other 10% would have the exact same incentive!And if Adobe (or Novel or Unity) doesn’t cover them (which is a huge assumption) they can still switch to XCode then. Or more likely – switch to a different framework, or just write a bit of Objective-C to tide them over.What you are suggesting is that Apple will, in the near future, release a new feature, that is relevant to all applications (or a large category like games), that will be in such enormous demand as to make all existing applications not using that feature (which would have to include XCode ones) worth considerably less, but not in sufficient demand for Adobe (et al) to get it implemented quickly, and/or will be implemented in such an esoteric and touches-all-your-source-code way that implementing it in one of these frameworks (or binding it yourself) takes a significant amount of time (and again – the more difficult this is – the more it affects XCode applications).I see that scenario as so absurdly remote – and so likely to "hit" XCode-based applications if it does happen – that it’s not worth switching to XCode up-front and giving up my nice, domain-specific toolset and the associated productivity gains while I wait for this magical feature. Apple does not have the kind of credibility to say that "switching is for the greater good, trust us, you’ll see." (in an EULA, no less!)The far more likely reason is that Apple are just trying to lock developers into their platform for entirely non-technical reasons.

  7. I’m completely with anon here. Actually I think what Apple is doing is not the opposite of what Microsoft did with ie6, but more the same as they did. Apple is slowing innovation by forcing developers to spend months of extra time writing iPhone versions of apps with lots of extra bugs.

  8. "The far more likely reason is that Apple are just trying to lock developers into their platform for entirely non-technical reasons."You bet your ass this is the reason. It’s all about the user having a lovely experience. If a device so much as flickers, Apple will cry into its pillow and blame the developer that caused it. Hence no multitasking.And hence no Flash.

  9. A comment here and on the linked article clearly debunks this post.Even app generation tools that compile using xcode have been banned.This change to the license is to prevent developers from targeting more than one smartphone platform. Apple rightly assumes most developers will be forced to develop for the iphone alone.It’s a good business move, but it’s a move designed to help bring about a monopoly.

  10. @Jake I agree with your thought process but there will always be developers like myself that will develop for any platform we feel the need to. I personally develop for iPhone and Windows Phone currently but if a request was made of me to do up a Blackberry app I could and would do that also.

  11. There is a completely false statement in the article regarding IE6 — that web development slowed down because of IE incompatibilities. So here’s one for all those history revisionists: When IE6 came out, it was the ONLY browser that gave the possibility of advanced javascript development. AJAX was ready in 2001 on IE, but took until 2005 (4 years) before its first competitor, Firefox started to match its capabilities. Worse, Safari took until 2008 before its Javascript and css was up to speed with other browsers, and was the cause for slowed development until it caught up to the others). It’s true that by 2007, IE6 was slowing development, but it was already 6 years old by that point, and was the sole reason web development had advanced as far as it had to that point… something oddly forgotten by most. Rhetorical question: would Firefox even exist if IE had been continually advanced past the means of the competition?

  12. IE was not all bad, prototyping AJAX was an improvement to browsers, yet one wonders if they hadn’t stabbed netscape in the back in the first place, who would have done this first… also, AJAX didn’t represent any advance at all in computing, it was an extremely obvious correction to the flaw of the early web that it was so stupidly synchronous all the time, unlike PC applications. IE overall has been a plague upon us all.Apple bravely hung in there and OS X is one true differentiator from MS. Apple hardware has gotten better and better and better ever since they caught back up with the PC with the Intel chip… But with the iPhone/iPad, we see a complete failure of vision.There are zero technical arguments for the latest self-imposed dumbing down of their own technology from Apple, as much as some would bend over backwards to fantasize.Since the published statements from Apple were few and senseless, the blogosphere comes up with the noble goal of… performance-friendly architecture switching! Aha, that’s the big goal… it is so important that the calorie counters on the 3GS will go at blazing speed in the iPhone 4G you buy next after throwing away the current one. Very, er… pure.First they rule out Flash and Java, then they go after any remaining software that may suffer the evil flaw of being – shudder – cross-platform. With no reference to specifics of implementation (certainly with pure XCode you can do many "bad" apps – as Google apparently did) but a broad classification unrelated to performance/future compatibility issues at all.It remains to be seen whether their latest move to close the platform will increase or decrease the number of XCode developers: those who live in the real world and can’t quite ignore the increasing power of Android, Palm, Blackberry, etc. (which will rise in market share due to the poverty of the AT&T wireless network if nothing else) will likely seek some *other* way to develop once and deploy to multiple devices: Apple’s own improvements to webkit continue (unless Steve attains true Howard Hughes eccentric stature by banning HTML itself from the phone) to present a powerful alternative to app store apps in a growing percentage of situations.The iPad is a cruel joke: as nice as the hardware and UI vision is, the limitations of the software and completely closed architecture is aimed squarely at the dumbest of consumers. The one allows the other. Nobody could make software this pathetic if the hardware weren’t so great.You’d think now that they have finally recovered from the near-death experience they endured with the sub-standard hardware they were spewing into the landfill in the G4/G5 years, that they might have some level of humility or social conscience. Steve’s lesson from losing to Bill turned out to be the "it doesn’t matter" line from Pirates of Silicon Valley. Apple is now trying to out-MS MS, and they are doing great at it.The iPad today could with less or equal effort have the power of the macbook pro of a year ago. The "strategery" of making it a big neutered iPhone will not go down in history as a high point of Steve’s career.The iPad is the first time in history where the limitations of a smaller device have flowed up into a bigger device: zero practical reason it couldn’t have the capability of a real computer, but plenty of "strategic" reason to dumb down and close the platform as they have done. They didn’t have to think as hard as Bill did when he plucked features out of Vista Ultimate to create Vista Home, they had a more crippled starting point: they started from the iPhone as an upper limit of functionality and plucked out features from there. It’s an iPhone with no phone, no camera, identical closed and proprietary software, that should let them destroy the environment at the same pace as the G4 days, even with greener individual devices, as the price point is lower and the obsolescence faster.

  13. Flash is not cross-platform. Nor is Java. All those things cause users to waste their battery, processor and time running a layer on top of their chosen system, just to save developers a bit of work. It’s ass-about-face. Stop whining, stop being lazy. These devices are designed for us, not you.

  14. This sounds like a pity party to developers who don’t want to develop any more. If you think you can burrow into flash or any language your not thinking clearly.Platforms will disappear and die and new ones will grow. Sounds like many of you are to worried about making old crap stay around forever. If you made a iPhone 3G game and you are worried that it won’t play on the iPhone 3Gs, then you are not worried about innovation. If your worried that current apps in the store won’t work on the new iPhone 4.0 then you obviously have no interest in NEW. You should be looking for new ways to re-invent your apps, not keep them on life support. There are millions of people who could care less about how tough it is to learn a new language, but are more than willing to blow $5 on a dumb app. Oh, I forgot being a developer is non-profit and should be easy.For one minute stop and think about how quickly the iPhone was eaten up by the masses. They want what will work best, not the most open platform. Right now the iPhone as a device provides a experience that surpasses a browser, a phone, a GPS and gaming device all in one. It is a status symbol and tech marvel. Apple will not wait for you to catch up, they will not wait for Adobe to catch up. If you want to be under the money tree then you have to be willing to move. Think people want to learn new languages or new software, no, but they want to have a job. Pack you bags and hang out with the people who are unhappy with Googles customer support, or the few guys who bought the droid. … Or do something about it and make the best non-iphone app and start creating some buzz around the Android platform. Either way it’s your decision to develop for whatever platform you wish. Sorry if things don’t always go your way.

  15. I do agree with Jason. People act as if developing iphone apps is part of the constitution. No matter which platform you work with there is a lock-in effect and, of course, you are at the mercy of the platform owner. It is true for Apple/Xcode, Microsoft/VisualStudi, Adobe/Flash-CS.If you disapprove of Apple vote with your wallet and find a platform you like better. It is no more complicated that than.

  16. >> "No matter which platform you work with there is a lock-in effect"If that is what you like: certainly Bill Gates and his follower Steve Jobs have favored "lock-in" as a general business strategy, while Google and Adobe are more Open Source in approach.Time will tell, but I think Steve’s mentality about Flash is similar to Bill’s approach to Java, and will yield comparable fruits.Bill and Steve are slightly different, but historically identical in spirit and competence. They are technologists of the previous century.

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