With Apple rejecting apps written for its iPhone for one reason or another, both developers and consumers are increasingly going underground and creating an alternative marketplace. Developers are able to flog their wares while consumers can find what they’re looking for, even if Apple says no, and fully harness the power of the iPhone. Google Voice, which was controversially rejected by Apple recently, is now available through one of these underground app stores.
The biggest barrier to the use of these underground, unofficial apps, is that the iPhone has to be ‘jailbroken’ (i.e. hacked into, to bypass Apple’s restrictions), which of course voids any official warranties. Jailbreaking is much like unofficial unlocking of phones and it’s a practice that’s increasing in popularity, in no small part due to widely available software that makes it reasonably straightforward to hack into an iPhone.
The underground community has existed right from day 1 (remember those headlines within days of launch that the iPhone had been successfully hacked into to allow use on any network?). But once Apple released an official software development kit (SDK) in 2008, most developers chose the official route. Now that Apple’s operating a pretty opaque app acceptance system and seemingly randomly rejecting apps, it’s not surprising that developers are going back underground and consumers are following them.
It’s interesting that it was Apple’s iTunes that reversed the trend of illegal music downloads yet now Apple’s own restrictions are tipping the scales towards making underground stores and unauthorised apps for its products not only viable but also attractive. So much so that there are now entire businesses dedicated to monetising unauthorised apps for the iPhone.
Photo credit: jimpg2 _PEACE via Flickr/Creative Commons
The news that there are now more than 65,000 apps available in the iPhone App Store is food for thought, particularly if (like me) you own one of the smartphones that is in the market of trying to compete with the iPhone. The post on Mashable also stated that more developers are starting to work on apps for Android.
However, as a Blackberry Storm user, I was very keen to find out how Blackberry’s App World is faring in this market (at least in terms of app numbers) – the answer is not well. Browsing through App World on my Storm, I counted (the number of apps in each category is helpfully listed) less than 1,400 apps – around 45 times less than what’s on offer in Apple’s App Store. The question is why such a disparity?
Yes Apple’s App Store has been around a lot longer, but it seems that there’s a big problem in user awareness and ease-of-use when it comes to getting hold of Blackberry’s App World. The App Store is a clear selling point for the iPhone, yet handsets like the Storm do not really focus on apps to market the device. In addition, where the iPhone comes with the App Store pre-loaded, the Storm required me to actively go and download App World from the Blackberry website (something which actually proved quite difficult on the handset itself, so I resorted doing it through my desktop).
Perhaps a concerted effort by Blackberry to offer App World pre-loaded on devices and to drive user awareness of this would see more developers looking to create Blackberry apps.
An opportunity for Blackberry could be in the business app arena, where Apple was recently criticised in a Business Week article for offering a poor selection of business apps. But, without increasing the prominence of App World, Blackberry will surely only fall further behind Apple in this market.
So, do you think there is any opportunity for Blackberry (or anyone else for that matter) to get anywhere near the iPhone in the app market?
Google Voice is a free new Internet telephony service that lets users screen, block and make calls, get voicemail transcripts, place conference calls and more. Sounds like a pretty handy app to me (shame it’s US invite only at the moment). But Apple has decided that it’s one app they can do without and blocked Google Voice on the iPhone – a move that seems motivated by competitive protectionism. The US Federal Communications Commission (a communications watchdog) seems to think so too as it’s now launched an inquiry into just why Apple banned Google Voice.
It’s about time someone looked into these seemingly more common exclusionary tactics and stood up for us, the consumers. After all a free market is about choice and surely Apple, with arguably one of the most popular phones ever to be released, can deal with a bit of healthy competition. Interestingly, this comes at the same time as Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google is resigning from the Apple board of directors because Google is increasingly moving into Apple’s space of operating systems (with Chrome) and telephony (with Android).
And now there’s a case of Apple trying to bribe a girl and her father to keep stum about an exploding iPod with an offer of a refund (which one would expect in the event of a device exploding in any case!). So is Apple, once only known for cutting edge and cool design, turning into a soulless corporate? We’ve seen Microsoft behave similarly with its exclusionary tactics and an attributable change in its brand perception. Google, the other tech biggie, has so far managed to stave off such a decline in image but for how long.
What disappointed me most about Apple’s move is that it comes at a time when we’re living through a recession that’s brought business ethics into serious question (in the financial sector at the very least). And Apple’s audacity in thinking that such a move would go unnoticed and/or without repercussion is simply astounding.
Is the tech sector going the same way that finance has in the past? I sincerely hope not as I for one have always thought of the tech sector as a refreshingly innovative space with humane workplaces and solid ethics. Is my continued optimism and belief in tech naive? Is this instead a taste of things to come?
Photo credit: William Hook via Flickr/Creative Commons
Each year when we roll into August I breathe a silent sigh of relief – with so many people on holiday it’s usually a quiet month for us. But not this year… We’ve recently won a number of large projects so have been spending much of July getting these up and running. As such, we’ve got a crammed schedule of work in August so it’s all hands on deck in the office.
I did however find time to go down to the Revolution offices in Hammersmith (in West London) to take part in a podcast interview for their Insider’s Guide to Usability. The podcast is now live on their site so if you want to hear my rambles then feel free to have a listen. The thing I find most ironic though is that on this web page, a guide to usability, it’s actually really difficult to find the link to the podcast!
We were also able to get our third annual council report out last month, with some interesting findings. The report, Local Council Websites: Inching in the Right Direction (free download), evaluates the usability of the top 20 council websites (as per the recent Socitm report). Although the sites have improved since last year there’s still (unsurprisingly) great room for improvement especially with regards to their online transactions. If these are the 20 best council websites in the UK then that doesn’t say much about the others…
If you’re a fellow IMRG member then you may have met our head of user experience, Elisa, at their Usability and User Experience Workshop earlier in July. In her presentation on persuasive design, Elisa highlighted how usability can be used in conjunction with persuasion, with her particularly focusing on 6 key principles of social influence (e.g. scarcity, social validation). The presentation is available for download from the IMRG site (members only). FYI you can now keep up-to-date with what we’re doing with our new upcoming events page on the site.
That’s it from me for this month, as usual feel free to post any questions you may have. And if you’ve got 30 seconds to spare then please vote in our latest poll about what the key factor in purchasing a content management system would be for you. We’ve had about 500 votes to-date so if you vote you’ll also be able to see the results so far.