Is 2011 like 1994 for Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and the Web?

Fact: In 1994 I thought Apple was going to own it all. By 1999 most magazines thought it was dead.
Fact: In 1992 Pointcast shipped. By 1999 it was dead.
Fact: In 1994 Microsoft was beta testing a system called “Blackbird.” They killed it before shipping it. It was designed to compete with Pointcast and AOL, both walled garden approaches.

What changed the course of all these technologies?

Developers and content producers.

I remember Pointcast well. I uninstalled it within weeks of trying it. It was seen back then in the same light as the iPad is today. “Cool.” “Revolutionary.” “Fun.” “Going to save publishing.”

Lots of people thought it was killed by lack of low-cost Internet (their business just didn’t work back then. Remember, back then we were paying to use CompuServe and Prodigy and AOL to connect to the Internet. Compare to now when I get free Internet from businesses I use. Just yesterday I was using wifi in an oil-change place in Silicon Valley).

No, what killed Pointcast was its lack of openness. At least that’s why I uninstalled it.

It was beautiful. Just like Time Magazine is on the iPad.

But it pissed me off. Everytime I’d read an article in it I’d try to tell someone else about it. I couldn’t. There weren’t any permalinks and the baaaahhhhssstttaaaarrrrdddddssss were so greedy that they made it impossible to copy and paste text from it.

Sure seems a lot like Time Magazine does on the iPad.

Guess what? I’ve already uninstalled that and the Wall Street Journal and New York Times apps are next. They suck. They suck the same way that Pointcast did. Greedy baaaahhhhssssttttaaaarrrrdddddsssss who don’t want me to tell anyone else about their awesome content. Well, it sure is pretty. Gag.

So why haven’t I returned my iPad if its major content partners behave just like Pointcast’s did? Because, well, the iPad does so much more and has a Web browser that hasn’t yet been limited like Pointcast’s content displays were (and Time’s and WSJs). My fight is not with the iPad, but with the old-school media publishers. Luckily there’s other ways to get their content (get the Skygrid app, it’s most excellent) too. So, they can look pretty and collect money from people who don’t realize just how limiting these apps are (Time did get my $5, but not anymore).

What did Pointcast in (content publisher greed) isn’t what did Apple in, though. No, that was all about the closed arrogant system that Apple had built. It turned off developers by the droves.

Not that Apple was all that wrong. They were trying to protect users from ugly apps. They saw the Macintosh as “art” while Bill Gates had no such delusions. Bill told developers “build” and even gave them a tool that looked like a modern Hypercard: Visual Basic. Apple in the meantime killed Hypercard because it enabled normal people to build really ugly and wacky apps.

What did Steve Jobs do yesterday? Told the normal people “you will NOT build apps on my beautiful machine.”

Now WHY would he do such a thing? Well, for one thing it might Steve trying to return the favor Adobe paid Apple when Adobe didn’t support OSX.

Nah. Steve has bigger visions than that. Here’s my theory: Steve knows that apps are lockin. They lock users into a platform. Heck, so far I’ve spent $200 on apps for my iPad. So, now, if a competitor comes along (say from Google) they have to convince me that their machine is worth more than $200 more to get me to switch.

But what apps are really getting people to buy? Well, Appsfire has been tracking the most popular iPhone apps and you’ll see that just a small number generate most of the revenue (and, more importantly, PR attention) for Apple.

So, what does Apple need? Is it more apps? No way. At 130,000 apps Apple already has enough apps to keep a sizeable lead for years over its competitors like Google’s Android OS.

No, what Apple needs is better quality apps. So, does Apple care about templated apps or ones developed in Flash or some other cross-device language/system? No way.

In fact, if anything, Apple does NOT want developers to develop apps for other hardware at all, or if it must, it wants the apps on other platforms to suck and suck visibly. Just like today. Tweetie (which was just purchased by Twitter, more on that in a second) is a LOT better than Seesmic or Twitroid on Android. Steve Jobs LOVES when that happens because it keeps you locked into the iPhone and iPad.

So, how does Steve Jobs make sure that the best developers work on iPhone and don’t work on building systems that make it easy to port apps from iPhone to Android or Microsoft’s new Windows Mobile 7, or to Nokia or to RIM’s Blackberry (which is VERY hard to develop for)?

Well, easy, make it against the rules!

This pisses everyone off, because they thought that they would be able to hire one development team to build for all platforms, but now they’ll have to build two development teams: one for the iPhone and one for everything else.

This guarantees that apps will suck on everything else, but will be fast and special on iPhone. Why? Because, well, if you hire a developer who can do Objective-C that developer is generally going to be a lot more talented than someone who can only do Flash. That developer will come up with some cool new features that the Flash or .NET versions won’t have (or, even worse, can’t have because those systems must compile to a lowest-common-denominator).

Steve Jobs wins this game. Why? Because he — unlike in 1994 — controls the developers.

Will that change? Only if enough of the world’s top developers vote against their own self interest and develop for other platforms. We already have an example of one: Joe Hewitt, who is the guy who wrote the Facebook app for iPhone. He said he isn’t building apps for the iPhone anymore. Already on the iPad there’s one HUGE app that isn’t there: Facebook’s.

Until at least 20 other of the top 100 iPad/iPhone developers join him this won’t matter and Steve Jobs has control. Will others join Joe?


So now Twitter is showing its own version of causing trouble with developers in order to move to the next level. What did Twitter do? In the past few days they’ve released a Blackberry client and bought iPhone developer Tweetie and said they intend to rerelease Tweetie for free under the Twitter brand.

This was like a bomb going off in the Twitter developer community as developers like Seesmic and Tweetdeck realized they had a new competitor: Twitter itself. How unplatform like!

But what really is going on is Twitter is about to unleash SuperTweets (well, OK, Twitter will probably call them something else, but the effect is the same). What are SuperTweets? A new metadata display surface that goes along with Tweets so a new form of advertising can be born.

This is why Twitter needed to do its own clients to ensure that SuperTweets would be seen by enough of its users to make them valuable and also to ensure that other client developers got on board. Tweetie is now a stick that Twitter can use to get everyone else in line, just like Mark Suster says Salesforce did after acquiring Koral: explain the new opportunities that SuperTweets (or whatever they will be called) will bring to all developers.

Now it’ll be interesting to see what Seesmic does in reaction to the beating they seem like they are taking (ala on Techcrunch too!).

Personally I see a great way for Seesmic to come out on top: add curation features. If Seesmic had that I’d switch to it instantly and start building exclusive content for its real time system that it could then push to its own clients and sell advertising for. That’s how it’ll dig out of its hole, but not sure that Loic is able to see this. He’s about to announce a new platform that gets VERY close, though, so it wouldn’t require much more work.

Seesmic has a major chance to make everyone else look like Pointcast. Dave Winer shines the light on the situation. I sure need curation features, will be interesting to see who delivers them first.


The question I’m hearing over and over as I visit entrepreneurs is “how open is Facebook going to get?”

I am hearing rumblings that Facebook is about to explode its own bomb at its F8 conference: one that makes everyone realize just how serious Facebook is about becoming the connective tissue of Web services and sites. I don’t think we’ll hear the real leaks until after Twitter’s Chirp conference is done (Twitter’s conference is this week, Facebook’s is next).

Anyway, all these words are about one thing: there’s a fight between closed systems and open systems going on right now, just like there was between Pointcast and Blackbird and AOL one one side in the 1990s and the Web on the other. We know now that the Web won.

Will it win again?

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

75 thoughts on “Is 2011 like 1994 for Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and the Web?

  1. Speaking of openness, Robert: Clean your own house first. Get rid of that totally useless and totally annoying thing called “disqus”. I hate it if I need to login to some shitty proprietary platform just to “like” or “dislike” a comment. That's so last century.
    And I'm pretty sure you actually hate that kind of stuff too. How much do they pay you for supporting their crap on your otherwise nice blog?

  2. Yet paradoxically, Apple's actions generally tend to emphasize profit over volume. They restrict OS X to Apple hardware, deliberately limit features, charge premium prices, etc. That doesn't strike me as a strategy designed to create a monopoly.

    On the other hand you have Microsoft, which has been quite explicit in its intentions with “a computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software” as it original mission, followed up by “Windows Everywhere.” And if you read comments by proponents of Android, they seem perfectly delighted with by idea that it will someday eradicate walled gardens from the face of the earth. That's not to say that Google intends to create a mobile OS monopoly. I don't know what their strategy is, but any monopoly from any player would probably not be in consumers' best interests.

  3. Absolutely agree. Mobile developers before iPhone were developing on different languages and different platforms, why they think it should have change? Who said that iPad is a laptop? For the next few years it IS necessary to write using native API to consider a corresponding user experience (and even on the desktop most of the cross-operating-system meta-platforms didn't have much success).

    I'd like to point that in my opinion the problem is not with Apple and Adobe. It is just a beginning. There is a need to reconsider web and app development to achieve user experience for touch enabled devices. I don't see HOW you can port existing apps (from Flash, Java or any other) to mobile touch devices such that they will be simply useful. Same stands for 90-95% of WEB sites! They all needs to be redesigned for touch devices regardless if they are using Flash or HTML5 or anything else.

    Changes are coming to all developers, but I see only flame about Abode and Apple :) Just wait for the first Chrome OS or Windows 7 touch enabled device and open your site. See if you can still use it without mouse.

  4. Yes, reasons are good :) As most of the apps built for iPhone are really ….mmm, not of the best quality, it is time to get back to making sure quality is high.

    I would even suggest Apple to have motivation scheme, like if person who buys application removes it in 2-3 days (or a week), then do not charge them (or money back, or keep money in the iTunes account for something better). Reasons: (1) it is ok for a quality and useful apps to be paid and (2) if app is crap, why should I pay to know that? If they are priced 0.99-9.99 doesn't mean I want to spend $200 on the …mmm, apps that I will not use at all. Same for any mobile platform. Software on the desktops have evaluation time, why not have it in the mobile apps as well?

  5. Apple could learn a valuable lesson from real technological innovation – the likes of which we see in this TED preso. Rather than being stuck on this notion of bucking the system and pushing polished toys that feed into a false, elitist feeling of buying into something better, that only people who are really in the know, know all about, Pranav Mistry explains how “ingenuity doesn’t have to be expensive” and demonstrates the very essence of why it needs to be “open source” and made more available to the masses (12:19).


  6. Apple could learn a valuable lesson from real technological innovation – the likes of which we see in this TED preso. Rather than being stuck on this notion of bucking the system and pushing polished toys that feed into a false, elitist feeling of buying into something better, that only people who are really in the know, know all about, Pranav Mistry explains how “ingenuity doesn’t have to be expensive” and demonstrates the very essence of why it needs to be “open source” and made more available to the masses (12:19).


  7. İnteresting,valuable,and explicit post.One can easily see the whole picture…
    Plus, we should be focusing on the events,apps.on Web,what's going to be their respective future
    in days ahead…
    Scientific figures,through the centuries, have strongly reminded people,that they should always keep close
    ties with the past, not to repeat the wrong investments,applications,policies,etc.
    Lessons to take; any company,invention,innovation,changes,can only be succesfull if it fits the taste,and likes
    of the customers, and users…

    This is the, “sine qua non rule” of business,and life itself…
    Thank You Robert.
    Hsan Sabri Kayaoglu

  8. I’ve been using Flash since it was still called FutureSplash.
    Adobe is not open at all and did a lousy integration of Fireworks and Dreamweaver into CS4.
    Above all, they started this war of words with one of their evangelists telling Apple to go screw itself.
    Instead, they just had to come up with an app that was not below standard.
    Is that too much asked?

    As for Android, do you really think Google is not in bed with Apple? And so is Microsoft, by the way. How else can you explain Apple’s perfect cross-platformability?

  9. Apple's days are numbered. One of these days every phone will be a smartphone, and they will NOT be Apples. They will probably be running Android (as will your TV, GPS, etc) and while it is possible that no single device will have the market share that Apple has, collectively they will out-number Apple by a large margin. Already in some markets (USA?) the number of Android phones is approaching the number of iPhones.

    As for “Apps”, the only native App I want to have to use is the browser, everything else should be in the cloud, accessible from any dumb device with a screen.

  10. I'm rooting for the web and it's openness anyday. Even after pissing so many people off, it's not like Jobs has ruined the app ecosystem – on the contrary, i think this move will certainly improve the overall quality of apps…

    I can't help feel for Adobe, but ultimately they've screwed themselves and it's biting them in the arse. Why? They chose Windows as there primary development environment. I like twitter and their Laissez-faire platform (even if they've just filled in the hole). If you're a company developing third party apps, don't expect to make any real money tho..

    Sad to see no real business model for them, but when you have 100's of millions invested why would you change?

    Good post Robert…

  11. TweetCaster is a very good Twitter app on Android. I use it on my Nexus One. It's much better than the one you mentioned and better than whatever I had on my iPhone.

  12. The web should be kept free and open. And now that Adobe at last shown some interest and demos in generating HTML5 there is hope.

    Flash is not an open standard and has no place on the web. It is Adobes proprietary platform. Demanding that Apple runs this for them is plain ridiculous.

    The native iphone apps are proprietary and locked in. That is the whole purpose and idea behind writing them – to use every feature of the device and really optimize for it. There are no advantages allowing generic cross-platform technologies here, only disadvantages.

    Adobes stuff should really generate HTML5 which is the crossplatform interface on Apples devices. They can still be packaged and delivered though the app store (and run offline). But they should be HTML5.

    1. To call Flash proprietary is not really correct:
      1) The swf format is open and you are free to write your own Flash Player.
      2) The SDK, compiler and Flex framework is open source.
      3) RTMP is an open specification.
      4) Actionsscipt is based on the ECMAScript standard.
      5) The Actionscript Virtual Machine has been donated to Mozilla foundation.

      The only sense it’s proprietary today is that the actual player that Adobe distributes is not fully open source. It contains proprietary technology for video and audio codecs which makes it difficult.

      By the same definition HTML5 is not open since the h.264 codec is proprietary.
      It’s just that the browser rather than the Flash Player will have to contain proprietary code, and that’s why Firefox doesn’t have any plans of supporting h.264.
      If you want to be able to deploy the formats that content providers, developers and consumers want, proprietary technologies cannot be completely avoided.
      Hopefully that will change in the future, but that has nothing to do with HTML5 vs Flash since the only difference between those technologies is the container format.

      And while both the video tag and canvas is features that should have been part of the HTML spec long ago, they do not replace Flash.

      Can you open binary sockets in HTML5?
      Can you generate and process audio?
      Can you create multitouch applications?
      Will you be able to integrate C/C++ code client-side?
      Do you have any good libraries for 3D and physics?
      Can you run movies full screen with interactive overlay, subtitels or contents triggered by cue points?

      If you don’t need any of that and is simply looking to play back video or animating vector graphics HTML5 will be able to do the job, but it will be long time before you can rely on users having support for HTML5. And even if they do you will still have issues with different browsers supporting different codecs.

      What I don’t get is this constant war mentality. It seems like when a new technology appears people think “what will this kill?”. I think it’s pretty obvious that we are just getting more and more diversity. There is room for some competition when it comes to technologies for delivering interactive multimedia, and probably we will see both HTML5 and Flash in widespread use in the future along with other solutions like Silverlight and Unity.
      I don’t know why there needs to be a single dominating technology.

      I guess the reason many developers wish the death of Flash is that for them it feels closed.
      A video tag and dropping in some JS to draw on the canvas feels convenient to them, while embedding an swf is like a portal to a different universe.
      And in that case, use HTML5 when you find you can reach enough of your audience with that.
      But don’t be childish and “no place on the web” for anything you don’t happen to prefer yourself It just shows that you fear the competition, which means you probably know that the technology you are rooting for in fact not that superior.
      You don’t see a lot of Flash-developers saying how they wish that new HTML specifications should be scrapped and that they hate competition, and I guess that’s because they know that they are working on a solid platform with a very bright future.

  13. Thanks Magneus…Cool

    I think someone mentioned that the Three20 code was a mess – True? Would that make him a good dev in some areas but lousy at iPhone OS?

  14. He's worked at Netscape, created Firebug, DOM Inspector, iUI, and a few other odds and ends. He also released much of the Facebook for iPhone code in a library called Three20.

    He has my respect.

  15. Of the things you list th web is the most vulnerable. Apple's devices has shown us that much of the audio/video content of the web is not based on free/standards-based technologies.

    *That* is one serious problem. That one company controls it all with a proprietary plugin.

    The product naive API:s is one thing. But the web should be the free market anyone can build for/on.

  16. Excellent retort! Never mistake the complaints of the early-adopter horde as being representative of the true, average Joe or Jane consumer.

  17. Scoble are soooo wrong.

    If you want to do WinPhone 7 – you will have to use something so your app is on the safe side for approval to the coming MS appstore – you are locked to C# in practice. If you want to do Android, Java is the only practical choice.

    If you want to do iPhone/iPod/iPad the Objective-C was the safe choice.

    Now Adobe's attempt to “sneak Flash in the backdoor” (as their CTO Kevin Lynch called it in february) forced Apple to spell it out loud to once again say “no thanks” to the flash player. The apps their tool produces statically links the Flash Player to each app but the interpreter is removed and the opcodes replaced with compiled calls to the Flash Player. You cant access the iPhone API:s directly.

    You have to remember that Adobe has made itself into a platform vendor. It is now in direct competition with Apple and Microsoft. When Adobes attack on Apples platform is over I think Apple will relax again.

    We are also not talking about desktop computers here. The OSX developer license wasnt changed. Only the iPhone. These are finely tuned resource-constrained consumer devices. To achieve more than 10 hour battery life the iPad can only consume 2.5W – this is incredible.

    You also have to remember that the iPad/iPhone are not designed to please the technerds. They are designed to empower the rest – and the success of the appstore shows that they have succeeded. And all those 185.000 apps are, with a few exceptions, written in Objective-C.

    So if you add it all up. Adobes attack on the platform and the resource constraints. Then the new license terms seems well advised. It is not what we all prefer – but what else could they do?

    Now for the iPhone there is “light” tools available if you want them. But you have to use HTML5! And there are frameworks that package these as app-store apps if you dont want a web-site.

    So we are left with the real cry-babies out there. Flash-developers. The shovelware factory that produce all those crappy ads :-) But Adobe has started to show a tool that exports their beloved Flash movies as HTML5 (Javascript+Canvas) so they will have a way in. Both to produce apps and to produce ads.

    A for Twitter. I dont really have a problem. This is what usually happens and very understandable. The most obvious functions become integrated with the platform.

    As for Facebook. Well – we gave the Facebook base library a look (the Three20 one) to see if we could use it. So I fully understand they are late to the iPad party. That base library is such a mess, I would rewrite their app from scratch – maybe that is what they are doing :-)

  18. “This guarantees that apps will suck on everything else, but will be fast and special on iPhone. Why? Because, well, if you hire a developer who can do Objective-C that developer is generally going to be a lot more talented than someone who can only do Flash” << How do you work that one out? Seems like an unfair call to me. There are apps built with Flash, packaged with Adobe CS5 Packager and was a staff pick on App Store.

    “Chroma Circuit by Bowlerhat Games is a very good example. Chroma Circuit started out as a Flash based web game. It was one of the first apps that got packaged as an iPhone app using the Packager for iPhone. Apple didn’t seem to mind playing Chroma Circuit on their iDevices as they featured it as a staff pick on iTunes a while ago.”

    Source :

  19. Robert,

    I think your facts (conclusions) at the beginning are a bit off but maybe I am mistaken.

    I do believe you could point out that Steve Jobs was not the CEO of Apple, Computers (now Apple, Inc) in 1994, right? Wasn't Mr. Jobs with NEXT until Apple bought the company in 1996? Mr. Jobs became the Interim CEO and canned many projects, leading to the NEXT technology becoming part of the Mac OS X and the iMac?

    This always led me to the conclusion, Apple failed in the mid-90s because of their lack of innovation from the late 80's through mid-90's. Mr. Jobs brought that innovation back to the company in 1996 and this came to fruition in the early 2000's.

    Good article as always.

  20. I used to have a lot of Palm apps. The idea of apps isn't new. And they are cheap enough to leave behind if I go to another platform. I have a few Blackberry apps. When I get an android phone this summer, I'll probably get apps there, too. And I don't need 300,000 apps. A choice from 100 or 200 is probably good. Apps may not be a lock in.

  21. As I've said elsewhere before, the average user of Twitter, FB, or iPhone does not know what a platform is, much less whether it is open or closed. The consumer wants cheap, convenient, performs well, nicely designed. If that's Apple, great. If it's Android, also great. Google has always suffered from paying too little attention to design — look what design did for Target. If Google had good design, it would be even more popular than it is now.

    As for Twitter, the average user of Twitter on the phone buys the app his friend tell him to buy if there's no app called “Twitter” per se, so he will buy Tweetie.

    These weekend geek arguments go way too far in caring about what only a handful of people find important.

  22. Curious – Is Joe Hewitt considered a “top developer” only because he did the Facebook app or because he really is a top developer? Has he done anything else?

  23. Hi, Robert:

    (1) Thanks for the smackdown re MSM walled garden applications, with their “no highlight/copy” (WSJ) and hidden URLs. However, I know business folks in Seattle who think that they are the cat's meow.

    (2) You might rethink Joe as an example of folks POed at Apple: “iPad is exactly the product I've been wishing for ever since I wrapped my mind around the iPhone and its constraints.”

    (3) There is another POV on constraining developer freedom of choice of programming language, from @DanielEran

    Paraphrasing, there's no “cry of foul” because developers for Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, or any other game console “must not only use the languages and tools the vendor outlines, but typically must also pay thousands of dollars for licensing fees, specialized development hardware, and jump through a variety of other hoops.”

    Then there's the truism that if an app doesn't work well on the iPhone (plays poorly with others, drains battery, etc) the average consumer will blame Apple. A long time ago, open-hardware folks (dunno if you were in that camp) ranted and raved because Apple kept such a tight rein on hardware/software … but the result was stuff that “just worked” — when the PC was as far from plug-and-play as the US is today from having a coherent high speed broadband policy.

    (4) The open-closed battle is probably one that is as old as mankind. I'm far more concerned about Facebook's plan for world domination than Apple's requirement that developers work in a certain programming language when developing for phones and phone-like hardware.

  24. Funny that Steve's rationalization for this latest Soup Nazi incident is to protect us all from crappy apps. If that's the standard, Steve needs to take a more careful look at the tens of thousands of crappy apps that already permeate the App Store. Sad that Steve and apparently Apple actually believe that they are the only ones who can filter out lousy software. The ultimate filter will be when Apple's hardware products fail because of this madness. Too bad.

  25. I believe that PointCast can come back today in a new format (and yes, more open). We're working on that with Tomzy ( Also remember that PointCast went through serious management regime changes (quite often) which no doubt had a serious affect on the organization and it's failure.

  26. Great article. Scary when we all lived through this stuff like PointCast. I wonder if your article is, in a way, too encompassing because it takes on so many topics. Each could be an entire debate. In short:

    1. Apple. It can't resist its instinct to be closed. Jobs seems to run it like a “benevolent” autocratic state as in “we know what's best so we'll build that and nobody gets a vote” whereas Google is democracy. Democracy is never perfect, but like Churchill said, “it's the worst form of government until you consider all of the alternatives.” (or something like that)

    2. Twitter. I actually think they're open. More like Google than Apple. I think their problem in this instance was more with communication strategy than outcome.

    3. Seesmic. I believe in aggregation tools so if they continue to innovate I think they can build a viable company.

    4. Facebook. I'm surprised they don't come under more scrutiny. For those of us old enough, Facebook is AOL 2.0. Yes, it's better technology. But remember the old days when brands put at the bottom of their page, “AOL Keyword = Toyota.” Suddenly people are building Fan Pages and everything else “inside of the walled garden” rather than in the open Internet.

    5. Google. I thought Google had become Microsoft. I routed for Google for years as “David” only to find them becoming “Goliath” and making it difficult for startup companies. But, on reflection, I'm very thankful for the existence of Google. They have the profit motive, but they have the right open intentions that will benefit us all.

    Thanks for this important post.

  27. While I agree with you on the lameness of the publication appa I've seen, I'll say that my beef with pointcast — and why I uninstalled within a day was that it took over my computer every time it started to download. I could be typing something and boom my computer would stop and stat letting pointcast take over. Several years ago sports illustrated tried a newer version of the idea and it flopped also even though bandwidth wasn't the issue. Check out the NPR app. It has several sharing tools built in.

  28. I know its a generalization, but the idea that free trumps quality is already out there…. The issue it raises is that while you've spent over $200 on iPad Apps, what if you could get ALMOST the same quality for free on another platform ?
    Especially if it was a platform that already had an existing reason for being carried around with you, such as a smart phone ? Of course that begs the question – would you rather carry an iPad or a smart phone – I can see the answer going both ways depending on your utility of the two devices.

  29. BTW, here is a rather well-stated rationale for curation from a “normal”, not-too-techy user over on Amplify:

    “As some of you know, I maintain two blogs at This morning, as is the case with many mornings, breaking news was released of interest to my readership; namely, the imminent retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens. This is the kind of information that needs to be blogged quickly, accurately, and with reference to authoritative sites as required.

    It is no easy task to gather one’s thoughts and write a full-blown article from scratch with such speed, particularly if you are balancing other daily commitments. Often, attempting to do so will result in badly-written, error-ridden work.

    However, here is how you can use Clipmarks and Amplify as a team to quickly clip the gist…”

  30. The only question that I have is… How will tomorrow’s killer app/platform/??? develop on iPhone before other platforms if it’s harder to get in?

    Let’s say the year is 2014. Apple and Android have stayed in relatively similar market positions, albeit Android being slightly closer to parity. Apple still lead in number of apps, have “killer” facebook, twitter, etc. apps. A little company called (for the sake of example) “Toroko” start up with some brilliant idea. At first, it’s niche, but they look like they could be the facebook/twitter/google of 2014-2017. Six months after launch, they become media darlings (like Chatroulette). They want to use a function that isn’t in Apple’s public API lists, but that they can do on Android.

    What happens? They can’t release on Apple without borking their concept, so they choose not to release anything. People can just use Safari to use their website. On Android (or S^3, I’m not particular to Android, this is just for the sake of example) they release a very good app that allows their idea to flourish. Sure, they’re not alone. Other companies have already released apps on both Apple platforms and Android that range from being little more than a glorified web bookmark to a substantial application that allows easy access to most important features. But since they don’t have support from the developers of the back-end at “Toroko”, they can’t really transform the experience to suit their app like the “official” application does, adding new features and concepts from day one, whilst being free (“Toroko” generates revenue from what people do on the platform, not from selling access to it).

    If “Toroko” is really a success, then Apple is facing a situation where they have to adapt their “walled garden” approach to suit the desires of developers, and since it’s only a few months after “Toroko” releases on Android that they’ll see if it’s a success, by the time they’ve chosen to adapt to suit the app, released the APIs, and “Toroko” are happy with the app, it’s six months or later since the Android app has been out there. For six months, Android has been pushing in every communication channel that with their platform, you can use “Toroko”. “Toroko” has had for six months on their website a link towards the “mobile application” that is only for Android.

    Perhaps Apple will ride the storm. But it’s rare to know what will be tomorrow’s big thing. And even harder to design in advance a walled garden that will enable them to flower. There are loads of creative developers out there, and it’s highly probable that some of the ones that will make great programs in 5 years time are still in college, so who knows which language they’ll choose/know when they start developing their idea?

    The bigger problem Apple face is the question of if portals are going to remain money makers. You’ve spent $200 on apps? What if in a year’s time all the “essential” apps (Twitter, Facebook…) are free, and even most other apps are free thanks to iAd? What if the Android market also has these apps, and they’re also free or ad-supported thanks to admob-Google’s merger? Apple’s “lock-in” exists because people have spent money in the store and don’t want to “lose” this money by changing to another system. So when the iPhone 5 comes out, they’ll buy it and transfer their apps from the iPhone 3GS to it. But if in 3 years time they’re not paying for anything they use anymore, the question will boil down to “do I want the iPhone 5 or the Samsung/HTC/LG/…?”. Apple lost that battle in the 90s with personal computers. Can they win it with mobile devices? I’m not sure. I’m surprised that Jobs vetted iAd for that very reason. 130,000 apps is only relevant if they’re renewed within two years or so. The 500 twitter apps from 4 years ago are already irrelevant, as are several thousand (or tens of thousands) of apps that have either “died” through lack of developer commitment, or been “bested” by newer apps. But I digress.

    Great analysis.

  31. Exactly right, Mark, once people are used to building the equivalent of large curated mind-map-like structures with improved tools, we'll never be able to believe how relatively primitive things were in the first phase of Web2.0…

    So far we've mostly been building relatively random lists, lists of posts, lists of comments, lists of tweets, lists of links, asf. But there has been little to no prioritization of these lists, few ways to reorder the stacks.

    DISQUS incidentally has been doing a pretty good job already by at least having nested comments, and resort by “Like” (popular). What has been missing are functions like “To Top” or “To bottom” to allow the owner of a post to easily curate comments by (subjective) quality.

    Robert has been curating tweets to his Twitter Favorites, but the feature has been a dud for Twitter, and doesn't allow for much remixing after the fact. One way to work around this has been to properly tag tweets (your own, and RTs of others' tweets) and then resurface them through e.g. Friendfeed as an archive/search engine. See example on geo-location/LBS here:

    But there again we just get things back chronologically, without ability to remix, and regroup things more logically. And of course most normal people find these FF archives less than usable/elegant/visually pleasing/intuitive.

  32. Great analysis Scobleizer! from the cheap seats where I sit, Apple's behavior with iPad/iPhone ecosystem makes me feel like they could end up being monopolists far worse than anything we may have feared from Microsoft. in the famous words of fictitious robber-baron Gordon Gekko: “…greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

  33. I believe it's not about ugly templated apps – not at all. Templated apps can be made in frameworks developed in Objective C as well. It's about platform lock-in for developers, rather than consumers.

    Let's say Apple releases new features to iPhone OS, and an intermediary layer (Adobe) and their Flash toolkit is slow to adopt them. What happens? It's Adobe controlling when third-party app developers can make use of these features.

  34. Man Robert, the more I think about it, the more valuable a curation web/dev app will be not just to tech journalists and hobby bloggers, but to normal folks too. The more meta data & contextual relations we add, the more useful messages become. My own Twitter drag, drop & publish design ( just a JavaScript test) begs to be brought to good ole web feeds of all shapes and sizes.

    Great work, glad to see you chewing on this hot topic and framing it well

  35. “but now they’ll have to build two development teams: one for the iPhone and one for everything else.”

    Or they budget cut and release one team for all the other platforms and leave the iPhone behind. It’s a walled garden, and it will die – its only a matter of time

  36. I think the real question will be whether customers vote with their virtual feet – the app store being a lock-in is an interesting observation in this regard. Time will tell whether that will stand up to an Android + free/cheap Flash multitouch apps platform. After all, the mobile market moves quickly, phones get replaced, and Android is likely to end up on the smartest hardware.

    My instinct: based on past walled garden / restricted access scenarios, open equivalents will win out. The path to app quality is open access.

    1. Charlie, you are absolutely right. The pundits, Scoble included, love Apple. That’s fine. But in the end, openness will win the day.

      Android will be the dominant mobile platform in a few years. Scoble and the other pundits are missing the bigger picture: Android. Will. Be. Everywhere. Phones. Televisions. Car navigation. Set top boxes. Refrigerators. Microwaves. Tablets. And on and on. Scoble and his brethren never seem to take this into account. Do a search and you will see that these are all already in development.

      As for the oft trotted out 130, 000 app argument, again the pundits miss the point. When Android reaches say… 50,000 apps, that argument will begin to mean less and less because all of the most important apps will be there. Pop quiz: who offers the most channels? Comcast? DirectTV? Dish Network? Who knows? Who cares? As long as the major players are on a given platform it doesn’t matter if one has 150 channels and the other has 450. And pretty soon consumers’ eyes will begin to glaze over. They (rightly) won’t see much difference between 130, 000 or 50, 000.

      And those developers that Scoble thinks Jobs has such a tight grip on will develop for Android. Android is innovating at such a breakneck pace that Apple’s once-a-year refresh of the iphone will be unsustainable. With Android everywhere, developers won’t be able to ignore it. And neither will Scoble.

  37. Nice analysis Robert. I might be one of the few developers who is pumped about Twitter's recent moves. Only because it seems to have made what I am releasing all the more valuable.

    Looking forward to seeing you at Chirp.

  38. Scoble – As a content provider myself (on obviously a smaller, niche scale compared to Time), you are right on the money with the “sharability” factor.

    Good content spreads. Regardless of who creates it.

    But you have to make it FREAKING EASY for people to do it. I mean REALLY easy (thank you Tweetmeme for example).

    The larger publishers, by creating a controlled system, think they are going back to the good ole days where content is limited based on how they distribute it. The old school model on a new school device.

    If I was in the big publishers shoes, the first thing I would pay attention to (besides content and design) is ease of spreading.

    But then again, I'm not a big publisher. Which is a good thing. Because now the scrappy media sources/publishers can jump on this incredible opportunity.

  39. Facebook has tons of users, but it is a horrible, horrible platform to develop for. It is by far the worst I have ever seen – much worse than even Windows. If you want to hear the plaintive cries of desolate souls being tormented in the wilderness, just go to a Facebook developer forum or chat room.

    At this point, it would take Moses descending from the mountain to make the Facebook platform something I’d be interested in taking a look at again.

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