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Apple's Introduction to the Wild West

Apple has been a beautiful company. People think of it as a superb marketer. It is. It is also a super design company. Apple, finally, is also a world-class logistics company. 

But now, with the iPhone AppStore, they've thrown themselves into new territory. Application developers get to sell their products through the AppStore, with Apple's approval, which helps Apple build a huge repository of software (read: complex code with a multitude of risks) without having to write it all themselves.

Note the paranthetical comment about multitude of risks. 

If Apple approves something for the store, great. Unless it doesn't work. Who gets the heat? The app developer. Some, sure. But so does Apple. And suppose it does work -- but it creates a functional issue for an Apple partner such as AT&T (for example, the "modem" software that allows an iPhone user to set up the phone as a local hotspot for WiFi access). Does the app developer get any blame? None. But Apple does.

And so Apple yanks down software it had previously approved.

And annoys an entirely new community -- app developers. Who blog. And blog. And complain to the tech media -- who blog, and investigate, and so on.

Is there a way around this? Yes. 

1. Apple slows down its approval process and has applications reviewed by a panel of stakeholders. This will probably catch the majority of issues, and the internal nature of the process allows Apple to capture business/decision rules and apply them effectively in the future, whether in EULAs or developer agreements, or in their own processes and R&D.

2. Leave things the way they are and jump in the middle of the conversation. In short, treat the Wild West of the AppStore as an opportunity to influence and balance the conversation, since it cannot be directly managed. 

The first option is more in line with Apple's DNA. The second one is more in line with the open nature of the new economy.

My own advice to Apple? (As if they'd ask.) 

Ride the horse headlong into the Wild Wild West (cue Will Smith). You can't avoid it, and while you have good will with the great iPhone, you can afford to stumble a few times, as long as you wind up in the conversation, publicly, with developers and customers. When you rely on them for your economic strength and good reputation, they don't want to be at arm's length. App developers are hungry for information about what Apple wants to and CAN sell. Customers are hungry for apps, and don't want to be confused by having them constantly yanked on and off the virtual shelf. If that confusion is inevitable -- and I think it is -- then Apple has to figure out how to be more public about the process it uses to approve or disapprove these apps.

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