Apple manipulates developers...and they love it

Apple has an uncanny ability to completely mistreat its development community and get away with it. Will it be the same this time?

The Guardian has published an insightful piece on Apple's odd relationship with its development community, which I'd recommend for two reasons: it demonstrates both how to and how to not build community.

What do I mean? Well, Apple stonewalled against third-party developers on its mobile devices for years, and now has the same developers drooling over the opportunity to give away a third of their iPhone revenue to Apple (even though they're inhibited from collaborating with each other by Apple's NDA).

How does Apple manage to manipulate its developer base so effectively? Why do people put up with it?

Is [Apple giving its developer community a] great deal? It doesn't matter; if that desirable date finally agrees to dinner, you don't care that they leave you to pick up the bill. Who'd have thought you could emotionally manipulate people over an SDK?

The executives at rival smartphone software companies like RIM, Palm and Microsoft must be standing around with their mouths open: Apple got developers to be happy about giving away more than a third of their revenues?...

But -- you see what has happened? The iPhone and iPod Touch are turning into a platform, and people are falling over themselves to get on board.

Why the furor to embrace this crappy deal? Because there is no other option. Apple's mobile devices provide such a rich platform opportunity that giving up 30 percent and more of eventual revenues may feel like a deal.

Not that it matters how it feels. It just is. The good and bad thing about Apple is that everyone on the developer side is treated equally. Equally poor, yes, but equally all the same. So while Application Developer X may not be happy with the deal, at least she knows that Application Developer Y is also being shafted.

An Apple spokesperson told The Guardian years ago that it kept the iPod platform closed because "Essentially, it's a music player. We don't want to spoil the experience [by opening it up to third parties]." This is the same reasoning that led to Apple's initial bout with irrelevance decades ago.

As a hard-core Apple fan, I hope it doesn't make the same mistake this time and make third-party development onerous. I love Apple's sense of style and innovation. However, I don't want to be locked into Apple as the sole provider of my Mac and iPhone/iPod-based experiences.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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