June 27, 2012

Apple Trends Toward Bigfooting Indie Apps

9 to 5 Mac:

"Apple has just released a brand new free universal iOS app, Podcasts."

Following the release last year of the Reading List service for the Safari web browser, which bigfooted Marco Arment's Instapaper app for iOS, Apple published the "Podcasts" iOS app yesterday. The new app lets users find, download, stream and share notes about podcasts, largely replicating the function of Instacast, Downcast, Podcaster and others.

Recall that Microsoft was successfully sued by the US Department of Justice in 1998 for arguably similar acts. They were accused of unfair competition in the web browser market for bundling the Internet Explorer browser with their popular Windows operating system in an effort to unseat Netscape's Navigator as the most-popular browsing application. Apple isn't bundling their me-too apps, opting to offer them on the open app market through their App Store, thereby sidestepping the legal argument over unfair competition.

Apple's actions beg the question, though, Why? Does an Apple-authored read-it-later or podcasting app provide customers with a better experience than the existing and emerging third-party apps? So far the answer is no.

I've used both Instapaper and Instacast each for a few years. Instacast has largely replaced NPR during my commute. In neither case does Apple's effort exceed what those app authors accomplished.

Apple's Reading List service is arguably more easily discovered than Instapaper: a tag appearing in the Safari web browser's address bar tips the user to its availability and use.

There's no direct tie-in for the Podcasts app, yet, though it's not hard to see how a new address bar tag could be tied to a podcasts's RSS feed.

Anyone is free to compete in the software app arena, and a multitude of apps makes each author work harder for recognition and success, improving the products available to consumers. Competing against the mothership, however, tilts the playing field against the little guy if only by name recognition, dis-incenting software authors from even beginning a project that Apple my later undertake. There's no clear reason why Apple continues along this path.