Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Google "breaking" iPhone rules: Get over it!

The Google-iPhone stories keep on coming.

The blogosphere is-a-Twitter (®) over Google’s use of undocumented APIs in its voice-activated search application. Google this week confirmed earlier analysis that Google couldn’t implement at least one feature (auto-detection of face proximity) without using the undocumented APIs.

Of course, applications use undocumented APIs all the time — for years if not decades. As a Mac developer in the 1980s, we had to figure out (translation: reverse engineer) what the undocumented APIs were to get our printer drivers working, but other applications also needed to know for system-level things like Memory Manager hacks.

The consequence is that anything using an undocumented API may break when a new OS or device comes out. (For example, the VM scheme in our printer driver broke when the 68040 used a different code/data caching scheme than any previous Motorola processor).

This means that undocumented APIs are to be avoided, but if you need them to ship, you ship. However, you have to carefully track prerelease hardware and software for incompatibility and be ready to drop everything if your code is not upward compatible.

Thus, I find a lack of realism in the hysteria over “Google: Yes, We Broke iPhone App Store Rules” and all the similar headlines. (There’s also the possibility, as some have commented, that Apple might have deliberately shared these APIs).

Yes, there’s an element of capriciousness (if not hypocrisy) in Apple’s decision to overlook the “violation” and let the world’s largest Internet company distribute its app through the App Store. But they’re Apple’s rules, to enforce as they see fit. And it’s not like that’s new — people have been complaining about it since the App Store opened earlier this year.

And this is just a microcosm of a larger economic reality of third party software relations. For thirty years, ISVs have known that major, strategically important third party applications are treated differently than those from no-name companies. Sometimes the favored applications aren’t even good, just from a company that has a lot of clout. (Something like dBase Mac comes to mind).

So, as my favorite band once sang

But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing.
Get over it.
Get over it.

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