If the Apple App Store Is a Battlefield, Jony Ive Is the Commander

The latest quarrel between Apple and developers seems to go a bit deeper than the cat-and-mouse game that has been played for the past five years. Without going into much detail (largely because I think that misses the big picture and there is debate over how justifiable some of these App Store review decisions are), the crux of the latest situation is that Apple released new APIs in iOS 8 and there now seems to be confusion and disagreement within Apple as to how these new features should be embraced. 

There is a growing murmur that the latest battle is a sign of internal conflict at Apple with software engineering pinned against those in charge of App Store review. Many are pointing at comments written by Greg Gardner, creator of Launch, whose app was rejected from the App Store. He says Apple wanted to use his app as an example for rethinking how developers look at app guidelines. 

During this same conversion, I also asked specifically why Launcher was removed from the App Store after 9 days when other similar apps are still available weeks later. The answer to this question was the most interesting and informative response I had ever heard from them. They basically said that Launcher was a trailblazer in uncharted territories and that they felt that they needed to make an example of it in order to get the word out to developers that its functionality is not acceptable without them having to publish new specific guidelines. And they said that the fact that they aren’t seeing hundreds of similar apps submitted every day is proof to them that taking down Launcher was successful in this regard.

This was a pretty big revelation to me. After Launcher was rejected and the press picked up on it and started writing articles which painted Apple in a bad light, I was afraid that Apple might be mad at me. But it turns out that was actually the outcome they were looking for all along. They acted swiftly and made me the sacrificial lamb. And after that, removing other apps with similar functionality became a low priority for them.

Instead of the App Store representing a battle between Apple and developers, I look at the skirmish as indicative of a much bigger war going on within Apple between software and hardware. The same battle ultimately costs Scott Forstall his job (internal power struggles don't help matters), transferring more responsibility to Jony Ive. I would argue that Jony Ive did not necessarily get more power from the transition as he already held more power than anyone else at Apple, as previously detailed in Steve Jobs' comments to Walter Isaacson. My theory is that Jony holds more power than Tim Cook, which makes him part of this App Store debate. 

Apple's hardware and design teams are firing on all cylinders. Apple's global supply chain is unparalleled in scope and efficiency, component supplier relationships appear to have hit a stronger and more cordial tone, and nearly the entire product lineup has been updated or revised within a short timespan, with iPhone, Mac, and iPad seeing annual refreshes. In addition, Apple is now ushering a new era of personalized hardware devices. Meanwhile, Apple's software products have seen more mixed results with a buggy iOS 8 release, lingering questions surrounding Apple's ability to handle annual iOS refreshes, and software limitations starting to hold back several product's potential. 

The debate is whether software is getting intentionally left behind, or if the lack of motivation and resources represents another power struggle within Apple where hardware and design are given priority, at the detriment of software. In both scenarios, I think Jony will play a vital role in the discussion (even if he is to blame), since I suspect the Apple we are seeing today is quickly transforming into Jony's vision of the Apple of tomorrow, a company focused on using design to create tangible products that possess passion. The challenge for Jony, and Apple, is figuring out a way to incorporate software and developers into this vision. One of the biggest risks Apple is facing by not being clear with the App Store, and developers, is that innovative apps aren't being made as developers decide not to spend precious resources testing App Store guidelines. Regardless of the outcome, including if a new VP-level executive is tasked with running the App Store and interacting with developers, or if there is a change in the SVP ranks, I expect Jony Ive will continue to play an important role in guiding Apple. 

Developers have played a big role in getting Apple to where it is today, and will ultimately play just as big of a role in determining Apple's future success.