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Duplicates existing functionality

This addendum at the end of The iPad is the iPrius got to me:

Imagine when Adobe invests $X millions building Lightroom for a year only to have it rejected because Apple launches Aperture the same week.

With all of the discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of applying the iPhone OS to more general-purpose computing tasks, this is one aspect that’s easy to overlook at the beginning: software competition evaporates for anything already done by an Apple app.

It’s an acceptable trade-off for a smartphone, but is it healthy for anyone if all possibilities vanish for alternative native web browsers, email clients, media players, media storefronts, calendars, and contact managers?

And Apple’s apps span a wider range than just the iPhone’s “big four” bottom-row apps that have been forbidden to duplicate so far. How far will Apple’s “duplicates existing functionality” policy go as their App-Store-locked platforms are used for more general computing tasks?

If it were my time and money on the line, I’d certainly not want to be in the business of making an iPad photo manager, mapping app, ebook reader (narrowly missed that axe), slide-presentation builder, word processor, or spreadsheet. And that list will keep growing as Apple expands their software lineup to encompass nearly anything that’s mass-market enough to be worth their attention.

Another failure pattern that this situation creates is when an Apple app falls out of Apple’s favor and stops receiving significant improvements (e.g. iCal, Aperture), but is still covered by the competition ban. Users of those apps must simply live with the limitations or undertake the significant expense of dumping the entire platform.

I can’t think of any justifiable reason why it’s good for anyone in the long run — including Apple — to prohibit competition by apps that would otherwise be acceptable simply because Apple already made a similar one. And while most of the App Store’s policy issues are a mild nuisance at worst, we’re going to keep finding edge-case failures like this until the hopelessly broken policy of app review is significantly rethought.

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