If Steve Jobs had had his way, there would be no Apple App Store

“Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Apple App Store. And perhaps one of the most amazing things about this milestone is that it never would have happened if things had played out the way Steve Jobs wanted,” Chris O’Brien reports for The Los Angeles Times. “Just imagine if there were no iPhone apps and no App Store. Aside from creating billions of dollars in value for developers, Apps have been a cornerstone to the success of the iPhone and iPad.”

“The fact that the App Store does exist is a testament to a characteristic of Jobs and Apple for which neither tends to get much credit. They listen to users,” O’Brien reports. “To understand why, you have to jump back to a piece of history that is often forgotten.”

O’Brien reports, “As the fifth anniversary hits, there are now more than 900,000 apps in the store that have been downloaded 50 billion times. All made possible by a company willing to admit it was wrong, and in the process make one of the most important pivots in recent tech history.”

Read more in the full article here.

27 Comments

    1. The account I read some time ago indicated that one of the main reasons why SJ didn’t want to do it is because the team was already taxed with just creating the most innovative never before seen phone OS with all of the challenges that entailed. He didn’t want to ADD having to create a stable powerful set of developer accesible API’s on top of that. Of course, the team rose to the occasion and we (and Google and Microsoft 🙂 ) reap the benefits of their taking on this task.

      This doesn’t help the point the author was trying to make, though. 😉

    2. Agree; this article is total BS.

      There was no “Steve Jobs’ way” on this issue. He had developing, evolving opinions on many issues, and none of those opinions were “religious”.

      1. Ahh, so you are in for “re-writing” history, are you. You must not have been born back then. SJ was strong on the Web App, but changed his mind, or rather he saw the strong sentiment of others – of having one’s own apps and went with it.

  1. I remember back then with Apple touting web apps and the Apple Community message boards lit up with commenters saying they wanted NATIVE apps to download on their iPhone.

    1. That’s the argument Mozilla makes for Firefox OS – web apps could have worked on the iPhone, if Apple made API’s so they could access native phone features (like the camera and contacts) and if they were downloadable. We’ll see how it works on their web apps based mobile operating system.

  2. I remember a lot of discussion about the web apps being a stop gap solution. That Apple always intended to have native apps but the framework was not ready for prime time.

    1. I think most of it was ready, but Apple wanted mass testing and usage to fine tune it UIKit to make sure they got everything just right before unleashing it to developers. This is also gave developers a fairly large user base to target from the get go – 500 apps for 6 million users. Ka-ching!

      I also believe the reason Steve Jobs even mentioned writing web apps, was to help push and advance webkit, which soon after almost every other mobile vendor adopted as their browser engine.

    2. The talk of it being a stop gap solution was nothing more than the projected hopes of RDFers who couldn’t believe that Steve wouldn’t allow third party apps on the iPhone. But internally, all the info we have is that web apps were intended to be the only way to get non-Apple apps on there.

      Steve changed his mind after his lieutenants, led by Scott Forstall, beat him over the head with the idea and convinced him they could do it in a clean, controlled fashion.

      1. The story of Steve changing his mind after iPhone launch seems to be working so well, but is really extremely far fetched and difficult to believe for anyone who takes a few minutes to think about it.

        Developing an SDK and documentation for it is a major undertaking. Developing the entire App Store infrastructure is significantly larger yet. Getting it all to work flawlessly takes time. To believe that Steve, who has publicly continued to claim that web applications are the best option throughout the summer of 2007, only to announce in October that they will be delivering SDK in February (just four months later), changed his mind after the iPhone launch, is frankly very naïve. While Apple is well known for turning on a dime, nobody, not even Apple, can execute such a reversal so rapidly.

        The only realistic story was that SDK had been planned from the beginning, and it was planned for release only after the iPhone has already developed a hungry market for apps. The timeline, as it was executed, looks just perfect:

        Jan 2007 — iPhone was announced; available in June;
        June 2007 — after six months of red-hot fever and anticipation, iPhone goes on sale;
        October 2007 — Jobs announces SDK will be available for the iPhone; meanwhile, the device sells in millions, shattering all records;
        February 2008 — SDK is released; after waiting (im)patiently for four months, developers rush to download it in record-setting numbers;
        July 2009 — App Store is launched (together with iPhone 3G), with over 500 independent, 3rd-party apps in it. Millions of iPhone owners begin downloading/buying.

        Now, it is well documented that Steve was initially skeptical about 3rd-party developers “messing up” the iOS experience with their problematic, sloppy code. But the convincing took place a lot earlier, way before iPhone was even announced.

  3. I doubt it. It is more likely that he “implied” there would be no third-party apps as a clever ploy, to misdirect the competing platforms.

    Consider… when iPhone was released in 2007, it started at zero users. If Jobs had opened the App Store at that point, developers would have been hesitant to jump on board, because there was no user base. The App Store would have had a slow start, and Jobs did not like slow starts. He would have called the App Store a “hobby.”

    If he had released the iPhone with no App Store, but with an announcement that third-party apps were “coming soon,” that would have allowed the fully-established competing platforms (RIM BlackBerry, old Palm OS, old Windows Mobile, and Nokia’s Symbian), each with millions of existing users, to take preemptive action. And the App Store, when it opened would not have been as significant.

    Also, let’s say Steve Jobs actually did “change his mind” halfway through the first year of iPhone. Even Apple would not have been able to produce an SDK that was ready for use by third-party developers AND created the complete App Store infrastructure in the six months or so before the next WWDC. That’s the type of “rush job” Apple avoids.

    So, in my opinion, the more likely scenario is that Steve Jobs planned to have third-party apps and the App Store all along, but he told developers to create web-based apps to imply Apple was not interested in third-party “native” apps. It’s not the first time he’s done something like that… After the first year of iPhone, there were now millions of iPhone users out there, and they were begging for apps. Developers were ready to commit to the iPhone platform immediately.

    Apple said, “OK, we listened to you…” and magically, there was an SDK for developers and the App Store for customers, fully thought out and tested, ready to go. The competition were caught by surprise (for the second time in two years), and made fools of themselves scrambling to create their copy of the app store concept, with barely usable SDK and poor user experience.

    1. Third party developers/hackers had *already* figured out much of the APIs.

      Presumably the SDK was just a cleaned up/documented version of the same frameworks that were being used internally.

      1. Yes… A process that was no doubt started way BEFORE the iPhone was even announced.

        Apple, working secretly and carefully (over a LONG period) with a small team, to create something special that no one expects. Gee, how surprising… Why does anyone even doubt that Apple had the “Year Two” opening of the App Store carefully planned, and then executed that plan to perfection?

  4. Jesus christ. Idiots read some article that itself is bullshit, and then write this stuff.

    Steve Jobs never wanted an App Store? Talk about oversimplification. I didn’t want a lot of things or said no to things in the past. It’s called iteration.

    I’m sure Jobs said no to a lot of things Apple ended up doing. Saying no doesn’t say anything at all. It’s just doubt. It just means he needed to be convinced and/or it wasn’t the right timing. It was likely NEVER a forgone conclusion that Jobs didn’t want an App Store.

    In fact, Larry Ellison way back in 1995 talked about an App Store. You can bet Jobs had the idea and concept of an App Store decades ago. What you see in the wild are things that have trickled out of these companies because they have BUSINESS MODELS behind them.

    Steve Jobs, and many others like him in the tech industry live mentally and physically years into the future. Bet that whatever hits the market, they’ve been thinking about and researching for many many years. And the stuff that doesn’t exist on the market that nerds pontificate about… bet that they’ve already thought about it. Probably tested it too.

    1. At the time there were a lot of forces going on, such as:

      1) Symantec’s invented FUD-fest against Apple security, predicting doom via a ‘flood’ of Mac malware. Apple responded.

      2) WebOS from Palm, which was the basis of the concept of only having web apps run on the original iPhone. FAIL. Apple responded.

      3) The success of the Mac software download sites that offered security by scanning ALL software to which it linked. That included VersionTracker and MacUpdate. Apple responded.

      And so on.

      As ever, trying to force the complexities of reality into a simple concept doesn’t work. KISS (keep it simple stupid) only works when you don’t care about being stupid. 😯

  5. I understand Steve’s reluctance. I searched for a SWF conversion app on the app store yesterday. Most of the apps had 2 or less stars, including ones costing upwards of $99.

    I’ve found some good apps that I use almost daily, but there seems to be a lot of crap in all app stores period–the quality therein os nearly indecipherable unless you take the chance and purchase.

    And there’s almost no accounting for reviews–postive or negative.

    1. I agree that there are dishonest reviews and honest reviews. Over time, I have found that the best apps tend to separate from the others. I look for apps that have been reviewed favorably by at least 500 individuals.

  6. Pure revisionist horse crap. The iPhone debut went as dead as a funeral the moment Steve said the iPhone was to be limited only to sandboxed web-apps. Apple was originally unapologetic but was forced to change after their $700 locked-down iPhone was battered in the media as a golden cell and tanked in sales after a couple months, garnering a mere 200,000 in unit sales. They came a hair away from blowing the best thing ever invented by being too anal and greedy. They eventually responded by financing the purchase price through the sellers and opening up the iPhone to limited development, but only via iTunes where they could claim it was “open” but still control everything.

    1. Oh Brau. So silly. You got some stuff insightfully correct, then you blow all your credibility with total exaggerated BS. Sheesh.

      Doing your homework and knowing what you’re talking about would have garnered 5 stars from me! But no. You had to pull troll moves. 😛

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