Disservice to partners may bite Apple

The Mac maker does many things right, but partner management is not one of them. Delays in App Store updates and general lack of communication is frustrating developers.

One has to wonder if Apple must exert so much control in order to deliver a superior customer experience. Reading through the October 2008 edition of Macworld magazine, I was troubled to read about Apple's poor treatment of its partners.

Microsoft grew to be a multibillion-dollar company by largely catering to its partner ecosystem. Apple? Fan I may be, but it's almost sickening to see how condescendingly the company treats its partners.

Take Apple's management of the iPhone App Store. Apple has been delaying updates to iPhone applications by a week or more, and apparently without any communication to its developer community as to why the delays are happening, or when to expect an update to go live.

That's the developer's problem, right? Exactly, as Fraser Speiers, owner of Connected Flow (Exposure Flickr application on the iPhone), details:

I don't have a problem with updates being reviewed (by Apple prior to posting), but it has to go a lot faster...Given the no-demos rule, an app lives or dies by App Store reviews. It's incredibly frustrating to watch review after review complain about a bug that you fixed and "shipped" two weeks ago.

In other words, Apple's lack of communication and service is hurting its developers, who already have to give up a big chunk of revenue from application sales to Apple. Apple is making them pay for poor service.

Not that Apple is reserving this customer disservice solely for iPhone application developers. It also takes a pound of flesh from its iPod and iPhone accessory developers. How?

As Macworld explains, Apple requires "officially licensed" iPod and iPhone cables on new models. Apple enforces this with a:

proprietary authentication chip in its portables that makes it impossible for third-party companies to create iPod- and iPhone-compatible accessories without signing an often costly agreement with Apple...(As just one example), most of the manufacturers interviewed (by Macworld) estimate that up to $20 of the retail cost of iPod and iPhone speakers is directly attributable to fees levied by Apple. Ouch.

Ouch, indeed. Apple's tight grip on its partners means higher costs and a degraded experience, at least in the case of the iPhone App Store.

I'm an Apple fan. I have been spending a lot of money on Apple products for years. But I'm also in the software business, and can't imagine treating my own partners as poorly as Apple apparently treats its developer partners.

Apple lost once because of its inability to appeal to a broad developer base. If it isn't careful, it will end up alienating its iPhone, iPod, and Mac developer communities, pushing them back to Microsoft, over to Google's Android platform, or elsewhere.

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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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