Roy Pessis explains why we should continue fighting for an open app store and not accept Apple and Google’s app regime as ironclad.
Something great happened on July 10, 2008. The Apple App Store was born. Only six years down the road more than 60 billion apps were downloaded through the platform, making it one of the largest stores in history.
As Apple & Google are about to launch their app stores for the largest untapped screen in our homes, it’s worth pausing for a moment to address its dark side and understand the magnitude of its impact on our lives.
Is Apple the Supreme Court of our digital lives?
According to Nielsen, 89% of our time on media is spent via the use of apps. While apps occupy an enormous part of our digital lives, we remain indifferent to the fact that such an integral part of our online experience is entirely controlled by two companies: Apple and Google. Two companies decide what we do online, where we spend our time and who will be able to provide us with our sought-after content.
In their guidelines Apple states that the company “will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, ‘I’ll know it when I see it’. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.”
Where exactly is this line and which behaviors, according to Apple, are relegated to a place across it? Where will the line be in five years? As it currently seems, Apple has claimed a seat on the Supreme Court of our digital lives.
Both the Apple and the Google app stores control the flow of information. With every passing day, they tighten their grip over the content and delivery of our information. While this reality might seem harmless to many at the moment, in a few years time this could become a real threat over our freedom of speech and our freedom to create.
And it’s already happening: Consider the example of a company named Tawkon which created an app that tells you when your phone is emitting high radiation so users can stay safe. Apple rejected this app. When Tawkon founders asked Steve Jobs for an explanation, he simply replied “no interest.” Why would Apple block something that is good for us? I have a gut feeling that with the low cellular coverage in the US 4–5 years ago, Steve didn’t want his customers to stop using the phone because technically it is always emitting high radiation! This app could potentially harm the carriers that have lucrative partnerships with Apple.
Another interesting example is the blocking of bitcoin wallet apps, a policy which was only recently changed. Too late for bitcoin. The average user would much prefer using ApplePay. Blocking bitcoin wallets halts the spread of usage while Apple is building their ApplePay strategy, allowing them an unfair advantage. The ecosystem survives and we are trapped.
Again and again, Apple rejects apps not on the basis of malicious activity, but on the basis of pure capital gain.
We are willingly giving Apple and Google full control over our digital lives
The app stores are fun, endless, constantly updating and truly quite amazing. I love discovering new apps every Thursday when the Featured list is updated. The best part about it is the ease with which the app store works in enabling users to discover, purchase and install new apps. Just place your thumb on the screen and it’s already on its way.
Apple and Google have focused their strategies on creating a population of habitual app-store users. After all, no matter what you need, “there’s an app for that!” Getting us hooked on this experience is exactly what they want because with each purchase we make from their store, they extract an astounding 30% commission.
A 30 percent commission is an outrage (speak now or forever hold your peace)
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that 60 billion apps have been downloaded until today (and that’s just on iOS). While a high percentage of them are free apps, this is nevertheless a huge market from which to reap 30% commission.
Of course, Apple and Google only aim to enlarge this market and their share within it. In fact, they would much rather prefer we stop using the Web and only use apps. They get their 30%, further tighten their grip over our digital freedom, and in return we get ease. What many don’t realize is that this ease we are so used to can also be available in an open format that is not so heavily controlled by our digital overlords.
The TV is Changing
Some day in the near future, Apple will hold an event announcing the opening of AppleTV to developers. Probably they will bring some developers on stage to talk about how amazing it is to port their successful iPhone games and apps on to the big screen. They will praise Apple and try to convince fellow developers that this is the next big thing that they all should be working on. And it probably is—when push comes to shove, we are talking about the last un-stored screen. While it is a huge opportunity for developers, we must keep our eyes open for Apple’s long term strategy behind the app store.
Apple is poised to control the TV. I hope that the new AppleTV will have a fully functioning browser so we can still enjoy the Web freely and to the fullest. Unfortunately, I am not so optimistic. After all, it did take Apple four years to make a decent browser for the iPhone. You can probably guess why.
The Web should be free and accessible for everyone.
Unlike the app-stores of our digital overlords, the Web does not filter or restrain our content. No single entity controls what goes online and what does not. Anyone can take a computer, plug it to the wall, and define it as a server. Without a court order, no one can take that away from you.
It goes without saying that Apple and Google should be transparent regarding their policy for refusing apps. While it is well within these companies’ right to seek maximum profit without the need to ascribe to any higher moral ground, it is important to remember that we as consumers also have the right and power to choose. We should continue fighting for an open app store and not accept their app regime as ironclad.
In March, James Robinson wrote “2013 was the first year that Americans spent more time online on mobile devices than on computers, and as mobile devices become our primary point of interaction, the online experience will gradually become synonymous with being inside an app. It’s just like the Internet, but reimagined as a branded experience and with new, less democratic power structures, like Apple, Google and Facebook ruling the information roost like the Chevron, Exxon and BP of the world wide web.”
An open app store based on the Web could be the cure for that.
For more about the end of the Internet read my previous article
This is how Google is Killing the Web