Feeds

DRM-free music dream haunts Apple's app-store lock-in

Choice? There's no app for that

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Open...and Shut As much as we hate the wireless carriers, we may end up hating the app store vendors even more. Why? Because they create app-level lock-in that inhibits consumers' ability to move to alternative platforms.

While carriers mostly locked in users by blocking phone number portability, today's app stores prevent us from having a direct relationship with the app developer, forcing individuals and families to keep with one platform in order to centralize app purchases.

Don't get me wrong. App stores, for the moment, are really useful for making mobile app purchasing and delivery seamless and easy. While I think they're a brief stopping point on the way to a far more efficient app discovery and distribution medium - namely, the web - they serve a useful purpose today.

Unfortunately, they also serve some pretty pernicious purposes.

Once an app store vendor bills you for a set of apps, it's hard to justify purchasing them again on another platform. I encountered this recently when buying my son a new phone for his birthday. He wanted an Android device, which I was very happy to give him, as I wanted to be able to spend time using it.

One click away from the Samsung Capitvate, however, I stopped. It struck me that we'd have to repurchase all of the apps that he and I share (which include Real Soccer 2011 and Conquest) on our current iOS devices. And once he started buying Android apps, our app purchasing paths would continually diverge. I'm married with four kids: I can't afford too much app divergence. I reluctantly got him an iPhone.

App stores may only take 30 per cent of an app developer's sales, but they claim 100 per cent of the end-user's loyalty. Somehow this doesn't seem like a fair bargain for the app developer or the consumer.

Even as the cloud liberates enterprises and consumers alike from particular hardware, app stores tie users down to one particular platform.

And, no, Apple doesn't have a lock on app store lock-in, though it probably wishes that it could trademark the phrase. Google, Hewlett-Packard with WebOS, and RIM all play the same game.

It's not clear what, if anything, can be done to remedy the situation. No one wants to go back to the (ugly, limited functionality) walled gardens that carriers imposed on their customers for years.

Perhaps the answer lies with the Financial Times, which spurred Apple to ease its app purchasing restrictions by introducing an HTML5 web app that bypasses the App Store entirely. The Financial Times, not Apple, now owns its customer relationships, and can offer the FT experience on a wide variety of platforms, including iOS and Android.

This is a start, but some apps don't yet lend themselves well to an HTML5 approach. Even for those that do, most developers don't want to bypass app stores, preferring a multi-channel distribution strategy that enables them to reach their customers wherever they happen to be.

But that's the point: the customers are the app developers' customers, not really Apple's or Google's. Microsoft may have run a fantastically profitable Windows monopoly for years, but it never attempted to intermediate the developer/user experience in the way the app store providers are.

The ideal might be to allow consumers to purchase the right to install their app on a number of different platforms. Personally, I'd be happy to pay a premium so as to have app portability. While I doubt the app store providers are going to volunteer this right to end-users, perhaps if enough Financial Times-esque app vendors demand a direct relationship with their customers, either through HTML5 or some other means, the app stores will have no choice but succumb.

This would be poetic justice for Apple, which pushed the music industry into accepting DRM-free music, to see apps become "app store-free," too. One can hope. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Euro Parliament VOTES to BREAK UP GOOGLE. Er, OK then
It CANNA do it, captain.They DON'T have the POWER!
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online
Now you can run your own intelligence agency
Post-Microsoft, post-PC programming: The portable REVOLUTION
Code jockeys: count up and grab your fabulous tablets
Twitter App Graph exposes smartphone spyware feature
You don't want everyone to compile app lists from your fondleware? BAD LUCK
Microsoft adds video offering to Office 365. Oh NOES, you'll need Adobe Flash
Lovely presentations... but not on your Flash-hating mobe
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.