Apple’s Misstep Keeps Kids from Showcasing Their Innovations on iPhone
Oops. Apple goofed.
Last week, Apple did something that created outrage among educators and parents—one of their most important customer segments.
Apple banned the use of a $3.95 iPhone app called Scratch Viewer. Scratch Viewer would have let teachers, parents, and young kids view the 1 million applications that young kids all over the globe have created over the last three years using Scratch.
Scratch is a kid-friendly free programming environment which was developed at the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, based on the work of Seymour Papert and Alan Kay. Mitchel Resnick, the director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT, had this to say to reporters and on the Scratch blog:
“We're disappointed that Apple decided not to allow a Scratch player on the iPhone or iPad (as part of Apple's policy against apps that interpret or execute code). As we see it, there is nothing more important than empowering the next generation of kids to design, create, and express themselves with new media technologies. That's the idea behind Scratch. Kids around the world are using Scratch to program their own interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations with Scratch—and sharing their creations with one another online. In the process, kids learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively. Since the launch of Scratch in 2007, kids have shared nearly 1 million projects on the Scratch website. We hope that Apple will reconsider its policies so that more kids can experience the joys of creating and sharing with Scratch. (By the way, the Scratch player for the iPhone was created by a third party, not by our group at the MIT Media Lab. But our group is planning to make Scratch authoring tools for the iPad in the future, and we hope Apple will allow us....)”
Faithful Outside Innovation followers will recognize Mitch Resnick as one of the heroes in the LEGO Mindstorms’ NXT story. Mitch has been engaging kids as co-inventors at MIT since the early 1980s. He and Steve Ocko were the grad students who connected computers to LEGOs so that young kids could use Seymour Papert’s LOGO language to make their LEGO creations come alive.
Unintended Consequences of Trying to Control the iPhone Experience?
Enraging teachers and parents was an unintended consequence of a highly controversial move that Apple made when it changed the terms of its developer agreement for iPhone apps to limit the programming languages and software toolkits you can use to create iPhone and iPad apps. John McIntosh, a Canadian software developer at Smalltalk Consulting Ltd is the well-intentioned SmallTalk and Scratch evangelist who got caught in the proverbial cross-fire. He is the guy who developed the ScratchViewer iPhone app, working all night to have it ready and to get it accepted by Apple in time for the launch of the iPad, only to be notified the next day that he had to take it down. Gillian Shaw, a reporter for the Vancouver Sun interviewed John:
"They basically said we think you are violating your contract with us and we'd like you to pull the app," said McIntosh, a North Saanich-based developer, who is not affiliated with MIT but created the application independently. "The issue is that Scratch is an interpretive programming language and Apple does not allow people to download interpretive programming languages to their iPhone or iPad and run them."
"We are really collateral damage with the issue Apple is having with Adobe and Apple is just being consistent in enforcing the regulations," said McIntosh, referring to Apple's controversial decision not to allow Adobe's Flash on its iPhone or iPad.”
Kids Caught in the Crossfire?
There is a huge debate raging around this “we want to dictate what development tools you use to create iPhone apps” issue. You can dive into the debate here. The recent change to the iPhone developer agreement has been interpreted by some as Apple’s attempt to force application developers to use Apple-only tools. Others feel that Apple wants to control the quality of the iPad/iPhone customer experience. Still others feel that the move is targeted specifically at Adobe—to keep Adobe Flash out of the Apple iPhone ecosystem. This has been characterized as a “war” between Apple and Adobe.
Many, many pundits have weighed in on the topic of the roller coaster relationship between Apple and Adobe—who pioneered desktop publishing which put the Macintosh on the map. If you want the “real” history about the relationship between Apple and Adobe, you can read and comment on my brother Jonathan Seybold’s history lesson and current perspective in my blog. Jonathan was the consultant behind the scenes who brokered the original relationship among Apple’s Steve Jobs, Adobe’s John Warnock, and helped Paul Brainerd focus Aldus on producing the first desktop publishing application for the Mac—PageMaker.
How Will Apple Recover Its Kid- and Developer-Friendly Image?
This is a great example of the way that well-intentioned and even customer-centric business strategies sometimes backfire. Apple might have been able to deal with the ire of Adobe fans and Flash developers. Apple can easily brush off the criticisms of people like me who advocate the use of cross-platform development environments to make it easy for developers (including customers and kids) to write once and run anywhere (with automagic optimization for each platform), by pointing out that you can’t really deliver an “Apple” customer experience without taking advantage of the secret sauce that using Apple’s xCode allows.
But Apple will need to make peace and restitution with the educators who make up such an important group of advocates for the Apple platform. I’m sure Apple will do that by helping Mitch Resnick’s group with the financial support required to develop Scratch for iPhone—so that kids will not only be able view their Scratch projects but also develop them on the iPhone ecosystem. Apple will probably also negotiate a compromise with John McIntosh.
Only time will tell whether Apple’s taking firm control of the iPhone development environment was a smart bet in terms of growing a vibrant, profitable, customer-centric ecosystem.