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Lemme Get This Straight

Posted on by arlen

More and more I hear the refrain that as a developer you can “circumvent” Apple’s AppStore and “walled garden” by developing web apps for iOS devices.

I even hear Apple and Steve Jobs positioned as wanting to “destroy the web” with their focus on “native apps.” That their “focus on native apps” is “splintering the web.”

Now that I’ve laughed myself silly at the irony, it’s time to take a closer look at the facts in the case. But before we do so, some full disclosure. I use more than one Apple product. I also build Windows machines from parts for my church, contribute to Open Source projects, and run Ubuntu as well as Windows 7 and OSX in my house (in fact, there are more Windows licenses than OSX licenses around here). My prime work is done on OSX, not because it’s perfect, but because it and I get along better than Windows or Ubuntu and I. If that changes, I’ll have no compunction about switching. My computer is a tool, and like any competent workman I use the tool that fits my hand best.

So let’s turn back the pages of time and look at the iPhone launch. A note from Chris Zeigler on Engadget from that time says Apple was encouraging developers to code web apps and download them from their own servers. If Chris’s word isn’t good enough for you, here’s an official Apple press release: that says the same thing. Apple even set up a directory specifically to point to those web apps.

But the devs in Apple’s customer base clamored for the ability to write native apps, so Apple shipped an SDK, and created the AppStore to distribute those apps. No, not out of the goodness of their hearts. Of course they knew they would make money off it.

But note the chronology, here. Apple intended, even encouraged, devs to write web apps that could be hosted on their (the devs’) servers, uncontrolled by Apple. In short, Apple was pushing open web access on Day One of the iPhone launch. And, so far as I can tell, has never backed off that.

So go ahead and build web apps. It’s fun, the technology is open to all, you can build and ship what you like and keep all the money for yourself, if you wish. Just don’t say you’re “circumventing Apple’s iron control” when you do it. Have the integrity to say you’re taking Steve Jobs advice for how to develop for the iPhone, because that’s really what you’re doing.

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October 2011
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