Isn’t It Time Apple Allowed Others to Sell iPhone Apps?

Apple’s mysterious approval policies for its App Store have managed to infuriate developers and draw the attention of congressional do-gooders. So why does it stubbornly insist on being the exclusive distributor of iPhone apps?

The latest in a long line of dust-ups involves a developer named Perfect Acumen, which had managed to cram 900 relatively worthless apps onto Apple’s shelves before being banned last week. That move followed Apple’s graceless rejection of the official Google Voice app, which prompted an FCC inquiry and spurred speculation that AT&T may have demanded the ouster.

I understand Apple’s desire to monitor its retail space. Retailers have a right to determine what they stock their shelves with, of course, and can even differentiate themselves based on the merchandise they carry. And playing nanny has surely saved AT&T a bundle in customer-service calls from whiny users who, say, stupidly spend $1,000 to turn their phone’s screen red.

But Apple would be well-served to allow other outlets to offer iPhone apps, or at least permit users to jailbreak their phones to access downloads from other retailers — some of which are already gaining impressive traction among rogue developers and iPhone users. (Apple is currently lobbying the U.S. Copyright Office to continue to prohibit consumers from jailbreaking their handsets to circumvent DRM restrictions for copyrighted material.)

Apple could position itself as the premier vendor of high-quality iPhone apps, culling the best — and perhaps the most lucrative — apps and leaving the chaff for competing outlets. Not only would the move appease an increasingly irritated community of developers (who have plenty of new options when it comes to smartphone platforms), it might help prune Apple’s already unwieldy library.

Yes, Apple would certainly lose some revenue if it allowed others to sell apps to iPhone users, but analysts generally agree that the company doesn’t make all that much money from downloads anyway. Instead, the App Store and iTunes exist to fuel sales for Apple’s hardware business, where margins are far larger. Which is why Apple rakes in 32 percent of handset-industry operating profits, but a mere 8 percent of revenues, according to Burnstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi.

Developers are already souring on the App Store in a big way, and contempt for the iPhone may be spilling over from early adopters and techie geeks into the mainstream. Apple could do a lot to mend fences with both camps by permitting third-party storefronts, and it could actually help boost iPhone sales by permitting controversial apps to come to market through alternative channels. And, hey, if the company doesn’t do it voluntarily, the feds may force the issue.

Question of the week

Should Apple allow other retailers to sell iPhone apps?
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Colin Gibbs

Colin Gibbs

Mobile Curator Gigaom Network

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4 Comments Subscribers to comment
  1. ^^^Unfortunately what may be the original argument (this is best for consumers) is no longer true. When we are tied to Apple’s store we don’t get access to the best products: Google Voice, Google Latitude, etc.^^^

    Why so restrictive? BlackBerry allows users to download a file from the internet and run it locally. Can’t we all distribute our own apps? Or participate in whichever store we’d like?

  2. I agree with the article content. ^^^Apple AppStore is a nightmare for developers now. Many really good apps are lost in the ocean of commodity apps on Apple AppStore.^^^ Either Apple needs to innovate there (perhaps on search and discovery front) to tackle the no of apps or allow apps to be sold via other app stores and de-congest its own app store.

  3. ^^^They should allow for others to sell the apps, but that is not going to happen in the near future as we all know. Honestly, from a customer perspective, it doesn’t make that big of a difference who is selling the app, as long as you can get what you need.^^^

    What they should (and could) do is to stop the crazy policies in the app store and allow anyone to sell any app. They could create a concept of “Apple certified” applications.They could also add a disclaimer every time you try to install a “non-approved” app that says: “this has not been tested and could be potentially harmful to your phone. do you want to continue?”. I wouldn’t mind that and most of people wouldn’t either.

  4. ^^^What they should (and could) do is to stop the crazy policies in the app store and allow anyone to sell any app. They could create a concept of “Apple certified” applications.^^^They could also add a disclaimer every time you try to install a “non-approved” app that says: “this has not been tested and could be potentially harmful to your phone. do you want to continue?”. I wouldn’t mind that and most of people wouldn’t either.

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