Apple’s IPhone Platform vs. Google’s Adwords Platform
Apple’s decision to stop 3rd parties from placing themselves between Apple and the developer has created quite a discussion online, following John Gruber’s discovery of their modified agreement. Apple’s decision is sound - they want developers to have access to all features of their IPhone - not just the features that the 3rd party decides to support.
Compare Apple’s decision regarding IPhone ecosystem with Google’s Adwords ecosystem. Google Adwords has an API, available to anyone to help buy keywords on Google’s platform. There are people who use this API, including a few 3rd parties who built cross-platform keyword buying tools across Google, Yahoo, MSN, and other platforms. Google also decided to prohibit use by 3rd parties, unless the 3rd party software followed Google’s Terms and Conditions, including the ability for Google to inspect the product UI and systems, and the requirement to implment all of the features of Adsense (e.g. including image ads, and other fringe features of Adsense).
Google’s decision is also sound - they wanted to make sure that any new features that they release could be used by all of their end users soon after they release the feature, not just those who use Google directly.
Essentially, Apple is making a rational decision (and not one solely based on harming Adobe, as some have suggested), and is not the first to do this. Google made a similar decision with their Adwords platform.
The challenge is that there is a single party that is making these decisions, rather than a group, representing all of the stakeholders. The platform owner is and should be a major stakeholder, but there are others, including the developer community, end users, and competitors.
An open platform is built by design for all of these stakeholders to provide feedback (and a unique opportunity for competitors to collaborate on systems). There are definitely merits to both open and closed platforms, but some examples, including Netscape vs. AOL, Enterprise Linux vs. Windows NT, and even commodity vs. specialised hardware, prove that over time, open systems and collaboration provide the best long term solution.
That said, it usually takes time for open systems to prove to be the better model. Closed systems controlled by a single entity usually move faster because the feedback loop is much smaller. It will be interesting to see how the mobile platform changes from where it is today over the next 10 years.