Monday, 9 June 2014

Apple's strategy is all about "lock-in" for users and developers

Nearly all the announcements on last Monday 2nd June WWDC were about lock-in to Apple for both the users and the developers.  In this article we'll go through all the announcements and talk about why they cause lock-in.  But what is lock-in? Lock-in tries to get users to use all the Apple devices and services from iPhone, Mac, iWatch(when it arrives), iTunes, iMessage, AppleTV to all future internet devices for the body, home and car.  And lock-in makes developers use Apple proprietary technologies which may well be better because they're highly tailored  but also make it harder to develop for competitive platforms such as Android.

So let's go through the announcements and look to see where the lock-in points are.  First they talked about the new MacOS Yosemite operating system which has enhancements to iMessage so that it interworks with iPhone and Mac (and the assumption the iWatch), so that when something is entered on one device it can be completed on another -they are calling this continuity.

Heathkit is a layer of software which sits between the health sensor and an app retrieving the information.  The idea is to get all manufacturers to conform to this specification so that there is a central repository for the user's data.  We see the logic in this but question whether Apple should be interpreting this data in the Healthkit layer - anyway time will tell whether the specification is used by the sensor manufacturers.  This also causes a danger for the manufacturers because it means that at some point in the future Apple could undermine a particular device by building it itself.  Also the manufacturers who also support Android still need to develop their own software and interfaces or perhaps use something different from Google.  So this enables lock-in to Apples eco system.

Homekit is Healthkit for the home.  However, it seems much simpler and better designed than Healthkit - it does not attempt to interpret data and just enables a well thought out structure to the data for devices found in the home (now and in the future).  If I had a crystal ball I might see Healthkit being a failure and Homekit succeeding in the future.  In many ways the lock-in for Homekit is similar for manufacturers - the advantage is they integrate with a structure and can interact with other sensors.  However, the danger is they get locked-in into that eco-system and can be swapped out at a moments notice for Apple devices.  However, if they do a good job then they will survive or get bought up.

Cloudkit has existed previously and the additions are just incremental.  However Apple has realised  they have to compete with DropBox and Box who have implemented a great service.  I am sure iCloud will now implement the feature of proper file sharing correctly unlike Microsoft whose OneDrive implementation does not actually work properly currently. This is a bit of a disadvantage but I am sure Microsoft will get their software working correctly sometime especially as they're giving away so much disk space

Spritekit has pre-existed these announcements but some improvements has also been made in particular in the integration with Playground(see later).  Spritekit enables 2D graphics development and because it's specific to Apple it's a lock-in for developers.

Scenekit and Metal - these are both new enabling 3D rendering of graphics particularly for game developers.  Because they are proprietary to Apple again they lock in developers.

Swift and Playground  Swift is a brand new programming language fixing many of the issues developers have with Objective-C.  The fact that it is proprietary is a lock-in for developers, but it also makes life a lot easier taking away the memory management issues of objective C and making it easier to code standard use cases.  Furthermore the playground options allows developers to create examples really quickly and interactively.  Playground is a revolution for developers in the same way Visual Basic was a revolution for developers in the 1990s.  However, Apple still have the signing complexity to deal with because it is still not easy for developer to submit an app to the appstore.  The complicated steps in signing an app remain the barrier for all developers even those with real knowledge and experience.  

Scaling of images.  It's clear the iPhone6 will have a larger screen and developers will need to explicitly support this device.  As a result Apple have finally built in support for scalable images in the way Android have always done.  The concept was presented in the context of  iPhone and iPad support but its clear this is needed to support the larger iPhone 6 with screen size reported to be similar to the Galaxy S5.

Putting all these new developments into context its evident that both the user and the developer is being locked in to Apple technologies.

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