Friday, April 9, 2010

Mobile Orchards Abandons iPhone Platform

Saw today that Dan Grigsby of Mobile Orchard is abandoning iPhone development and ceasing publication of Mobile Orchard. This is a shame. Mobile Orchard is one of the few podcasts that's ever asked me on, and Dan is just a nice guy. The iPhone dev community is a tiny bit worse for his leaving.

And I'm not altogether unsympathetic to his reasons for going. Apple's tightening grip on the platform has me feeling very conflicted. Apple's stuff, both on the surface and under the hood is just better than their competitors as far as I'm concerned, and not just a little better. Their stuff is more fun and more intuitive to use, and it's far more fun to program. I love the platform so much that I made a fairly drastic career change to one where I could make considerably less money just so that I could work with it every day. So, for me, I'm not about to abandon the platform any time soon because I don't see a viable alternative. And by "viable" I mean, of course, "fun from my personal, subjective, and very biased perspective".

There are, of course, other "viable" mobile platforms in the more traditional sense of the word. I could get by using my Nexus One as my primary phone, but I don't love it and won't without drastic improvements and changes. I could program Java or C#, but I wouldn't enjoy either to the extent that I enjoy programming in Objective-C (I've worked with both in the past, Java quite a lot). I still love this platform way too much to willingly leave.

We all know Apple likes control, and the more they get, the more they're able to take, which is a bit of a vicious cycle that I hope gets broken before too many more developers get as frustrated as Dan and leave the platform. I have no illusion that people who leave won't be replaced. They will. But much of what I love about this platform is the community, a community that developed when it wasn't as profitable or lucrative than competing technologies. It's a community of people who love what they do. Every time someone who loves what they do leaves and is replaced, there's a chance they'll be replaced by someone doing it solely for the money; because it's the hottest mobile market. Too much of that, and we'll be no different than the "Microsoft Developer Community", which is to say… no longer a community, but just a bunch of people who made similar career choices.



15 comments:

Mike said...

As much as I am a bit conflicted by all this in some ways I can see why Apple is doing this. I am actually in the "affected by this decision" group seeing as how I own Unity's iPhone game development platform.

The problem with the iPhone platform is that it may be too good. The fact that there are so many companies producing systems to make native apps is a pretty good indication of this. The App Store is totally inundated with crap. Apple can't just start rejecting apps because they suck (they would never hear the end of that). If past experiences hold true (and I don't see why they wouldn't in this case) when you start making tools that magically output apps to multiple different devices and OS's you end up with a net lower quality on each device than would have existed if just one device was targeted. Performance suffers. Usability suffers. The end user only sees the end product and it has the potential to make the iPhone look bad. There are no shortage of developers willing to use C, C++ and Obj-C so it doesn't suit Apple at this time. Perhaps if they were Palm and they really needed developers to get on board they would love the idea.

This post: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1250946 really hits the spot in my opinion.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Mike:

I was trying to figure out if Unity is really covered. by this. That "originally" language is hard to interpret. But my understanding is that with Unity, you end up generating an Xcode project that uses Obj-C and OpenGL. Is that not true?

The other question about this, what can they catch? Obviously, Flash apps are easy to catch because if you take apart the bundle, they don't look like iPhone apps. But, that's not necessarily true for all compatibility tools. Code generators that generate code that gets compiled into ObjC or C would be awfully hard to differentiate from an application written from the ground up in ObjC or C.

Mike said...

Unity does technically create an Xcode project so it *might* be OK with Apple. The code most definitely isn't "originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript" so if Apple wants to kill Unity with this they certainly can. The Xcode project that Unity spits out has the Mono runtime in there along with the AOT compiled C#/Javascript so that might end up getting it shot down. It's really hard to say at this point until Apple speaks up.

Are they just trying to kill Adobe? Is this new requirement because of some technical requirement for background apps? Nobody knows until Apple talks.

Jeff LaMarche said...

"Nobody knows until Apple talks."

Yeah, and they rarely do :(

Akuma said...

i still rearly don't get all this wining. Apple did just raise the bar and imho they did in good cause.
They don't want any stupid meta code be interpreted by a semi functioning runtime that emulates their API.
If your tool for app creation can output proper obj-c code then sure you can do it. Like that tool that creates Obj-C code from a XIB.
Afterwards do a compile by xcode and you are golden.
It definitely is not that much of a problem for adobe to adapt to this output.

PBenz said...

Jeff,

When I saw this line:

"I love the platform so much that I made a fairly drastic career change to one where I could make considerably less money just so that I could work with it every day."

I just had to respond. I lost both of my parents recently which caused me to do a lot of soul searching, and I ultimately decided to take a leave of absence from my job for at least a year to focus on something I've been becoming more and more passionate about the more I learn about it: iPhone/iPad/Mac programming. For the first time in my 20 year career, I'll be doing exactly what I want to be doing, driven not by dreams of receiving a huge paycheck, but by the respect and admiration of the technology itself, and the desire to help exploit that technology along with a community of people that loves to do what they do.

It's people like you that make me feel so much better about what I am about to do. I look forward to diving into your books, participating in the community, and making some great software!

Paul

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Patrick Alessi said...

To Dan Grigsby's point, I think that it would be nice if Apple would create a system to pre-approve app concepts. That way, you could at least get a preliminary blessing (or dismissal) of your concept before you invest the time and money in developing it.

Ethan Pelton said...

He'll be replaced. Classy. I like that.

Kieran said...

Its a shame and as I posted this morning on my own blog there are other ways for Apple to slow the rate of shovelware entering the system, by putting higher friction barriers per app, rather than worrying how its been coded, if native apps are better market economics should mean they rise to the top. As another point in 2010 do we need to be writing fart apps in any varient C?

As another Java programmer turned Obj-C I totally echo your views on the community and that is what is really inspiring me, even though the iPhone is "hot" right now there are far easier ways of making money from mobile than the app store, they are just not enjoyable or remotely fun from a personal perspective

Charles said...

The forums at Unity3D are in turmoil because of this, of course. There has been no clear answer, and people have stopped pre-ordering Unity 3. This the ONLY allowed thread to discuss the matter, all other threads are being closed or deleted:

http://forum.unity3d.com/viewtopic.php?t=48795

Now, I am not a Unity3D user or an iPhone developer, but as a video game journalist I always saw Unity as a great tool able to make 3D game development easier to attain for smaller developers. Let's face it - we all know that the huge success of the App Store was the result also of the efforts of all those small, tiny developers that tried to push the platform further.

And developing games is usually even harder than developing any other kind of app. When you setup a development studio for video games, you need a series of additional tools that you must either develop in-house or purchase. Middleware like Unity3D makes it possible for the smaller teams to have a quality product covering areas that are not covered by XCode for iPhone, and that would otherwise be impossible to develop in-house without huge investments.

The only companies that will be able to develop their in-house development tools and code generators will be big game developers.

Am I the only one seeing behind this whole thing something that goes well beyond just a "Flash Ban". It seems to me Apple might be limiting development capabilities of smaller teams in favor of well established teams, maybe in an effort to promote quality, but with the result of crushing the one-person teams that made the success of the platform?

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