Developers like Frasier Speirs and Dave Winer are protesting Apple’s rejection of some iPhone applications, and saying they will no longer develop on the platform (let’s leave aside the fact that as far as I know Winer never developed for the iPhone in the first place).
The problem is that Apple rejects the applications only after they’re built and ready to roll into the app store. And recently Apple has moved beyond rejecting applications on technical grounds or simply because, in Apple’s opinion, they add no value to the community. Now Apple is explicitly rejecting applications because they are competitive with Apple applications.
So first off, I agree that it’s unacceptable for Apple to reject applications on discretionary grounds and without any “clear and unambiguous rules,” as Speirs puts it, as to what will and will not be accepted. In a happier world, developers wouldn’t waste their time building applications that can never be used by iPhone users. But none of that matters – developers will keep on building new applications even with the very real risk of rejection at the last moment hanging over their heads.
We’ve seen this all before with the Facebook platform. Facebook doesn’t block new apps from launching, but they’ve shown that they’ll compete with third party developers, give preferential treatment to revenue partners and won’t hesitate to suspend applications that that are annoying or harmful to users. Developers protested, but the apps keep on coming.
The fact is that there are more than twelve million iPhones in people’s hands today, and another 800,000 or so are likely sold each week. That is too much of an opportunity to pass up. Developers will complain, but ultimately they’ll play by whatever rules Apple demands. Even if those rules are ambiguous and subject to change regularly without notice.