Is a blue shell inbound for Apple?

Carter Dotson on a decline in standards

Is a blue shell inbound for Apple?

Is Apple in trouble, and as a developer should you be worried?

Certainly, the rumblings that Apple is not making products of as high a quality as they once did are out there, coming from notable Apple voices (even if they later might moderate their views).

Apple is regularly criticized, even by their biggest evangelists, but it feels like Apple's issues are growing, and becoming heightened as the company grows.

And while I think that Apple is still safely the leader for mobile in terms of making money for developers and being the best environment to make games, the possibility of a time when this might not be true is more realistic than ever.

Cracks appearing?

It starts on the hardware level. It feels like Apple is innovating at a much slower pace: perhaps we've seen a peak in terms of what phones and tablets can do - or at least what Apple can do with them.

Something like Bendgate was a silly thing that was overblown, but it was a genuine hardware fault that you would expect Apple to have figured out.

So while they may have quietly fixed it since then, hearing stories of people whose phones would accidentally bend in their pockets - and then not being able to get them fixed - seemed so decidedly un-Apple.

Papers, Please's nudity was rejected and then accepted

And Apple's review team's decisions continue to baffle. It's hard to understand decisions like Papers, Please, and rejections of apps trying to do creative things with widgets and the like when so much obvious schlock continues to make it past the review team.

Apple's review team's decisions continue to baffle.

While I'll forgive the team for letting things like hidden emulators sneak by, games that obviously infringe copyright and use titles that obviously try to capitalize on existing games do not reflect well on them.

And it's hard to understand, because Apple pulls in record profits. If they're committed to even the smallest level baseline of quality on their store, why do these failures exist?

Mere mortals

The thing is, these criticisms are simultaneously fair and unfair.

They're unfair because the review team is likely catching tons of terrible infringements, secret emulators, and stopping loads of worthless apps from making it into the store. You can't keep all the bugs out of the walled garden, but you can keep most of them out, which only makes the failures more glaring.

Other phones can have bending problems. The problems just aren't as popularized. And remember the antenna problems on the iPhone 4 and "avoid holding it that way?"

Plenty of other phone instruction manuals advise the same thing. Apple is a monolithic company, and they project a certain image, so whenever something contradicts that image, they're a big and easy target.

But these criticisms are also fair because Apple profits handsomely from their image, of their things being Apple-like. They've done so well because people think Apple products 'just work', and this convinces users to excuse away many of the restrictions, flaws, and proprietary elements of their products that at times can be anti-consumer.

When something is "un-Apple" it's noteworthy.

So when the veil shatters, when something is "un-Apple," it's noteworthy.

Causes for concern

Of course, I don't think that Apple is in anything resembling free-fall. Developers shouldn't be outright scared about the future of Apple and the App Store. After all, it posted Q4 revenues of $42 billion and profits of $8.5 billion.

But they should be concerned for two reasons.

One, Apple is still the leader in mobile. 99% of the noteworthy happenings in mobile - the things that actually shape the industry - go through them. See Google Wallet versus Apple Pay. NFC payments weren't taken seriously until Apple made a move. And in gaming especially, iOS is still the lead platform for most games, Android has loads of users, but they're generally not as valuable in terms of revenue per user.

And as Monument Valley's sales numbers show, iOS is certainly the leader if you're looking to sell games.

But with a company like Apple that's so reliant on brand values, whenever cracks appear in the veneer, you as a developer need to be concerned.

If they start making a lot of bad decisions, it could be a sign that this lucrative market will not be so lucrative for developers - and it could inevitably harm them and mobile gaming as a whole. If Apple is no longer seen as the technical leader, if the 'it just works' philosophy is harmed further, then it could cause users to jump ship, or to not care about buying the latest and greatest Apple products.

iPad sales are currently declining

For example, the decline in iPad sales growth should leave Apple and developers uneasy that maybe, there will be less demand for new hardware and software.

Players might be fine with their iPad Air 1 and Candy Crush Saga for a long time to-come.

Blue shell incoming

As for the other reason to be concerned, Android vendors are getting better at doing what Apple does, and as we've seen the case of tablets and smartphones, doing it much, much cheaper.

Google has, of course, dramatically improved Android over the years, and Android hardware can legitimately compete with Apple now, both internally and in terms of design. It's easier for someone who jumps ship from iOS to be satisfied. But what happens if people don't spend money in the same way that they do if they jump ship?

It's a lot harder to make money on Android, and if it starts to make more meaningful cuts into Apple's pie, developers whose business models aren't compatible with an Android future could find themselves pushed out of the market.

Apple might seem, if not invincible, then certainly hard to beat. Just realize everyone behind the leader has a chance to get a blue shell and take out the leader. Ask companies like Palm, Blackberry, and Nokia: success is not forever.

And with mobile being so lucrative, there's plenty of incentive and opportunity for a competitor to find a way to exploit Apple's weaknesses.

As developers, you need to watch the market, because as much as I respect Android, Apple is still the best environment for developers, and them as the leader of mobile may be for the best.

But the day may come soon when they are neither the leader nor the best at what they do, and you need to prepare for that.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!