Over the past year, software for mobile phones has exploded from a fringe operation to one of the most popular mediums. Aided by Apple's App Store, Google's Android Market and RIM's BlackBerry App World, third-party developers are lining up in droves to offer software for the latest smartphones.
With the launch of these markets comes new challenges, and both developers and platform vendors are left to tackle the question of how to distribute and manage mobile applications. Solutions have ranged from Apple's tightly controlled iTunes App Store, to Google's far more relaxed attitude towards Android software and various markets in between.
But what advantages and drawbacks does each mobile apps service hold, and how could these services change in the future?
First, let's take a look at the Apple approach. The company launched the iPhone in 2007 but, owing to stability and security concerns, developers were not allowed to create their own software for nearly a year.
In the time since, the company has kept tight control over the marketplace, hosting the entire App Store on its own and requiring users to submit applications for approval. The standards, which forbid not only obscene and illegal content, but any software that competes with an Apple product, have come under fire from developers and have kept alive an outside market for software that runs on modified or 'jailbroken' iPhones.
This approach has real advantages in terms of stability and security. Apple minimises the risk of a potentially malicious or illegal application being offered and, if a dangerous app were to sneak through, the company can easily remove and disable the tool.
What Apple gains in immediate control over its market, however, the company may lose in the long term. In keeping strict and sometimes unclear control over the App Store, the company risks alienating developers and depriving users of what they want.
If the pile of rejected Apps grows large enough, developers and, in turn, consumers could look to other sources. This could lead to larger numbers of users running 'jailbreak' procedures.
While Apple doesn't currently condone or support jailbreaking the iPhone, the company may have no choice but to address the issue if enough users are performing the procedure, at which point the tightly-controlled iPhone App Store and ecosystem would be rendered all but obsolete.
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