Friday Night Fights: What’s Better For App Stores, Walled Garden Or Open?

Laaaaaaaaaaadies and Gentlemen, welcome to Friday Night Fights, a new series of weekly deathmatches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?

After this week’s topic, someone’s going to be spitting teeth. Our question: What’s Better For App Stores, Walled Garden Or Open? Apple vets every app released on the iOS and Mac App Stores, but Google lets anything in, removing apps only if they violate their terms. Which is better for developers and consumers?

In one corner, we have the 900 pound gorilla, Cult of Mac; in the opposite corner, wearing the green trunks, we have the plucky upstart, Cult of Android!

Place your bets, gentlemen! This is going be a bloody one.

Vincent Messina, Cult of Android

Apple and Google have polar opposite views on submitting applications for distribution to their application markets. On the one hand we have Apple, who has strict guidelines and an approval process. On the other, we have Google, who also has guidelines, but does not have an approval process (gasp). I’m going to take a look at Google’s approach and point out some of the benifits to having a system such as Google’s and why there’s nothing to worry about for the end-user.

There are a lot of reasons why Google doesn’t require developers to have their apps approved before submitting them to the Android Market. First and foremost, it’s to allow developers the freedom to push updates and apps at their leisure. A developer (not a big company) can do only so much testing of their app and no matter how hard they try, bugs always seem to pop up. Google’s non-approval process allows the developer to quickly identify the bug via user feedback, fix it, and then push an update out as soon as possible. A developer for Apple would have to identify the bug, fix it, then submit the update to Apple for approval. In the meantime, the buggy version of the app remains and users continue to complain. Now it’s not only for bugs, developers also like to add new features, something that can be done quicker thanks to Android’s non-approval format. Android’s open system also encourages independent developers to take a chance and encourages development instead of holding up the process to hand-pick the apps they find acceptable.

Doesn’t Android’s non-approval result in crappy apps making it onto the Android Market? Of course, but it also means anyone downloading them will have the ability to rate them, and let other users know that they are pieces of crap. What about security, if Google isn’t approving these apps, how do we know they aren’t muddled with malware? Fortunately every application (and developer account) uploaded to the Android Market is automatically scanned by Google’s own malware protection system. If anything is awry, Google will remove the application from the Android Market as well as from any device that may have downloaded it. Android is already built from the ground up to inhibit any possible damage a malicious app could cause should it make it onto your phone. With sandboxing and permissions, an app getting access to any information it shouldn’t, is highly unlikely.

Despite the differences in approach by these two platforms, the final result has been two app stores which are doing tremendously well. Android is definitely the more developer friendly platform but developers will endure whatever restrictions are necessary to get their apps onto any market servicing the grandiose numbers we see on Android and Apple. As for us end-users, we benefit either way.

John Brownlee, Cult Of Mac

This week, the iOS-sphere had a bit of a controversy on its hand after it was discovered that the darling social network app Path had been uploading users’ address books to their servers without permission. Path got a huge dose of negative publicity, apologized, issued an app update fixing the issue and deleted the information from their servers.

One of the reasons people felt so betrayed wasn’t just because Path was doing something that pretty clearly violated users’ expectations of privacy, but because Apple had approved an app that had done these things to begin with.

When a process falls over, it’s easy to say it’s broken, but it’s actually testament to how well the App Store approval process works that there is a ubiquitous expectation from users that the apps on the store won’t steal their data, or infect their devices, or do anything that a user would think was unseemly… even if, as with Path, that unseemly action isn’t actually prohibited by the Developer EULA.

In other words, the issue here is trust. By having an approval process, App Store customers can trust that their data is safe, and when that data turns out not to be safe because of a rogue app, there’s clear accountability: Apple itself, and the developer who programmed the app. It encourages developers to stay honest, and for Apple to remain ever vigilant. More importantly, the sense of trust fostered by the approval process is a huge element of what makes the App Store the dominant app distribution method in mobile: users spend more money because they trust Apple’s quality control, which in turn causes developers to make more money than on, say, Android.

By most accounts, Google is vigilant about removing rogue apps from the App Marketplace after users start complaining… but that’s not enough. Download any app on the Marketplace and there’s a chance that it’s a rogue one, looking to do something sneaky with your data. What Apple recognizes is that the health of an app ecosystem all comes down to trust, which means that they need to take some degree of responsibility for the content they sell. Sometimes they lazily approve apps they shouldn’t, and get criticized for it, and look like fools for a little while… but Google’s “take-no-action-until-its-a-crisis” is a big part of why the average Android user buys less apps (and developers make less off their apps) than on iOS.