The Rise of the Walled Garden & The App Store (and why this is bad)

First of all a definition, when I say Walled Garden I mean this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walled_garden_(technology)

Generally I’m going to be talking about Apple. This is because I don’t like them, I don’t like their business model and I think their entire company is extremely dubious.

In recent years, driven mostly by the success of the iPhone, the idea of an App Store has seemingly taken over peoples minds. When you mention software they assume you are talking about apps and they don’t seem to understand my problem with an App Store replacing the ability to just buy a bit of software.

This is bad. It is bad for software development, it’s bad for users and it’s bad for distributors. In fact about the only people its any good for are those who own the gardens, Apple in the current example.

Why is it bad? A good question, allow me to provide an example.

In the traditional model of software purchase I can decide I want an office suite, so I go and look at the options, there is MS Office, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, StarOffice and probably a whole lot more. I compare the features and costs, decide which one I want and then purcahse and install the software. I can now use it and I have been able to decide what I wanted from a wide variety of options, including everything from professionally designed and published office applications to very basic freeware written buy a student and released onto the internet.

Now, take the app store model and pose the same problem. I go to the app store (now this is for illustration purposes as I don’t use any Apple products) and look for the same thing, I get 4 responses and which excludes the one I really want because Apple doesn’t like that company. The issue here is I’m having to make do with something I don’t really want because this company has decided that the software I want I can’t have, even though it exists.

The key issue here, and what really peeves me about the whole thing, is that Apple (and other companies who rely on the Walled Garden approach) are saying that on the device that I own, having paid them real money for, I am not allowed to install the software I want because they haven’t approved it.

This is like a panasonic rep turning up and my house and telling me I can’t watch Big Trouble in Little China on my new Panasonic DVD player because they haven’t approved the film. In other words, stupid and unacceptable.

This is bad for innovation, people with good ideas that don’t mesh with the Apple ‘ideology’ will be refused permission to publish their application despite the fact that it might well be better than the Apple equivalent. Innovators are actively discouraged from innovating as their ideas are subject to the approval of a company who will judge them on arbitary criteria. There have been enough stories of Apple refusing to certify applications purely because they don’t want the competition to make anyone concerned.

The model is unsustainable, if we continue down this route then as the various hardware devices (Smartphones, Tablets and computers) increase in capability the amount of software available will become less and less and the diversity will narrow until options just vanish.

Why do we care about this? Well the unfortunate truth is that most people don’t care, they have no real idea what the impact is and they don’t care as long as their new version of angry birds works. In fact Apple especially have been sneaking more and more 1984 style controls into what you can and can’t do with the device you have purchased with little to no objections coming back their way.

What can we do about this? Again a tricky question, unfortunately the only real option is vote with your wallet and the sad fact of that is most people won’t bother, Apples products are too shiny and all present for people to really consider anything else. (and I’m not even going to start in on the various companies trying to remove competion and stifle innovation through legal actions).

The problem is that if we continue on this course then the end result is bad for the user, bad for the industry and bad for any kind of innovation.

One thought on “The Rise of the Walled Garden & The App Store (and why this is bad)

  1. An interesting take on this subject and one I can’t really argue with. I use an iPhone, but refuse to use anything other than a PC for computing stuff. The apps I use tend to be generic ones (youtube, Twitter, Facebook and a few games). I rarely buy apps, but I do occasionally buy music, which has to be purchased from iTunes. This is annoying, because I have often wanted a particular tune only to find it is unavailable on iTunes, or only available if you buy the whole album.

    I would like to agree that this model is unsustainable, but I think the reality is more worrying. Market dominance (as evidenced by the multiple ongoing lawsuits about technology and software that Apple is involved in) will give us one clear winner, much as Microsoft displayed for much of the home computer years (although they were far more open to other software houses, strangely!).

    Either that or all platforms will merge accessibility, so Android and Apple will work together in perfect harmony (HAH!).

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