Apple's Walled Garden Strikes (Out) Again

Aaron Poffenberger

Yesterday a client of mine flew to NYC for a conference. Like many vendors they bought booth space and put on a promotion that was guaranteed to be a hit — and it was. Good news, right? Not entirely. The promotion involved hiring cute actresses to portray some characters from a TV series and taking pictures of conference attendees with the actresses. Part of the photo session included collecting names and email addresses so they could send out emails after the conference with the URL where the customer could find their photo.

My client knew she'd have wifi at the conference center because she had signed up for the $70/day wifi package offered by the conference center. Based on that knowledge we built a lean web page they could use to enter the data. We had misgivings about using a web page but the client and all here staff use Macs. We would have liked to have used Microsoft Access to build a nice sign-up form but it just wasn't in the cards, mostly because of the Macs but also timing.

As one would expect in such a situation the wifi servie was a total bust. They couldn't load even a very simple form page like the one we created. Fair enough. I had some time last night and built an intake form in Xcode using Core Data. The app is simple, fast and not dependent on a network connection. Win!

I mailed the app to the client. Just after doing so I remembered that in addition to several MacBooks they also had iPads. Earlier in the day when the wifi was somewhat reliable they had used the iPads to also take registrations. "Great," I thought. "I'll build one for the iPad as well. That'll double their productivity." That thought didn't last long. I'm not a registered iOS developer and even if I were it would take a week to get my dinky one-off app through the approval process.

This little episode reminded me yet again why Apple's Walled Garden is such a lose-lose situation for developers and users. Yes, if I were an iPad developer I could send the app to a select group of users without approval. And yes, there are other work arounds. But they're work arounds. Had my client and her staff been carrying open devices (like, perhaps, the forth-coming Android tables) it wouldn't have been an issue at all. The difference between open and closed platforms couldn't be more obvious.

Even within the Apple family of products the difference stands out. MacBook — build, zip, email. Client happy. iPad — build, submit, wait, release. Client unhappy.

iOS devices are cool but they exact a high toll…sometimes at the most inopportune moment.