A few weeks ago, I made the point that Apple treats the iPhone as a gadgets-style platform. Then last week, lots of people reported the news that Apple had "banned" an application because it reproduced functionality in iTunes. Cries of anti-competitiveness began almost immediately. Based on my earlier post, you might suppose that I'd agree with that -- but I don't.
I don't think this is anti-competitive per se. They're certainly no more anti-competitive than anyone else, right now. The App Store Ts&Cs make it perfectly clear that Apple views the iPhone as their platform, and that developers are welcome only insofar as they push the platform forward. This is simply a concrete illustration of Apple's determination to own the direction of their platform, and not implicitly cede it to third-party developers. They're not necessarily wrong in that.
Of course, it's an illustration that has come as a surprise to developers. But while it's unwelcome, I don't really think it's anti-competitive. After all, there are plenty of opportunities to build and market apps for other platforms and devices. It may be much harder to actually deploy such an app for, say, Symbian and acquire the same reach as you can with iPhone, but doesn't that say more about the state of the industry than about Apple?
Who's more "anti-competitive" -- Apple, or the status quo?
Even with this issue, Apple's platform is still a step forward for the industry. Of course, it would be nice to take a few more strides than just the one, which is why I'm still pleased as punch to be working on Android. But I think flaming Apple over this is the wrong response; you're not going to change their minds, because I guarantee you that they expected to get flamed for this. They're smart folks, and they knew very well that this policy would cause ripples the first time it came to a head.
That said, in this specific instance, it seems like their conclusion is kind of specious; does that app really duplicate iTunes functionality, and even if it kinda does, does it matter? So I'm positive that their developer relations and PR teams are (re)considering this even now, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to see them recant and perform one of their homey mea culpa reversals as only Steve Jobs can perform. It would defuse the criticism in this case with little actual risk to the platform, while still making the point they want to make: "Welcome to our platform. Enjoy the ride, but remember that we're the ones driving."
Last year, it seemed like deploying a successful mobile app was as much luck as anything else. This year, at least you can easily deploy one, if only on someone else's terms. That's definitely forward progress -- and momentum is building. Just think where we'll be next year.