Monday, 30 August 2010

Apple's Last Stand

Apple’s recent amendment to their developer agreement - which forces developers to write applications their way using their tools - has done three things:
  1. isolated Apple even more from the wider technical community,
  2. wasted the time and money of companies and people who have invested in building iPhone compatible developer toolkits (and developers who have used them), and
  3. diverted industry attention to other smart phone technologies.
There are a few victims of this controversial move worth paying tribute to.
Number one on the Apple’s shit list is Adobe whose Flash technology (which allows for media rich applications to run within a web browser) has been ruthlessly evicted from the iPhone party. iPhone users have undoubtedly noticed the small, sad-looking blue Lego blocks where content is expected. And there are sad little blue blocks aplenty since it’s estimated that over 98% of desktop browsers have Flash installed creating a rich ecosystem of games, mini applications and multi-media stuff. In a desperate bid to sneak back into the hottest shindig in town, Adobe developed a toolkit allowing developers to create applications in Flash and export them to the iPhone – a process known as cross compilation. Enter Apple’s new developer agreement which, paraphrased, reads “if you want to come to my party and you aren’t prepared to dress up, behave and have fun exactly as we want, then you can sod off.”
There are a few other cross compiler tools such as Novell’s Mono Touch, which allows developers to write iPhone Apps using Microsoft’s defacto development platform .NET and C#. Modern software development platforms take a lot of the pain away from unpleasant engineering tasks such as memory management and provide SDKs (software development kits) which facilitate rapid application development.

For developers that weren’t around 30 years ago when C was in vogue or who grew up on a diet of Managed Code (Java, Visual Basic, C#), writing applications using Apple’s dictated languages (C, C++, Objective C) will require a good couple months of learning and a strong immune system when struggling with a new strain of bug.

This brings us to the last victim worth mentioning, the wider community of software developers, of which I am a long-standing member. Wanting to get a piece of the App action I went down the Mono Touch route – being a Microsoft .NET Developer – and was pleased to be able to create apps using familiar technologies. Apple’s Steve Jobs says that allowing cross compiler toolkits to exist potentially jeopardises the quality of iPhone apps.

I wonder if Jobs has ever waded through the detritus currently clogging up the App Store.
Perhaps there is one final victim of this technology totalitarianism: Apple themselves. Sure, the iPhone has revolutionised the Smart Phone industry and its competition has been playing catch up over the past couple years.

However, as General Custer may have commented on the eve of battle, “the natives seem restless”.   Adobe has shrugged off Apple and is now focusing its Smart Phone toolkit on Google’s Android. Google are ploughing ahead with their browser-based application frameworks.

Web Browsers are starting to support HTML5 features which provide more powerful application capabilities. Android handsets are gaining market share and Microsoft will soon hit the Smart Phone market with their sexed up Windows 7 Phone.

The battle drums are sure beating loudly.  Amidst the noise and rumblings a lone man in blue jeans and black turtle neck cuts a defiant shape on top of ‘Jobs Hill’. While many developers watch from the sidelines and consider where best to invest their time and (creative) energy on Smart Phone platforms, I’ve picked my side already.  It’s called Andriod and everyone’s invited.

Read the original article at .NET magazine here.
Mark Rodseth, Technical Architect, Fortune Cookie

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