Since Apple launched the App Store in 2008, there’s been an ever-increasing amount of attention paid to how it’s a ‘walled garden’. Most of the people who use this term usually say this is a bad thing and are proponents of Android’s ‘open’ platform.
The thing is, if there’s any place that needs walls, it’s a garden.
A few months ago, I carved out a garden in my backyard and had sod laid down so we could have a real lawn. Since I’ve started these two projects rabbits have been eating my grass like McDonald’s French fries and they’ve also snacked on the string bean plants which have finally started to sprout. My landlord gave me a gallon of rodent repellant that literally smells like shit but has garlic in it, and apparently rabbits hate garlic, like vampires. As far as I can tell rabbits are just as evil as vampires and only come out at night. And lets not even talk about the gophers. Oh the goddamn gophers. I’ve become Bill Murray’s character in Caddy Shack. I’ve tried smoke bombs and hoses down holes but the resilient bastards come back every day to bust open a new hole in my yard.
What made me think about all this App Store and garden stuff was a recent post by Matt Gemmell:
If you’re not in the mobile apps business to make money, then great – congratulations. This is your bus stop. Off you go. Have a nice life. I, however, am in business to make money. I write code because I like doing that, but the business part is about making money. Otherwise I’d be a hobbyist, and I’d be doing something else during the day. I’m thrilled to be able to do something I enjoy as a business, and I’m doubly thrilled to do it from the comfort of my own home.
Whilst the aforementioned story about the Android game didn’t surprise me, it did horrify me. Android is designed to be difficult to make money from, and the core issue is that it’s open – with the corrosive mentality that surrounds such openness.
So it dawned on me—I designed a garden (read: mobile app) for the rodents (read: pirates), not the me, the gardener (read: developer). I’ve set up a system where, by design, I have to constantly defend my property. I’m treating the symptoms of an open system, rather than the cause. The solution? A wall. It could be a literal fence around my property or putting my plants into those wooden planter boxes so they’re raised off the ground and harder animals to get at. You know why it’s called a green house? Because, well, everything is green inside and not a bunch of barren, chewed-down stumps.
Are walls the answer for everything in life? I don’t think so, but when you bring money into the equation, walls (e.g., vaults, fences, passwords, security) sure can help.
Apple’s ‘walls’ take many forms:
- An iTunes account is required to buy apps (even free apps)
- You can’t email or post app files to a server to share with people (see #1)
- You need to be a registered developer to create an app
- If you’re developing an app, it needs to be approved to be let into the App Store
- If you’re developing an app, you can’t use private APIs (see #3)
These are just a few of the examples of the types of walls Apple uses to create the kind of ecosystem where consumers can be confident they can find quality apps they’re willing to pay for and where developers can be confident they’ll be able to find customers for their creations.
So remember, a garden (and sometimes a lawn) with a wall is a healthy garden.