Apple Computer has taken two steps that some observers take to mean that the company is feeling pressure from Google and its Android devices on market share. Apple, which for years had its part of the smartphone market pretty much to itself, is now finding that the flood of Android phones reaching the market is getting an enthusiastic reception from users. In some cases, this is because the Android devices offer capabilities that the iPhone doesn't-like a 4G network with Sprint's Evo.
But it's also true that users are finding that some features that Apple never made available, such as the ability to rent television shows, are actually things that people want on their phones. So Apple, in response to the pressure from the burgeoning Android market, is loosening things up. In addition to offering new features, the company is now officially allowing third-party development platforms to be used in developing apps for the iPhone.
Earlier this year, Apple banned all such platforms as a way to prevent Flash from being used on iPhones or iPod Touch devices. For reasons that remain obscure, Apple's Steve Jobs has taken it as a personal mission to stamp out Adobe's Flash platform where he can. This is in spite of the fact that about 90 percent of the Internet sites available to the public use Flash.
However, there are a lot of third-party development platforms besides Flash. According to Scott Schwarzhoff, VP of Marketing for Appcelerator, the guidelines seemed to exclude all third-party platforms. But Apple was still accepting apps built using those platforms. 'No app was rejected by Apple because it was written using Appcelerator,' he said. While it was clear that Apple was not actually doing what it seemed to be saying it would do, there was still a lot of uncertainty, and according to Schwarzhoff, that made developers a little nervous about the apps they built because it was always possible that Apple would decide to enforce that policy.
Things have changed here, too. Apple has spelled out very clearly that third-party platforms could be used, and in fairly simple language laid out some guidelines to make sure that the apps would continue to function as Apple wanted them to. This is a move that's been awaited for months by developers, and is very welcome.
So the question is why Apple changed its mind. Schwarzhoff said that Apple probably noticed that a very large number of its most successful apps were built on third-party platforms, including his. To refuse to allow them would decimate the Apple iPhone applications. But he also noted that during the last four months that this has been going on, Android apps have been gaining ground on iPhone apps. He noted that four months ago, about 20 percent of the Appcelerator apps were for Android devices. Now that number is up to 30 percent.
So is the reason for Apple's sudden changes that it wants a better user experience? Probably. Partly that's because it helps retain existing customers and helps bring in new customers. But Android apps also provide a great user experience, and in many cases are built on the same development platforms used for iOS apps. Apple really had little choice-Android devices are already starting to take away Apple's market share. Something needed to be done to at least slow that down. Fortunately for everyone, it includes improving the user experience.