Thierer and Massey on App Stores and Innovation

A couple of people left interesting comments in response to mypost about the problems with “app stores.” Here’s my former colleague Adam Thierer:

There needs to be some sense of proportionality here, at least about the iPhone (I can’t speak for the Palm experience). In just a little over a year, there’s been 2 billion downloads of over 85,000 apps from over 125,000 developers.

So, when you talk about Apple’s approval process being “plagued by.. problems” and “rejections for trivial or non-sensical reasons” and “long delays in the review process have become a staple of the tech blogosphere” I think you are giving the impression that this is somehow the norm when it is very much the exception to the rule.

I responded in the comments, but I liked Aaron Massey’s comments better:

Adam, I don’t know that the numbers you’ve given are useful metrics in this context. I’m willing to concede that the iPhone is a wildly successful product and that the percentage of applications being rejected for spurious reasons is tiny, even taking into account the points Tim made about developers having a strong incentive to remain silent. The problem is that these numbers don’t prove that the iPhone wouldn’t be an even better platform if it were more open; it only proves that it is a very successful product as it is.

He goes on to describe one approach Apple could take to address the app store’s flaws:

Apple could try to get (some of) the best of both the open and the closed worlds by having different classifications for applications. I’m thinking of something similar to the “components” system that Ubuntu uses. This means they could have a set of applications that are approved in whatever process they want to use and as many sets of ‘unapproved’ or ‘experimental’ applications.

Apple could even set it up so that users wanting to use unapproved applications would have to disclaim liability for the security of their data or the stability of their system. This seems reasonable to me. If you give users the power to approve of and install their own applications, then they should take personal responsibility for the consequences, if any.

Those are just a couple suggestions. I don’t have a problem with Apple doing whatever they want — it’s their product, but then, it doesn’t look like Tim has a problem with that either. He’s just arguing that the top-down approach to the App Store is not as good as a bottom-up approach would be.

Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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One Response to Thierer and Massey on App Stores and Innovation

  1. Sean L. says:

    “Apple could even set it up so that users wanting to use unapproved applications would have to disclaim liability for the security of their data or the stability of their system. This seems reasonable to me.”

    The problem with that statement goes to the root of why Apple reluctantly opened its doors to third-party iPhone apps in the first place, and has steadfastly refused to support Apple ‘clones’ in the desktop world. Apple is not really in the hardware business. Nor are they in the software business. They are in the ‘experience’ business. Apple is absolutely losing sales by keeping their system closed. End users would certatinly have more application choice by opening things up. However, having to reboot your iPhone regularly because of a bad app, even if you KNEW it could happen, would lessen the iPhone experience for most people.

    Why doesn’t In-n-Out franchise their locations like McDonalds? They’re clearly losing money by not ‘opening’ their business to outside interests. You tell me — Visit 10 random McDonalds, then visit 10 random In-n-Out Burgers, and report back.

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