Let Your Community Fix it!

18 Oct, 2009

At ArabCrunch, every now and then, we publish guest posts from thoughtful readers. Today’s guest post writer is Ayman Alkhateeb who works at Oracle as a senior enterprise 2.0 consultant. Ayman is passionate about social media, web 2.0 technologies and is also a mobile casual developer. His opinion here does not represent Oracle. Ayman can be found at his blog or via Twitter @aymankhateeb. (if you want to be a guest writer you can email AC with a title (Guest writer). Guest posts do not necessarily reflect AC’s point of view).

Ayman Al khateeb picAs companies develop new products, whether it is a software, a car, a furniture or even a new type of food, they put their efforts to bring the best to the end user. Unfortunately , “the Best” is a relative concept which usually comes from the vendor’s point of view.

Here comes the power of the community, as people start using any product, they start thinking of additional ways they would like to use the product for. They like the product but want to have  additional features! This is very obvious in the software industry.

So people start customizing these products to fit their needs and expectations, which results in more enhancements that the original vendor never thought of.  Additionally, different people have different tastes and expectations, which would also result in different customizations and enhancements that could fit any audience, starting from the same base product.

I’ve been a Windows mobile user for 5 years, it was limited in it’s out of the box features, but the powerful community of Microsoft developers, the extensive APIs and the ability to extend anything in the core operating system filled any gaps that Microsoft had. The community has built (both commercially and for free) many programs and system extensions that promoted the OS to a higher level of usefulness for its users.

On the other hand, I became an iPhone owner a couple of months ago, and as much as I adore the device, as much as I’m angry with Apple! You have created a revolutionary device that turned the industry upside down. But yet, no system is perfect.. And in a very strange move, prevented your community from filling your gaps.

Restricting developers from many of much needed access to some system resources. I find it very awkward if I need to add a reminder or alarm in my custom application I would need to send it as a push notification through the Internet! I can’t add my alarms to the system notification queue! And there is no way to extend, override, or customize a system behavior. So, limitations cannot be fixed! of course this is with the legitimately developed applications!.. but Jailbreaking the device removes all those limitations and brings the power of a very skilled community that developed some incredible extensions to the OS, such as inline spell checker when writing emails, scroll bars, true multitasking ( keep applications running in the background ) .. and hundreds of great applications that can never be done in a standard system ( non-jailbroken ).

Such extensions enhance the product in an incredible way and extends its life cycle by keep bringing new extensions and capabilities to the product from its enthusiastic community.

Strangely, Apple totally ignores the community power, the device is still great, no limitation in the hardware or design. Limits are only forced by Apple on the developers! but as IT and Communications market is changing fast, such limits could mean that Apple’s device would lag behind other innovators that are coming strong to the market such as Google Android!

I don’t know, maybe because I see and touch what the community power could do (I’m an E2.0 consultant!) but I think this is a big mistake from Apple! Unleash the power of your loyal community, let them extend your system as they like it to be and let them enhance your product without limiting their creativity. Let the community fix your mistakes, this would definitely empower the iPhone and extend it’s competitive life much further, and turn the creativity of your community as your leader in the competition war !

Please let your community fix it!

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  1. Amr Ramadan  |  October 18th, 2009 at 10:50 AM #

    The "wisdom of the crowds" does not always lead to wise results. While we have been burned quite badly as iPhone Developers from Apple in their painful review process, unwritten guidelines and extreme limitations, I believe that these limits are a major player in making the iPhone, and the App Store, the success they are today.

    Yes, Windows Mobile is more open, more extensible, and can run a wider variety of applications. But, the quality of applications is far inferior than Apple's, there is no consistency in their user interface design and pretty much each application has its own rules to how a user interface should be, they are less stable — taking as much memory as they want leading to a degradation in mobile experience which leads to having to manually manage the memory on an daily, if not hourly basis. Windows Mobile never managed to be a mainstream device, and there were reasons for this — being too open made it too complex to withstand for an "average" user.

    Certainly, there are some parts Apple could open up, like an API to the reminders, that wouldn't hurt. But I hope they never open it for background applications for example, unless they tuck in some pretty large RAM chips. And I hope they won't stop reviewing applications, or it would end up to be crapware-land, like how the Android Market is right now.

    The most important thing they need to do is more transparency to their guidelines and their review process, but that's a developer issue.

    Apple's pickiness has greatly helped shape what the App Store is today. Now, you see iPhone games that rival what is on the PSP and the Nintendo DS. If Apple were to have opened the App Store without any restrictions, would this have happened? Would it have encouraged developers to spends hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on creating an application or a game? A distinction must be drawn between a "community" and a "hobby market". It is definitely not of Apple's, or Apple's users, interest to have a hobby market as an App Store.

    So, while we developers complain about the limited APIs and the nightmarish review process, the end-user, that non-technical user, is unlikely missing anything. They are using the best applications ever developed for a mobile device and playing games that are incredibly rich and innovative, on their phone. The promise of applications and gaming on the mobile was made years ago, but only the iPhone realized it, and if the users are happy, that's all a for-profit company really needs.

  2. @AymanKhateeb  |  October 18th, 2009 at 10:34 PM #

    Dear Amr,
    Nice discussion you put above, however, I believe you built it on top of invalid parameters 🙂

    Wisdom of the crowds is what drives the market:) , it’s the voice of the customers, so, in Apple’s example it is what powers the iPhone and the AppStore… but, people change their direction very quickly, as soon as a new product with a new feature comes out that matches their dreams!
    Take an example MySpace and how Facebook took the crown! You can never underestimate the power of people, they are who make your product live or die! And they can turn overnight against you :).

    another point, Communities built great products, such as Linux and Wikipedia!

    The success of iPhone and AppleStore is a different story, it is the business model, not the limitations! iPhone is a nice Gadget, it was built on top of the success of iPod, and presented a very distinguished user interface, and a revolutionary multi-touch screen that made all the difference! Packed with a powerful graphics engine. And a very capable Safari Browser. Those are the key points in iPhone.. real differentiators from existing devices at that time..! nothing had to do with Apple’s love of obsession, and limiting the creativity!
    For AppStore, again, it built on the success of iTunes Store, it is the community who made this successful, as they used the iTunes and made it what it is! If no one used iTunes, it would have been history years ago! Apple managed to create a store for people to get what they want, when they want, and as easy as it can be with reasonable low prices, while motivating Developers by a unique shared revenue model that simply works for both! Everyone is happy, Apple, Developers, and customers!

    It has nothing to do, what so ever, with Apple’s review process, or API restrictions!! (The App store is full with Fart apps for instance!).. that’s why ratings and reviews exist in the world! To let the Community promote things and decide what is good! Although people are not alike, but this help buyers in filtering the apps they are interested in.

    The problem with Windows Mobile is MICROSOFT! They never put any real efforts to create a really reliable Mobile OS :), However, it was an example how community can cover huge mistakes and render WinMo to a usable OS.

    …. tbc

  3. @AymanKhateeb  |  October 18th, 2009 at 10:34 PM #

    Again, the success of iPhone as a gaming device has nothing to do with Apple’s review process, nor Apple’s limited APIs, it is about the Hardware inside this device, and the device drivers that Apple provided! Another very interesting point is that Apple is the Software and Hardware vendor, with around 30 Million device sold, with “almost” the same Software and hardware, which means Games developers are dealing with “almost” standard software and hardware with 30 Million item in the market!

    I guess this answers your question: “If Apple were to have opened the App Store without any restrictions, would this have happened?” it has nothing to do with Apple’s restrictions.

    by the way, most of the applications I used on my WinMob device where freeware from http://www.freewareppc.com/ .. very innovative, small programs that fixed great problems for me 🙂 ..

    “if the users are happy, that's all a for-profit company really needs.” That’s very true, and the only way that you keep your company profitable, is through keeping the users happy, and that’s only by listening to them… that’s the power of the community!

    Apple was very successful to bring all the elements into harmony that fueled the iPhone (AppStore, iPod, nice design, good OS, Business Model… etc), but to sustain its leadership, they need to keep on top of others, and keep the customers happy!

    I suggest that you read a very interesting book that gives great insights about those ideas, http://www.wikinomics.com/book/

  4. Amr Ramadan  |  October 19th, 2009 at 12:36 AM #

    "the only way that you keep your company profitable, is through keeping the users happy, and that’s only by listening to them… that’s the power of the community!" True, but the question is, who are its users? Are we techies its users? In Windows Mobile, yeah, definitely all its owners are power users, but is that the case for the iPhone? No, it isn't. I doubt the majority of the iPhone users even know what multi-tasking or background applications are.

    If there are 1,000,000 iPhone/iPod owners who understand what background processes are and would love to have it, and there are 50,000,000 iPhone/iPod owners in total. Should Apple work to please the minority, to deliver them convenience that will likely cause issues to the majority?

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