The other night a friend of mine who lives in the iOS ecosystem asked me why developers still go to iOS first. A few years ago the answer was obvious, because that’s where the market was. Windows mobile was dead, Symbian was getting read its last rights, Blackberry was in a coma, and Android was the petulant hyperactive kid. If you were a developer looking for a platform to build your mobile product Apple wasn’t just cool, it was stable. Not only that Wall Street and the press loved Apple. Over the holidays though something changed, and it has big implications for the future of Apple.
The Night of the Long Knives
A couple of weeks ago I posted a link on the Disengageauto Facebook page. It was just one of several articles I’d run across discussing how stale iOS 6 felt. The article discussed how the largest mobile app developer in Germany and self-admitted Apple fan-boy had fallen in love with the Nexus 4. This is a devastating blow for Apple. What? Does that seem like a bit of an overstatement? Perhaps but consider this, if there is one thing that is true about journalist, they love to tear down the establishment. For years this meant savagely going after Microsoft’s every blunder and miss-step. Journalists are even starting to predict that the next iphone will underwhelm. What I’m saying here is that Apple has a potential pr problem on their hands if these articles continue to grow in frequency. If the next Apple product doesn’t bring something truly unseen before, these articles will only increase.
The Microsoft Trap
What Apple is facing is similar to the problems Microsoft faces. Microsoft is struggling to redefine what it is for the new age of computing while maintaining the existing relationships they have with the industry. Redefining yourself is difficult under the best of circumstances, ask Marisa Meyer over at Yahoo. If you’re trapped with legacy systems that are entrenched in users minds it becomes difficult to change without enraging them. Look at the minor uproar over the change to the lightning connector. While part of the uproar came from refusing to adopt USB, a substantial amount of the critique came from users unable to use the vast amount of legacy components designed only for now defunct idevices. The major changes necessary to continue being the innovative ground breakers that made Apple the bell of the ball is sure to annoy users who have grown accustomed to the way things are.
Do Developers Care
At first blush most of this has little to do with whether developers launch on iOS first. Two years ago the question was would developers launch on platforms other than iOS. Instagram, Flipboard, and popular games like Temple Run started out as iOS only with no announcements about Android versions in the works. Last year most apps started on iOS with Android versions following months later. Temple Run 2 will release on iOS with the Android version coming in weeks. At this point it seems developers launch first on iOS more out of habit than any greater commitment to the platform. Developers now incorporate Android development into the planning of most new products. Yes this year and next year you have to be on iOS, but this is the first year that an iOS only strategy just won’t fly you need to be on Android.
Apple is Fine But it Still Needs a Win
Truth be told most of this will have little effect on Apple this year. Much like the game console market the mobile market can support two or three ecosystems. Developers will continue to push out iOS versions, and most will continue to launch on iOS first. What will change is the perception of Apple as a company. Tim Cook is a brilliant CEO, but he has yet to show that he has vision like Steve Jobs. Apple needs to show that innovation is their culture and not solely the product of their previous leader. Again the parallels to Microsoft are important since Steve Ballmer took over the reins of CEO he has pushed out derivative products that have failed to spark the industry as truly pushing the boundaries of innovations. Without a bold new product, or a fresh take on their existing line people will start to think differently about Apple.