In my "iPhone Apologists Unite: Dysfunctional, Thin-skinned Apple Needs You" post last week, I wrote that one dimension of Apple's dysfunction is its inability to laugh at itself, a consequence of its culture of intimidation and heavy-handedness. But the facet of cultural dysfunction that stands to hurt Apple the most is its treatment-or, more to the point, mistreatment-of its developers.
Certainly, the fact that Apple has a reputation for a relationship with its developers that's dismissive and autocratic is nothing new. In March, the Electronic Frontier Foundation posted the "iPhone Developer Program License Agreement," a document that Apple would prefer you didn't know too much about. The EFF obtained a copy of the agreement by filing a Freedom of Information Act request to NASA, which had created an iPhone app. The EFF listed some of the "troubling" terms of the agreement, and arrived at this conclusion:
If Apple's mobile devices are the future of computing, you can expect that future to be one with more limits on innovation and competition than the PC era that came before. It's frustrating to see Apple, the original pioneer in generative computing, putting shackles on the market it (for now) leads. If Apple wants to be a real leader, it should be fostering innovation and competition, rather than acting as a jealous and arbitrary feudal lord. Developers should demand better terms and customers who love their iPhones should back them.
What Apple needs to recognize is that this condescending, overbearing attitude is being lost on no one, least of all its competitors. Last month, FierceDeveloper.com reported that Google is working hard behind the scenes to attract disenchanted iPhone app developers to its Android platform. The report quoted an iPhone app developer who said he had been contacted by Google:
"[The Google representative] basically said that he wanted to open a line of communication with me in case I chose to port the app to Android, and he offered to ship me a free Nexus One to play around with. ... Contrast with Apple's approach: it took us about three months of resubmitting our app to Apple before they stopped rejecting it for inappropriate content. And even now (after we peaked at the No. 7 paid app), we still have no relationship with anyone there. Huge difference in approaches between the two companies."
That "huge difference" is likely a factor in a new development that has to have Apple's C-suite fuming. FierceDeveloper.com reported today that according to a study by market research firm NPD Group, Android has blown past the iPhone in U.S. market share:
Buoyed by strong consumer interest in devices like the Motorola Droid, Google's Android mobile operating system now represents 28 percent of smartphone unit sales in the U.S.-- behind only Research In Motion's BlackBerry (36 percent) and moving past Apple's iPhone (21 percent).
It's doubtful that this development will serve as much of a wake-up call for Apple, at least in the near term. The company is simply too far removed from its developer and customer base to muster the humility it will take to come to grips with the reality of its descent. The cultural dysfunction that is so deeply ingrained in Apple will prevail.