Smothering the iPhone

When we interviewed Jonathan Zittrain earlier this year, his warnings about the iPhone seemed a bit academic. Sure, his preference for open systems like the Internet made sense, but Apple was allowing developers to create applications for its App Store, and the supercool iPhone seemed invincible.

That was then; this is now. Suddenly, the iPhone has competition: smart phones powered by Google’s developer-friendly Android operating system. Nobody expects the initial device to be an iPhone-killer, but the prospect of numerous designs powered by increasingly useful software changes the game.

Meanwhile, all is not well in App Store land. As Zittrain said, “Steve Jobs reserves the right to reject, prospectively or retroactively, any software he doesn’t like, for any reason. That’s the point where I say, ‘Yikes.'” Now Apple has rejected some applications, and the chorus of “yikes” is growing. In September, a developer named Fraser Speirs wrote on his blog, “I will never write another iPhone application for the App Store as currently constituted,” after Apple rejected his podcasting application, which competed with one of the company’s own products.

Another critical voice belongs to Jason Snell, Macworld’s editorial director. After a handful of applications were rejected, he wrote in late September that Apple’s policies are “confusing, arbitrary–and cloaked in mystery.” This is serious business, he says.

“What’s happening right now may seriously weaken the iPhone as a platform and enable Apple’s competitors to get the upper hand when it comes to dominating the smart phone market,” he wrote, adding that “Apple policy risks the entire future of the iPhone platform.”

Yikes, indeed.

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