Linux Foundation Chief: Apple’s App Store Business Model Unsustainable

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Apple’s business model for the App Store is unsustainable, according to Linux Foundation head honcho Jim Zemlin. In an interview with Wired magazine, Mr. Zemlin praised Apple’s work in making the user experience a great one, but made his case for the future belonging to Linux.

The Linux Foundation describes itself as a non-profit consortium dedicated to promoting Linux. The organization provides guidance and help to companies wanting to implement Linux-based products and services, pays some of the key kernel developers involved with the operating system, and also serves as a watchdog group to protect Linux’s legal interests. Mr. Zemlin is the Executive Director of the Foundation.

Jim Zemlin

Jim Zemlin
Executive Director
The Linux Fundation

His comments about Apple started with the App Store’s dominant position in selling smartphone apps, with Wired making the argument that Apple’s App Store has made it easy for developers to make money, and that this gets those developers to buy into Apple’s ecosystem instead of Linux (in this case instead of Android, which is based on Linux).

Mr. Zemlin said that Apple’s early dominance isn’t going to result in the same long-term dominance of the market that Microsoft achieved with desktop computers, saying, “I think there will be a healthy industry rebalancing there. It’s unlikely in my mind that Apple will end up with the same de facto API standard that Microsoft achieved in the 1980s and ’90s.”

He also echoed the same kind of argument that Mac users used to make when the platform was much smaller than it is today and Windows users argued that there weren’t enough Mac apps. At that time, many Mac users (including this one) argued that while there were many more Windows apps in any given category than on the Mac platform, the reality was that the most important apps, and the best apps, were either also available for the Mac or only available on the Mac.

Today those arguments rarely take place as the Mac platform has never been so healthy and vibrant, but the Linux camp may be feeling that same sort of heat in the commercial smartphone market.

“Other companies are launching their own app stores now, Mr. Zemlin said. “If you want to be on par with the Apple App Store, it’s totally within reach. There are about 200,000 apps in the Apple store. But really, the top ten pages are the only ones that matter. I’ve got to have Pandora, Tweetdeck, Facebook.”

He added, “There are very few apps you need to buy, so the important thing is to get the good free apps ported to your platform. I think it’s an advantage Apple has right now, but it won’t be a huge competitive advantage when the next cool device comes along and everyone wants to port to it.”

Mr. Zemlin also feels that Apple’s control over the App Store and the iOS platform is something users and developers won’t put up with forever. He believes that the Open Source model will eventually put into place mechanisms that compete with Apple’s App Store, and that this will force changes on Apple in the long run.

“[The Open Source] model will get ironed out over the next couple of years,” Mr. Zemlin said. “And it’s better than the alternative, which is iTunes. But nobody’s going to give Apple 30 percent of gross revenue forever. Even services are all through Apple. That’s so absurd, and just unsustainable.”

Despite his criticism of Apple’s controlling ways, Mr. Zemlin took time to praise the company for changing the marketplace, and for its role in making the smartphone market a market that is not dominated by Microsoft.

“In a way,” he said “Apple is the best thing that’s happened to Linux in years. It wakes up the whole industry to say ‘Hey, we need an app store, too. We want to start offering value-adds on top of our hot new product.’ And the only platform they can use to get up and running quickly is Linux. You’re not going to build a proprietary operating system to compete with iOS overnight.”

He added, “Creating a really good user experience is the hardest part. There are things you can do with power management and boot times and responsiveness to make some kick-ass hardware, and Linux is really good at that. But at the end of the day, good user interface design is key. And it’s an art, it takes discipline. Apple is great at that.”

He did not explain how the Linux community or those companies who use Linux, Linux derivative, or other Open Source models, participants not known for such discipline, can learn how to become user interface designers and artists.

“You’re talking to a guy who spent a decade fighting against Microsoft on the desktop,” he offered as a conclusion for his interview. “The whole time, our greatest enemy was the WinAPI. And that’s gone now. So, thank you, Apple. That’s a great gift.”

There’s more about Linux, the smartphone market, and the future of a computer-networked world in the full interview.

Comments

xmattingly

Funny that a “non-profit” organization leader, with a perpetual 1% market share, would be forecasting Apple’s App Store to be doomed to failure long term.

the reality was that the most important apps, and the best apps, were either also available for the Mac or only available on the Mac.

From my point of view, I would argue that the best apps were “also available on PC’s”, rather than the other way around. The reason why I say that is that a lot of productivity apps - particularly those meant for graphic design & publishing - got their start on the Mac and were eventually ported to PC’s… sometimes with features still missing. Most people don’t realize that in the 90’s, even though you could do publishing on PC’s it was an extremely bad choice for a platform. They were highly crash-prone, piss poor at handling key languages like Postscript, and had weak font support. In fact, the couple of print bureaus in town that I knew of, who stubbornly refused to switch to Macs ended up dying slow deaths. I could go on. But my point being that at a time when Windows advocates were crowing about “superiority in numbers with software choice”, there were still plenty of reasons to avoid that platform like the plague.

Lancashire-Witch

He did not explain how the Linux community or those companies who use Linux, Linux derivative, or other Open Source models, participants not known for such discipline, can learn how to become user interface designers and artists.

Absolutely Bryan. It’s not surprising the man thinks creating a really good user experience is the hardest part.

JonGl

Absolutely Bryan. It?s not surprising the man thinks creating a really good user experience is the hardest part.

And _that’s_ why Apple’s not going away any time soon.

Something people don’t seem to “get” about Apple is this. Apple isn’t concerned about market share, or the “most”. They care about the best. And it turns out a huge number of people (buying iOS devices), also care, and they are being introduced to Macs at surprisingly increasing numbers.

I love Linux, and have it installed on several computers. My one daughter and wife use it exclusively or nearly so, but they both know that the Mac is much better, and my daughter who uses Linux does not use it for her art. That’s a Mac with Photoshop and other tools. But before I get too far off on a rabbit trail, I can assure you, Linux will _never_ come within a parsec of Apple’s user interface. There is _no_ discipline within the ranks—in fact, it is a point of pride that any and every aspect of the interface is customizable. That is a polar opposite of Apple.

-Jon

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Actually, in smart phone OS share, Linux has eclipsed iOS in the United States. Android is a Linux kernel, a Java Virtual machine, and then all the other important stuff.

JonGl

and then all the other important stuff.

Which is where it all starts to fall apart—an odd mishmash of approved app stores, and not, wrapped in a both open source and proprietary bundles, and we come back to that same “lack of discipline”.

Actually, I fear to foretell how this will all end. It may be that people are finally ready to pay for, and put up with the Apple proprietary discipline, and no longer think of tech as something on the “edge” requiring handling with kid gloves, or maybe they still want to tinker and constantly fix things… What with the popularity of the iPad, I’m starting to worry. wink Personally, I like tinkering.

-Jon

b9bot

I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about. Especially since Apple invented the online App store to begin with. The success of it blows everyones minds. It’s a good model and with most of the apps priced at $5 or lower. I don’t see how it could ever fail because it is so affordable for people and it is making programmers of the really popular apps quite rich.

Linux has no market share, has no real platform, has no visibility, and most normal people find it impossible to use. There is no linux store software out there with apps that anyone can use.

If there is, you could use them on a Mac anyways so his argument is mute and the app store lives on and thrives.

John

Apple isn’t that dumb to use the same business model as Microsoft. Bullying the very people that buy from you and extorting money for there software licenses every year isn’t a good business model. Accusing your own customers of pirating your software isn’t a good business model. Apple has only a 1 time fee for it’s server software which can handle anything you can throw at it versus Microsoft’s extremely high yearly fees. Apple can support you with there software and there hardware. Microsoft can’t do that either.

B9bot

Making the apps people buy safe to use isn’t controlling. Look at the droids record of apps that have had viruses and malware on them. They look like the new Microsoft Windows for there phones.

Not a record that I would be proud of. That’s why Apple does there app store the way they do and it does work for 99.9% of the people using the store and making apps for them.

Smiff

Have any of you tried Ubuntu lately? Probably not. It’s pretty slick and absurdly easy to install. Anymore I can’t stand to close a window unless it bursts into flames when I do it.
Also, Linux has had an app store for decades. It just never seemed like a store because everything in it is free.
Linux thrives on shared innovation, not market share. I can see how confusing it is to most of us. Why give something so useful away for free? All other OS makers either tag on a fee(MS) or hide it in the cost of whatever machine it’s on(APPL).
I do agree, though, that Linux of all distros could stand to utilize their application repositories in such away that allows a developer to get paid for something that people are willing to pay for. You know… besides corporate sponsorship or donation. Maybe something along the lines of the WiiWare model (launched 2 months before apple’s app store) or Wii Shop (launched 2 YEARS before appple’s app sotre)? Sorry for that last sentence, I thought Apple was first.

dnb10

Making the apps people buy safe to use isn?t controlling. Look at the droids record of apps that have had viruses and malware on them. They look like the new Microsoft Windows for there phones.
Not a record that I would be proud of. That?s why Apple does there app store the way they do and it does work for 99.9% of the people using the store and making apps for them.

What are you talking about Linux doesn’t use the same rules as windows.  Each Apps is standalone and it own user with permissions has to get permisson do anything on the phone which is not allow inless your rooted. Beside if your not getting your apps off the android market that only way get viruse or malware. Beside app caught on market were nothing more than but social engineer apps most peopel point that out after they download it the comments

techmindonline.com

I’m not sure if any App Store Platform will matter in the future, since even Software is moving to the cloud and Web-apps are getting more and more popular/better.
In Apple’s case they are a few key facts suggesting that the App Store isn’t a priority or an important business for Apple:

1. When they introduced the first iPhone, they where promoting Web-apps as an (the only) option for third party software on their devices.
2. They have a dedicated place for Web-apps on their website:?www.apple.com/webapps
3. When the Flash vs HTML5 issue was on. Apple took a clear position on the side of HTML5
4. Their support of HTML5 is allowing open web development of apps that wouldn’t be approved in the Appstore, like Google Latitude. Recently Youtube released a great HTML5 based Web app which in some aspects offers a better experience/set of features compared to the native application.

All of that is supported/promoted/allowed by Apple, but might eventually harm an App Store concept. Maybe at some point the need for App Stores will be no more, and that’s why Apple doesn’t rely on it.

rjackb

This guy has drank way too much of the open source koolaid. Linux in any form is a complete POS as far as a consumer operating system is concerned and I strongly suspect that it always will be.

dnb10

I am guess you don’t like apples current OS as it use to be open source before apple bought it putting their name so as far calling it POS might well call the lot code of in OSX same thing

Lee Dronick

I am guess you don?t like apples current OS as it use to be open source before apple bought it putting their name so as far calling it POS might well call the lot code of in OSX same thing

Didn’t OSX come from UNIX more so than Linux?

dnb10

OSX came from BSD variant of unix most code are part of projects of Open Software foundation which i never mention linux but linux is unix-like with different kernal. I just said that it was open source before apple bought it. OSx use it own kernal and own skin gui

Tiger

So, isn’t he off by about 100,000 apps?

And how many successful commercial apps are there for Linux? You know, the ones that make developers healthy margins. You don’t see Adobe CS5 for Linux.

Or Quicken.

I don’t even think there’s an Oracle variant on the platform. So, Linux can stay at it’s healthy 1%. I don’t predict it’s going away. It’s just going to stay relegated to the server sector. Windows is hard enough for the average user to manage, much less dealing with the nerdiness that is Linux file structure and programming. I’m all for nerdiness. It’s just not mainstream.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I don?t even think there?s an Oracle variant on the platform.

How about if we go by what Oracle actually offers.

Oracle Database 11g Release 2 Enterprise Edition delivers industry leading performance, scalability, security and reliability on a choice of clustered or single-servers running Windows, Linux, and UNIX.

In other news, Oracle even offers its own Linux distro now.

lowell

Didn?t OSX come from UNIX more so than Linux?

Mac OS X more than comes from UNIX, it is UNIX.

I just said that it was open source before apple bought it.

The 300+ open source projects that constitute what we now know as Darwin continue to be open source.

Everything else, from the OPENSTEP API—the App Kit and the Foundation Kit—and on, remain as they were - proprietary.

dnb10

Well thank you lowell i knew their was still some parts that had open source projects from all the osx86 just didn’t know which kits. just wonder why everyone scared of open source just means millions eyes looking at code instead so many employees at apple. Open source is the reason why it run so well.

aardman

Linux lecturing Apple how to run a ‘sustainable’ business model for selling software to the consumer market.

Ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho, ha, ha, ha, hee, hee, hee!  Stop it!  You’re killing me!  Put this guy on Letterman.  Get him on SNL.  Ha, ha, ha . .  .

Martin Hill

Jim Zemlin is confused - it is Android that doesn’t have an unsustainable business model for developers.

Below is data from Larva Labs which paints a pretty sorry picture of how minuscule is the income from Google’s Android Marketplace compared to the 1 billion dollars Apple has paid out to developers. 

The proliferation of spam apps, malware and buggy hacks that clog the Marketplace have even DVD John the author of DoubleTwist the most popular iTunes replacement for Android calling on Google to start curating the Marketplace to reduce the mountain of crap.

Note that the Android Marktplace launched just 3 months after the iPhone App Store:

“Overall (as of June 18th, 2010), there were roughly 2,250 paid games and 13,000 paid non-game apps in the Market. The reason for the large number of apps vs. games is mainly due to the proliferation of spam apps, something which is much rarer in the games category. 4 games are in the 50,000-250,000 range, while 9 apps are in the 50,000-250,000 range. No paid app or game has yet exceeded 250,000 sales. Approximately 60 apps were in the 10,000-50,000 sales range, compared to approximately 45 games. It continues from there, with the vast majority of apps and games falling in to the ignominious ?less than 50? bucket.

Overall we estimate that $6,000,000 has been paid out to developers for games, and $15,000,000 has been paid out on apps. That is a total of $21,000,000, nearly 1/50th the amount paid out to devs on iPhone.

This really indicates how much of a cottage industry the paid Android Market remains, with insufficient sales numbers to warrant full-time labor for paid content”
(source: Larva Labs with data from Android Zoom)”

-Mart

Martin Hill

Whoops, that first line should have read:
“it is Android that doesn?t have a sustainable business model for developers.”

dmarcoot

Wow, just wow.
Never mind that most of the Google apps stores are fragmented worldwide, he is making the classic mistake anaylaizying Apple. That is Apples business model will remain static while everyone catches up.  If Apple were to threatened in that regard, they would do what they have PROVEN they do better than anyone else, including the Linux open source community, they will ADAPT and change. Just as they did from Mac OS to OS X, PowerPC to Intel, just as they did with retail stores, itunes, the music store, ipods, phones and pads. They skate to the Puck. Apples leads While Micorsoft, Google and Mr. Zemlin beloved Linux have followed.

Now given apple already has a HUGE advantage with over 100 million users with credit cards who have made the iTunes store a world leader in music and apps, I don?t see how his having face book on Google phone is going to change that. if you?re a developer, are you going to give your best time and effort to a platform where the users are willing to pay you, or are you going to devote that time to a fragmented platform that is also handicapped with a fragmented global stores and an audience which has shown that is prefers piracy and free to quality and cost?

Zeke

@dnb10: “Well thank you lowell i knew their was still some parts that had open source projects from all the osx86 just didn?t know which kits. just wonder why everyone scared of open source just means millions eyes looking at code instead so many employees at apple. Open source is the reason why it run so well.”

OS X is derived from BSD Unix. The reason Apple had a space to fill with a Unix based OS was that Linux was a total open source disaster.  There was no discipline, no uniformity of code, no standard documentation, no standard installation procedure, no standard kernel, etc.  Everything was “CUSTOMIZABLE”!  Wow, what a concept!  The only problem was that about 1/2 of 1% of the general public was equipped to deal with it.

Apple took Unix and made it seamlessly simple to install and use.  They standardized everything down to the hardware level.  “It runs so well because it’s open source” is a laughable statement.

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