Why Apple Gives Other Platforms the Cold Shoulder
When it comes to its hardware, applications, and services, Apple’s general philosophy may be best summed up by the expression “My way or the highway.” As a company that designs and makes its own hardware and software, Apple is able to maintain tight control over all aspects of its products, including its applications. Unlike Google, Apple carefully vets every mobile app before it is allowed to be sold in its official App Store.
While the App Store’s “walled garden” is intended to provide users with a seamless and malware-free experience, this restrictive approach is also used by Apple when it comes to expanding its apps to other platforms. In fact, when it comes to developing applications and services that can be used on other platforms, there’s no question that Apple is the most insular of the three companies that make the major platforms found on today’s mobile devices and desktop computers.
Technology analyst Jan Dawson, founder and chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, highlighted the stark differences between Apple’s approach to the development of cross-platform applications and services to the approaches used by Google and Microsoft in a recent blog post.
Dawson reports that Apple has only developed three applications that aren’t intended for its own iOS or OS X platforms: QuickTime, iCloud Drive, and iTunes have been developed by Apple for use on Microsoft’s Windows platform. The iPhone maker has never developed an application for Windows Phone or Google’s open-source Android mobile platform and desktop Chrome OS.
While the Beats Music app that Apple recently acquired is still currently still available on other companies’ platforms, Dawson did not count it because Beats Music was not a native app developed by Apple. Dawson also raised the possibility that Apple might withdraw the Android version of the Beats Music app that is currently available if the service is later integrated with iTunes, as a recent report from Re/code suggested.
It should be noted that Apple Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue said that Apple would continue to make the Beats Music app available on Android at Re/code’s first annual Code Conference earlier this year. But this may have been a statement geared toward easing U.S. regulators’ anticompetitive concerns, rather than a promise that the Beats Music app for Android would never be shut down.
Either way, whether it’s three applications or four, Apple’s lack of cross-platform application development stands in stark contrast to its competitors. Google and Microsoft have both developed dozens of applications to run on Apple’s iOS and OS X, as well as each other’s platforms. So why hasn’t Apple? There are several likely reasons behind the firm’s lack of cross-platform application development.
Dawson writes that there is a longstanding culture at Apple that is opposed to cross-platform development. Much of Apple’s ingrained opposition to cross-platform development was cultivated by legendary co-founder Steve Jobs. One of Jobs’s first actions when he returned to Apple in 1997 was to eliminate the Mac clone program so that the company would have full control over its hardware and software, as documented by LowEndMac. Jobs had a similar approach to cross-platform app development. Jobs’s philosophy was perhaps best summarized in a quote Dawson obtained from an authorized biography of the Apple co-founder that was written by Walter Isaacson.
“We put iTunes on Windows in order to sell more iPods,” Jobs told Isaacson. “But I don’t see an advantage of putting our music app on Android, except to make Android users happy. And I don’t want to make Android users happy.”
This approach explains why Apple has only created three applications, and why all of them have been made exclusively for the Windows operating system. Since Microsoft’s Windows is already the dominant operating system used in the education and enterprise markets, the applications that Apple has developed for Windows are geared primarily toward serving its own users who also use Windows, rather than being for the convenience of non-Apple users.
Apps that weren’t created solely for the convenience of Apple users were made “to sell more iPods,” according to Jobs. However, if Apple’s desktop operating system was entrenched in the enterprise and education markets as deeply as Microsoft’s, it is quite likely that the Cupertino, California-based company would not offer a Windows-based version of its popular apps in order to further bolster the appeal of its own ecosystem.
While it makes sense for Apple to offer its desktop Windows users access to certain apps, the iPhone maker has no reason to extend this courtesy to competing smartphone platforms. Not surprisingly, Apple hasn’t made any Android or Windows Phone versions of its native apps. Although the iPhone is an attractive and well-designed piece of hardware, one of the primary appeals of Apple’s mobile device is its wide selection of quality apps. Apple has no reason to offer its apps on a competing mobile platform, since that would only serve to dilute the appeal of its own devices.
There is also little financial incentive for Apple to develop cross-platform mobile apps, since its App Store already pulls in far more revenue than the Google Play app store. In January 2014, Apple revealed that its customers had spent more than $10 billion on the App Store in 2013. According to data compiled by analyst firm App Annie, the iOS App Store’s revenue was around 60% higher than Google Play’s in the third quarter of 2014, despite the fact that Google Play downloads exceeded iOS downloads by about 25%.
Although Windows is still the default desktop platform for many businesses, Apple has recently made moves to cement its position as the mobile platform of choice for enterprise. Earlier this year, Apple announced an exclusive partnership with IBM to develop “a new class of business apps” for the iPad and iPhone. CEO Tim Cook said in the press release announcing the partnership that “over 98% of the Fortune 500 and over 92% of the Global 500 [are] using iOS devices in their business today.”
For all these reasons, Apple is unlikely to change its approach to cross-platform app development any time soon.
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