So what is the digital store controversy? This goes back to the Epic Games vs. Apple lawsuite that I discussed in my podcasts episode 2 back in February. The problem is that as specially in the smartphone and tablet sector you have two dominating platforms iOS by Apple and Android by Google. Both of these platforms come with their own digital software stores the App Store and the Google Play Store. Since these are the default stores most users stick to them, provided they have an option, which they don’t have on iOS. This results in Apple and Google being able to dictate the prices and conditions for sales on these stores, which is not great when it comes to competition and competitive pricing.
Epic Games is suing Apple over these conditions and ideally would like to bring their Epic Games Store, a competitor to Valve Software’s Steam Store, Electronic Arts Origin Store on Windows PC, to iOS. This lawsuit already is digging up a lot of interesting information about the industry. And I am not saying that an open market would not be beneficial as specially to us developers and the consumer at large.
The main problem for me goes a bit deeper than this general idea of the open market since we are talking about different categories of devices when we talk about digital stores. Why does the type of device matter in this discussion? – You will probably ask, since the functionality of a store and the associated business models should be the same.
The problem is the intended use of a device, their scope of usage. A regular computer, your PC or Mac, is a general purpose device. You can and should be able to run on it whatever software you would like to run. In the other extreme you have a single purpose device like a gaming console, so your Xbox or PlayStation. These devices have a limited scope since they are intended for providing a great gaming experience first and additional functionality like media consumption second.
Our Smarphones and Tablets sit somewhere in the middle of these two extremes and you will find different prioritisations. Apple for example maintains iOS more like a game console while Google made Android to be more open. Both these approaches have their advantages and drawbacks.
In the end it comes down to a compromise between security, privacy and openness. The tech industry is in this battle already for a long time, it goes back to 2012 where Apple announced the introduction of Gatekeeper in macOS. Gatekeeper is basically a machinism in macOS that is similar to how Apps are handled on iOS. Applications need to be signed with Apple issued certificates so macOS marks those as trusted. Microsoft does something similar for Device Drivers even longer than that, but the idea for signed software was new. Apple at the time took a lot of heat for initially intending to limit macOS software installs to verifiable software only. The recent news on the PC side in that regards is the announcement by Microsoft to require a trusted platform module (TPM) in regular PCs. The idea behind these steps is to make PCs and Macs more secure and less vulnerable to computer viruses and mailware. The disadvantage of course is that the freedom of the user is being limited, since only content from “trusted” sources can be used.
As I said above this model of trusted software is used by Apple on iOS since the inception of the App Store and in my opinion this approach has been proven over the years, even if some of the review guidelines have been controversial at times. iOS leaves minimal attack vectors for computer viruses and mailware, which is much more a problem on Android where you should be running a Anti Virus Software on your device similar to your Windows PC. However Google slowly but surely is taking similar steps to what Apple has been doing for years and Quality and Security has improved on Android since then.
This security factor is my main issue in this discussion, because if you open up the digital store space for mobile devices you would have to empose regulations to all store providers to ensure the security and safety of the users device and data. This is a critical point that is overlooked in this discussion. I don’t want to have the ecosystem opened up only to open the flood gates for attack vectors on my most sensitive data. Don’t forget that our phones today hold some of our most personal data like conctact information, photos, videos, chats etc. and you rely on the device on the go. If some crappy software blocks you from calling emergency services due to it blocking all access to your phone, this can cost lives! The latter can not happen on a game console or a PC/Mac, so a phone is a much more sensitive space.
It will be interesting to see what the legeslatures and courts are doing with this situation. I would be interested in your thoughts on this, so feel free to leave a comment.