Developer Interview: iOS app developer Steve Troughton-Smith

Me: Wow! That’s a lot of devices.  What’s your favorite OS to work with and why?

SS:  iOS, of course, is my favorite. With iOS, it’s really easy to make good apps, which means you can make /really great/ apps in a lot less time than on other platforms. Of course iOS is also the biggest income target, too. I would closely follow iOS with Nokia’s ‘concept car’ MeeGo Harmattan OS, the likes of is are seen on the N9 and N950 limited edition devices. It’s the closest thing out there to iOS, yet remains even more open than Android (there’s a switch to root your phone in the settings app!). In close third would come Windows Phone 7, which also makes it easy to make awesome, well-designed apps. I love the highly-cerebral design aesthetic behind Windows Phone, and really applaud Microsoft for creating something distinctly unique and non-derivative for the first time.

Me:  What are your thoughts on Android’s Market potential as an actual sales drive? vs the App Store?

SS:  Android Market is the number two game in town as regards total count of apps available, but from the latest data I’ve seen it actually fourth in terms of revenue for developers, beneath iOS, BlackBerry and Nokia’s Ovi store. While the Android Market has a ton of apps, it has very few good apps – you could probably count on two hands the amount of truly well-designed Android apps in the Market (ignoring 3D games which don’t fall under the usual style or design categories). For brand new apps, it’s very difficult to get Android customers to actually pay for things; since users don’t actually buy things there’s no lock-in to the platform – nothing stopping someone from moving to iOS or WP7 and replacing all their apps. With that in mind, it’s hard to think of the Android Market as driving sales of apps or devices. Yes I generalize, and yes there are exceptions, but I do think Android is years behind iOS as an ecosystem for this reason.

Me:  Thoughts on an openvs. a closedOS? What benefits do you think each one brings to a developer?

SS:  “Open” to me is a very simple idea: you can install anything you want on your device, and you can change pretty much anything you like. I like open. I like things I can hack. I don’t like bad or sloppy design, or relying on your ‘openness’ to sell your platform at the expense of everything else. I do not think “open” in the Stallman sense is best for normal people at all; that’s an entire ideology and people often conflate that version of “open” with Android’s version of “open” (Android is in no way “open” like that, you must pay Google to license the real Android and all its development is done in secret and includes proprietary components that Google will never give you source code for).

There is a fine balance to keep here, and there are three standout examples in the market today: iOS, MeeGo Harmattan, and webOS.

iOS is very closed, but that’s not important when you can jailbreak. With a jailbreak you can do virtually anything you want, add/remove anything you like (heck, even run Android on your iPhone).

As mentioned above, however, MeeGo Harmattan (Nokia’s N9) is the best example of an “open” OS. Even tho the entire OS is designed like iOS to value the user first and foremost and really sweat the details on design, Harmattan has a switch in the settings app that, when you toggle it, roots your phone, downloads all the dev tools, and installs SSH for you so you can log into it from your computer and do whatever you want. You can bluetooth an app installation package to your device, or download one in the browser, and it will install. Virtually nothing is off limits, should you want.

webOS has something similar too, and a vibrant modding/hacking community that is (was?) sanctioned and contributed to by HP/Palm. These things are *way* more important than having the source code to your OS available.

The benefits of a closed or open ecosystem to a developer aren’t really relevant; a closed ecosystem makes sure that you can concentrate all your efforts on a single app store to target 100% of consumers, there’s very little chance of malware or viruses and you can really ensure the user has a great experience. An open ecosystem allows you create software that could never have been possible before, and allows you treat the device as a blank canvas – a lot of iOS jailbreak mods and hacks are amazing in that respect. On the flip side, there is a much increased risk of malware, piracy, etc, and any number of hacks that can affect the software you write adversely.

What’s actually relevant is how a closed or open system empowers or hinders its users; do they get a ton of amazing apps and games? Do they get an amazing end-to-end experience? Are they safe in what they do? Is it safe to give to their kids? Can they do what they want without breaking their phone? You pretty much have to make compromises to do the right thing for users, no matter how open or closed you are. Some consumers will disagree with you entirely, others will thank you for making their lives better. That’s why there can never be a single platform for everybody.

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Parth Dhebar

Parth Dhebar is a 18 year-old entrepreneur. He is the founder of Simple Reviews, a blog focused on reviewing iPhone and iPad applications. Parth is a recognized name in the industry, known for covering Apple news. He is an editor at Techie-Buzz covering news on Apple. You can follow him on Twitter @pdparticle.