Apple's Trusting Developers More than Ever, Let's Hope Devs Are Ready
Apple's decision to move away from Google Maps, in the short term, looks like a lose-lose for both Apple and its customers. Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged the company's mistake this morning in an open letter apologizing for Apple's decision, a first for the company that many writers (including PandoDaily's Hamish McKenzie) covered earlier today.
In the letter, Cook suggests that users turn to third-party solutions like Bing Maps, MapQuest, or Waze, if they aren't happy with Apple's product. Apple then gathered many of these third-party applications into a "Find Maps for your iPhone" group in the App Store, and MapQuest – one of the applications Cook recommended – has taken the top slot of the mapping category. What's bad for Apple has been good for MapQuest and every other application that Cook name-dropped.
So, while many of us view Apple's switch as a bad move (again, in the short term; I'm bullish on Maps' future, but can only base my observations on the product available today), I can't help but feel that, though it's rocky right now for Apple and its customers, third-party developers should be throwing themselves a party. Though Apple has tarnished its reputation by putting out some clearly-unfinished software, its recommendations and actions can still make or break an app in the eyes of consumers.
Transit apps were already feeling the love. Apple had already conceded the public transit space to third party developers, allowing apps like Embark (a personal favorite) and the aptly-named Transit to pick up some of its slack. Instead of acting like public transit doesn't exist, Apple actually linked to these applications from within its official app.
So, while many of us were cranky that Apple had ditched an important feature that many users rely on, third party developers had their chance to grab the spotlight. Oh, Apple let ya down? Well, we've got your back.
Apple is also relying on third parties to populate its Passbook app, the digital wallet (sans payments) that aims to streamline airline tickets, coupons, loyalty cards, or pretty much anything else someone might need to have on them at all times. The app is empty on first launch, presenting a button that takes users to a special section of the App Store – when it works, anyway. Users have to download a company's app and then jump through a number of hoops to get these "passes" into Passbook, a process entirely dependent on other applications.
Both of iOS 6's flagship features, then, rely on third-party apps in one capacity or another. This is a marked change from iOS' debut, which didn't even support non-Apple applications at launch.
Apple has gone from not allowing (or even wanting) developers onto its platform to basing some of its most exciting new features around what other people are building. In more childish terms, Apple went from sticking its tongue out at developers and yelling "la la la can't hear you!" to all-but-apologizing and hoping that the developers play along.
Trusting developers with its own services is decidedly un-Apple-like, even more than Cook's apology letter. Though this is good news for developers, who, like AOL with MapQuest, can benefit from the increased exposure, it may also be a slippery slope. Apple's arrogance and its belief that it knows better than anybody else have always been backed by the company's ability to deliver. Its products are great because of the corporate attitude that if Apple doesn't make the best products no one can.
To steal a trope from Spiderman: "With great power comes great responsibility." Apple seems to think that developers can be trusted to build great products – a belief that I'm sure many people share – but it's also putting a lot of trust into people that it didn't want on its platform in the first place. User's trust in Apple's promise that "it just works" now rests on developer's shoulders. If devs don't step in and build transit apps or passes that justify this trust, there are going to be a lot of upset customers.