Confusing: Developers Who Complain Apple's iPhone is Closed AND Think HTML5 is the Future

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 12.08.20 PM

TechCrunch links to noted developer Tim Bray who's taking a position as "Developer Advocate" at Google for Android but who announces it while taking a swipe at Apple's iPhone:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

Which is completely and utterly wrong, of course. That's Apple's vision of the mobile, curated App Store which they intend to be a family friendly, corporately liable software repository. Apple's vision of the mobile internet is Mobile Safari and its WebKit rendering engine and other technological underpinnings, most of which are open source and heavily supported by Apple.

You can, now, today, get porn on the iPhone via Mobile Safari. You can get Google Voice. You can pretty much get anything and everything without any interference from or need for approval by Apple. It's the definition of the Winer-ian vendor-less platform Bray quotes. Never mind:

I’m going to have to get savvier about HTML5-based applications, because a lot of smart people think the future’s there, that the “native app” notion will soon seem quaint.

And HTML5 (which allows web-based apps to behave more like native apps) is something Apple has been pushing very hard as well (from promotion at Apple's Developer Tech Talk World Tour to WebKit.org itself). And again, now, today, you can code and run some of the best, most robust HTML5 applications for mobile to run well on iPhone Safari -- and other WebKit-based mobile browsers.

We've said many times Safari is Apple's open app store, and Apple even includes it beside Mac and iPhone on developer.apple.com. That's what confuses us about comments like Bray's and TechCrunch's mention of former Facebook for iPhone developer Joe Hewitt (who has since said the iPad is "everything he's wished for").

We'll stop short of assigning motives to Bray's comments, given his new job. It's awesome for Bray and Google and Android and developers to even have that sort of person in that sort of position, and we congratulate and wish all of them well on his new position. But it's important to point out that while Apple's App Store might be "closed as in managed", Mobile Safari is wide open; if you're a web developer it's delivering as well or better than anyone else on the promise of of that platform today.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 41 comments. Add yours.

thedave says:

Why put quotes around closed? The app store is a closed ecosystem. As he pointed out apple will make sweeping decisions with little or no warning or comeback. The NDA around the agreement people sign to develop for the iPhone is also true is it not?
Whilst he does come across as a bit of a tool it's not like he's blatantly lying.

mrsleep says:

Anyone who says Apple isn't a closed system is deluded. Apple also rejects apps because they have 'ugly' icons, who makes that HIGHLY subjective decision?
And why are devs that complain about it 'confusing'?
Wouldn't they know best how closed Apple is?
All you fan boys should get off the kool-aid, and at least acknowledge the truth. Thats fine if you want to live inside Apples walled garden, more power to you. But don't be an idiot, get your facts straight, and understand that by using Apples products, you are submitting to the will of Steve Jobs and how HE THINKS you should be using your technology. Apple is about as open and free as the GDR.

Rene Ritchie says:

HTML5 development on the iPhone is wide open. Closed is in quotes because it can have different meanings, in this case it's being used to mean managed.
Anyone who uses the term fanboy in a discussion simply indicates an inability to argue their point of view without resorting to personal attacks.

DT says:

Mobile safari is wide open, yea. Except you know, for anything with Flash.

Rene Ritchie says:

@DT or ActiveX, or SilverLight, or RealPlayer or hundreds of other proprietary plugins. In terms of open, web standards technology, its support for HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript is exemplary.

unchew says:

I don't think he was trying to be deceitful but he is only looking at it from one side. I like the closed app store and safari option i play with other people's android phones and see the effects of no restriction apps on their devices causes system wide slow downs and that will only get worse. There will always be need of native apps where there wont be data dont know why everyone is on this kick but i really prefer native apps for even stuff like a rss reader i use and love newsrack.

fastlane says:

I'm still confused what difference it makes to some people. If you dislike Apple's "closed" platform, don't use it or develop for it. Problem solved.
There are plenty of handsets with camera Flashes, Flash players, 3rd party multi-tasking, Google apps, etc., etc. They're available now for purchase. But, instead, these people whine like Apple is some kind of town hall meeting.

iBlackdude says:

@ Fastlane
u just punch'em in the face :)

fassy says:

Rene,
No offense, but you are primarily confused because you are equating the mobile INTERNET (what Bray said) with the mobile WEB (what he did not say). They are not the same thing.
While http is the most common transport and the web browser the most common use of the internet (perhaps email is close), the internet is far more than just the web. The internet is also email, IM, Flash, java applets, desktop applications that communicate over TCP/IP, WAP sites, webOS cards, and, yes, native apps written for the iPhone, just to name a few. All of those are part of the internet; few, if any of them are part of the web.
For most of that list, it is literally impossible for Apple to exert control, so one can neither credit nor blame their openness; they have no choice in the matter. However, on the one channel where they can impose controls -- native iPhone apps -- Apple has been arbitrary and restrictive, and Bray's comments, though dramatic, ring true. Until Apple presents a channel where they can apply restrictive controls but choose not to do so, there is no corresponding data point suggesting Apple is any less closed than Bray accuses them of being.

Jack says:

@Fastlane
well I AM stuck and we DO have the right to complain. I'm stuck with a contract for this closed system with tin limitations. Until this contract expires, I feel like I'm in Apple's townhall, why? Cause Apple fails to deliver. Heh 4.0 for multitasking that's if and only if the rumors are true.
Besides, get Nexus One in Canada ad then we will talk ;)

jasondeno says:

Just outside of Apple's walled garden lies AT&T and Verizon snipers. The idea of Android being an open platform is silly. The networks still (and often do) shut down their own list of apps and capabilities.

Dan M says:

The only way one can be "confused" is if they are intentionally trying to be confused. HTML 5 webapps do not, will not, and never will replace a first-class native app. If you think otherwise, then why do phones continue to actually have an operating system at all instead of just using HTML as their OS? How many phones ship with nothing more than a browser?
Google Voice illustrates it perfectly. There is no tie-in to the iPhone to make it a great experience. It's a solution to a subset of what GV could be/do, but far from ideal - all because Apple is closed.

Tom Stephens says:

It will be interesting to revisit both the 'openness' issue and Bray's situation when Android has matured in a year or three. By that I mean when Android has actually shaken out in the market and Google has a little experience under it's belt running a multinational communications device, balancing its corporate clientele, and supporting app store. Right now it is barely out of infancy with many lessons to come.

kbduvall says:

Why do people go to an Apple/iPhone/iPad/iPod website and complain about "fanboys"? That's like going to a veterans center and complaining about everyone there being too "patriotic".
Silly.

fastlane says:

@Jack:
Sorry you're stuck, I've been there before. :|
But, I never said people don't have the right to complain... or have valid reasons for wanting openness. But these "Apple is closed" gripes just never do any good, and never will.
Complaining can fix MobileMe, and get MMS working, and deliver Copy/Paste, and Video. But it's never going to change this issue. All of this "rallying the troops for Apple openness" nonsense is beyond tiresome... and a waste of time.
The best way to get Apple, or any company, to change their ways is by switching to a competitor's product (or developing for it) and letting them know why. One of two things will happen. Either they'll be hurt if enough people switch to something else, or they won't be affected at all by it because enough people are happy with things as they are... in which case, there was no lesson for them to learn.

Visi says:

TechCrunch links to noted developer Tim Bray who’s taking a position as “Developer Advocate” at Google for Android and TIPB links to noted fanboy Rene Ritchie who's taking a position as "Iphone Advocate" for Apple.

Rene Ritchie says:

If a) HTML5 apps may be the future, and b) Apple's iPhone supports the bajeebers out of HTML5 without restriction or approval process, then c) Apple's iPhone is an open HTML 5 development platform for web developers.
@Visi: Calling me names simply means your argument holds no merit.
@fassy: valid point, but either way completely open web development is completely open web development. If the web is part of the Internet, and that part is open, Apple's vision for the internet can't be considered closed. It's like saying a house is completely locked when there's a huge honking open wall on one side.

Sadie says:

I don't quite see the contradiction. Apple's system is highly proprietary and closed. Whether or not HTML5 is the future remains to be seen, but to claim that Apple isn't very controlling of its products seems counterfactual.

fassy says:

@Rene
Again, you are conflating the WEB and the INTERNET. The web is not the internet, and Apple has no control over it. Where they have had to be open, they have built good implementations. Where they have had control, they have closed.
To continue with your analogy, Apple had NO CHOICE in building most of the house you mention. You cannot credit Apple with being open (or blame them for being closed, for that matter) when they have no say in the matter. To paraphrase you yourself from another post or podcast about Flash, with Mobile Safari Apple is building the best implementation of somebody else's non-proprietary platform. In that case, their vision is restricted to implementation details, so any Apple vision regarding open or closed models is unknown, and quite simply irrelevant.
In other words, you are crediting Apple for being open when all we know is that Apple had to build three of their walls according to municipal building codes. For the fourth wall -- the only part of the structure outside those municipal codes -- Apple opted for a tightly restrictive, closed model.
This fourth wall is the only structure Apple had the ability to implement on their own, without encumbrances from the W3C or another vendor, so it is the only evidence we have for Apple's vision -- and that evidence points to a closed, centrally controlled vision. Nobody -- not me, and not Tim Bray -- is saying Apple does not support open WEB development. Regardless of their motivations, they do, and they make a damned fine mobile browser. But the absence of any evidence that Apple would be open when they have a choice in the matter triggered Bray's alarm, and his blog post. Your post's titular confusion stems from assuming Tim Bray said something he most emphatically did NOT say.

TexasJeff says:

You're missing the point. Your browser, since you typically only have one, should be for browsing. Apps should be carrying the load for specific tasks (Google Voice for instance). Most platforms allow for apps such as this to be written and deployed.
Not Apple though. Enter DOJ investigation.
Sadly, it looks like Microsoft hasn't learned from the developer outcry of taking 4-8 weeks to get bugs pushed because of the undocumented approval process.

Lady Kaede says:

Lots of great stuff here, so thanks all. Basically, I'm with Rene. But I just want to add that in the land of the Internet (and make no mistake, it is a place not a medium) Dow we really want anarchy? No. Do we really want government-imposed control? No. What we have and should have is an ever-changing set of co-existing societies. I don't toss epithets at those in Google's camp - is they don't like the rules in the Apple camp, fine -- but it doesn't mean I'm stupid or I'll-served by the society I've chosen to be a part of. Sure, my cop's a corporation that could turn on me - but I know this Devil, and at least I've got a cop community that delivers 90% of what I want already.

jzajzz says:

Come on Rene ... an app store vs a web browser.. why are you bringing a web browser into this... it's apples and oranges.. especially since Apple pushes its app store as the best thing since sliced bread..
and Although I m not a fan of Apple's app store...I have no problem with them being closed .. I have an alternative in Android.. and I'm sure some people prefer the closed app store.. but what I hate is when people make it out to be soemthing that it isn't like "The App store has a wider variety of apps than Android" . . when we know that's complete BS cause Apple won't allow devs to develop all types of Apps that they can for Android or even the old WinMo ..

jzajzz says:

@Fassy ... I think you articulated it better than I would .. lol @ giving credit for Apple for being open ... LMAO ... what's their alternative .. censoring Safari?? good luck...

jzajzz says:

@Rene ..
Apple allow HTML5 which is an open for platform .. that's great.. but there is more to the internet than HTML5 or the Web browser...
Many apps are internet-based .. and because of the App approval process they are not open..
It would be fine for apple to close certain apps from teh App store.. but the problem is that these developers cannot distribute the app outside of the App store..

kbduvall says:

Speaking from a web developer's viewpoint .. with the exception of games, most apps could be developed into webapps instead. Everything from RSS readers, email readers, home automation software, and basically about everything else. With HTML 5, JS, CSS, and some AJAX magic, you could easily make a webapp feel native.
Now you say that Apple doesn't have any control over what's seen in Safari and no way to censor it so therefor they can't be considered open. Well I disagree. They could have decided NOT to include a web browser. They could have decided to make it "on-par" with the web browsers available at the time which wouldn't be able to view many/most sites. They could have decided NOT to make a great web developer's API for Mobile Safari. They also could have decided to make Safari check a list of "blacklisted" sites so they could block the sites they didn't want you viewing.
But instead they included a modern browser and give it all the tools it needs to view cutting edge web apps .. and even porn.
Now how does that translate into "they had no choice and no way to censor the web"?
And for the record.. the "Web" only means a group of interconnected computers. It does not necessarily mean "websites".

fassy says:

@Keith
Only if you consider a Sophie's Choice a legitimate choice for a business, which no business does. Let's examine your claims:
1) MobileSafari was universally proclaimed the killer app on the iPhone when it was launched, and it was the only way to deliver applications for quite some time. Deciding not to include a web browser would have killed the platform before it was born. That is not a choice.
2) Once a browser was included, not making it "on-par" -- intentionally releasing a shoddy product -- would not only not be Apple's style, it would have sabotaged the differentiating feature of the iPhone platform. That is not a choice.
3) "Web developer's API?" There are no plugins for Safari, so I assume you mean that Mobile Safari offers excellent javascript and html/dom support (as well as a couple of their own js extensions for gestures.) Yes, it does. That is the same point as #2, above -- Apple releases good products. That says nothing as to their openness or lack thereof.
4) Net-nanny style blacklists cause a significant performance hit on desktop class machines; on a mobile device with both limited memory and high latency connections, such a hit would have been completely unacceptable to their customers. That is not a choice.
So no, Apple had no choice with Safari that would not have submarined the entire product. When they created a platform that allowed them to make a choice without torpedoing their sales -- the Apple Store they did have such a choice -- with native Apps -- they chose not to.

Edie says:

Why do people make a big deal about this "closed" system. It's like baisically saying, (currently), that iPhone OS is a nice humble, caring girl, while Android is that whore next door. Chill out people, seriosuly! Go to android if you have to.

Bill says:

I think you're missing the point here. While HTML5 is great, it's still not a suitable replacement for the power and options you get from developing a native application. There are just some features you can't easily duplicate.
I've used some of these HTML5 webapps, and none of them operate like a native app. It's like running a native app in an emulator that's not quite there yet.

Sky says:

I'm a fan of a well-managed, i.e. "closed" App Store, not so much for content censorship, but to ensure I can safely install any app without messing up my phone.
Imagine sitting in an airport lounge, on your way to an important business meeting, passing a few hours between flights. In your boredom you purchase a game and - wham - your cell phone, IM, email, contacts, documents and remote access are all toast. This is why I believe some level of content screening is important.
Regarding content censorship, while I am fundamentally against this, one benefit is not having to wade through as much garbage to find an app I'm looking for. There are already 150,000+ apps in the store; that number could easily double or triple (mostly garbage) without editorial input by Apple.
Whether I shop at Macy's or Target, I go there expecting a certain level of merchandizing: products of predictable quality; well-defined departments and displays that help me quickly find my color, size and style. Why should the App Store be any different? Do we really want Apple to enable a shopping experience that's akin to combining Macy's and the local swap meet?
I suppose an argument can be made for Apple segmenting the store into different managed / unmanaged sections, caveat emptor, but then iPhones would have to be similarly firewalled to avoid a random "fistbump" resulting in acquiring malware.

Dexter says:

And the prize for the most sensible, coherent post that adds reasonable understanding to this fiasco is... SKY

Dexter says:

...I should say the prize "goes to" SKY. But yeah, he's the winner by far...

(Copy of) Dev says:

@SKY
1) You trust Apple to filter out malware. Reasonable, though from my experience with the App Store, they do any useful level of security auditing beforehand, and that expectation is illusory. Apple's ability to yank product after the fact possibly acts as a significant deterrent in and of itself, which I agree offers some small level of protection. However, with after the fact correction, the damage in your airport is already done.
2) The App Store actually causes MORE of a Target experience, not less. The reason that there are 25 fart apps and 27,000 book apps is not only because of the millions of iPhone users, it is because of the free "shelf space" Apple provides. With a single store guaranteeing access to every iPhone/iPod touch, and no up-front expenses for hosting or distribution, developers not aiming for the home-run have no incentive to spend more on an App and ensure it's quality will stand out and generate sales. Instead, they have every incentive to flood the market with cheap me-too apps, and hope something sticks. That is precisely what has happened.
A single App Store will always be Target because of those incentives for developers. While Apple can tinker around the review margins, there are no controls Apple can implement to eliminate crApps or "me-too" apps that would not invite the DoJ to sniff around. (Yes, you can argue the DoJ should butt out, but, if there is a single store for a market of 75 million users, and Apple starts picking winners in "me-too" categories, the DoJ probably would jump in. )
Whether or not the DoJ should jump in is immaterial; the government is one fight no company wants to risk. With a second store, the DoJ would definitely stay away and let Apple do whatever they want. Either side-loading store from another store or extra up-front fees would eliminate your 150,000 crApps problem far more efficiently than any top-down policy Apple could implement.

jbrandonf says:

@Sky
Or Apple can do what Palm already has in place with webOS...give their users the OPTION to sideload apps from the internet.

Bob says:

count me in as one who prefers a managed app store, apple walled garden, closed system or whatever you want to call it. as others already said, if you don't like it, theres plenty of other phones to choose from.

derpydoo says:

"Hey apple, thanks for developing our totally f$##ing awesome free open source browser, you greedy d#ck$," -Tim Bray

derpydoodoo says:

@derpydoo
if you removed your nose from Steve Jobs colon long enough to read even a cursory history of Safari, you would learn Apple did not originate WebKit, but forked it from another project, KHTML. While Apple has done quite a lot of good work since then, in the past few months, Google has surpassed them in commit type and frequency.

v pills says:

Why do people make a big deal about this “closed” system. It’s like baisically saying.

basur says:

However, with after the fact correction, the damage in your airport is already done.

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