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Apple iPhone OS 4.0: A Beginning, or Beginning of the End?

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Business Change is a odd thing. We all know we have to be constantly changing our businesses to adapt to … well, changing business … but should business change be active or passive? Proactive or reactive?

And is it ever a good idea to anger your suppliers?

Apple has announced the next generation of operating system software for the iPhone. OS 4.0 will bring the iPhone more or less to parity with what’s developed over the last couple of years for Google’s Android operating system and made popular on devices like the Droid, and make no mistake: Apple had to address the problems in iPhone OS. So hooray for Jobs & Company; Steve has shown that he understands that arrogantly pushing forth into the places he says are “right” all the time isn’t a viable long-term strategy.

I’m not going to turn this into a rant on how God-like Steve Jobs has a propensity for acting. CLEARLY, Steve Jobs has one of the great business minds of the last few decades, and maybe of all time. But I look at what’s happening in iPhone OS 4.0 and I can’t help but wonder whether Mr. Jobs has jumped the shark.

Speaking both functionally and technically, I love that at some level Apple is acknowledging things like multitasking and intelligent organization matter, and that even if there needs to be a cohesiveness to the iPhone that acknowledges its core feature to BE that of a phone and thus needs to be protected that once you turn a phone into a computer it need to act like one. So kudos: iPhone OS 4.0 is a step forward in ways that matter.

Yes, now your iPhone can almost be your primary computer. Thank goodness, because you know what I think of the iPad.

But simultaneous with opening up the iPhone to new, important ways of operating, Apple has made life even more difficult for developers than their already-notoriously-heavy-handed partnership agreement has done.

If you develop software for iPhone 4.0, you will now be obligated to do so using Apple-approved programming languages. Technically, any “C” programming language is allowable, but Apple is making it clear that they’d prefer you to use a variant of C called Objective-C. Oh: and don’t you dare use FLASH.

And historically, Apple stating a preference tends to lead to Apple issuing a mandate.

There’s a good reason for forcing all developers to use the same programming language: Apple is saying that in order to protect the integrity of the iPhone they need to be able to easily examine code used to create apps that run on it. And let’s be fair: with over a hundred thousand apps already available it’s incredibly difficult to have your staff be able to examine and understand all the code being submitted if they need to live in a Tower of Babel.

Now move on to iAd. Isn’t it great that Apple has made it so very easy for software developers to make money in the advertising business? But what if you want to partner with Google’s AdMob to be your ad distributor instead of Apple? Or maybe you think you can go it on your own; good luck getting an advertising-supported app approved for iPhone OS 4.0 if it hooks to any clearinghouse other than iAd.

I said above that Steve Jobs is one of the most brilliant businessmen in history, and I’m going to stand by that. But Apple feels more like “the evil empire” every time they make an announcement, and iPhone 4.0 trumps pretty much anything they’ve come up with before.

And that doesn’t even take into account the huge and head-scratch-inducing business change that iPhone OS 4.0 represents when you consider that for the second time in three months and maybe in their history Apple has pre-announced a product. Apple never does that.

And so I wonder: is iPhone OS 4.0 a business change for the better, or a sign that Apple is getting desperate?

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