Is Apple Harming the Feature Innovation Ecosystem?

By Joshua Gans

Posted on June 25, 2013


Yesterday [June 10, 2013], Apple announced iOS7, the latest version of its mobile operating system. It was a large change but perhaps the most interesting bit was Apple’s continuation of its rather tense relationship with the app developer community. To be sure, Apple has enabled that community and handed them $10 billion in revenue since 2008. However, once again, it appears to have taken been inspired by numerous innovations that came from app developers.

These can be classified into two broad groups: innovations by app developers and innovations by hackers/jailbreakers.

For app developers, the Calendar app appears to have a new layout reminiscent of the Sunrise app although there are others as well. A flashlight is now incorporated as a feature whereas many had developed separate apps. The Camera app has filters just like Hipstamatic and Instagram but this is something that many apps now have. And the new Safari tabs have some similarities to Chrome’s tabs. Apple also seemed coy about its Mail app but it looked like its way of dealing with email was not dissimilar to the new and popular Mailbox app.

Finally, the new Weather app has animations of, well, the weather. This doesn’t exist in an app but if this story is to be believed, Apple rejected a similar app for reasons related to the experience the app provides.

All this is not new. Apple integrated Reader functions into Safari (like Instapaper) and HDR into its camera that had previously only been available in apps.

For hackers, the new control center has been a long standing jailbreak option and the multitasking UI seems also similar to a jailbreak version. There are likely important background issues in both of these but there is a pattern here.

The message all this is sending is worrying. This creates a perception that Apple is ripping developers off and so will impact on their incentives to innovate. I must admit I am concerned more about this for app developers than for hackers. The reason is that hackers are often putting in these changes to use them themselves and so if Apple integrates and improves upon them, they reap a benefit. For app developers, there is a clear monetary cost.

Ultimately, there appears to be an issue with attribution. Now I realise that the world doesn’t work this way and legal risks may prohibit acknowledgement in ambiguous situations. But it would be a far better world if Apple could use innovations and integrate them and also acknowledge their origins. The end result may be app developers innovating more if only for the kudos associated with credit. The App Store was a great innovation. It is time for Apple to innovate and apply its design focus to the ecosystem so that it can work in a cleaner and less apparently dirtier manner.

The preceding is re-published on TAP with permission by its author, Joshua Gans, Chair of Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Professor of Strategic Management, Rotman School of Management. “Is Apple Harming the Feature Innovation Ecosystem?” was originally published June 11, 2013 on Digitopoly.