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Apple’s Misstep Keeps Kids from Showcasing Their Innovations on iPhone

Blog post by on April 26, 2010 No Comments

Oops.
Apple goofed.

Last week, Apple did something that created outrage among
educators and parents—one of their most important customer
segments.

Apple banned the use of a $3.95 iPhone app called Scratch
Viewer. Scratch Viewer would have let teachers, parents, and
young kids view the 1 million applications that young kids all
over the globe have created over the last three years using
Scratch.

Scratch is a kid-friendly free programming environment which was
developed at the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media
Lab, based on the work of Seymour Papert and Alan Kay. Mitchel
Resnick, the director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT,
had this to say to reporters and on the Scratch blog:

“We’re disappointed that Apple decided not to allow a Scratch
player on the iPhone or iPad (as part of Apple’s policy against
apps that interpret or execute code). As we see it, there is
nothing more important than empowering the next generation of kids
to design, create, and express themselves with new media
technologies. That’s the idea behind Scratch. Kids around the world
are using Scratch to program their own interactive stories, games,
animations, and simulations with Scratch—and sharing their creations
with one another online. In the process, kids learn to think
creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively. Since
the launch of Scratch in 2007, kids have shared nearly 1 million
projects on the Scratch
website
. We hope that Apple will reconsider its policies
so that more kids can experience the joys of creating and sharing
with Scratch. (By the way, the Scratch player for the iPhone was
created by a third party, not by our group at the MIT Media Lab.
But our group is planning to make Scratch authoring tools for the
iPad in the future, and we hope Apple will allow us….)”

Faithful Outside Innovation followers will recognize
Mitch Resnick as one of the heroes in the LEGO
Mindstorms’ NXT
story. Mitch has been engaging kids as
co-inventors at MIT since the early 1980s. He and Steve Ocko were
the grad students who connected computers to LEGOs so that young
kids could use Seymour Papert’s LOGO language to make their LEGO
creations come alive.

Unintended Consequences of Trying to Control the iPhone
Experience?

Enraging teachers and parents was an unintended consequence of a
highly controversial move that Apple made when it changed the
terms of its developer agreement for iPhone apps to limit the
programming languages and software toolkits you can use to create
iPhone and iPad apps. John McIntosh, a Canadian software
developer at Smalltalk Consulting Ltd is the
well-intentioned SmallTalk and Scratch evangelist who got caught
in the proverbial cross-fire. He is the guy who developed the
ScratchViewer iPhone app, working all night to have it ready and
to get it accepted by Apple in time for the launch of the iPad,
only to be notified the next day that he had to take it down.
Gillian Shaw, a reporter for the Vancouver Sun interviewed John:

“They basically said we think you are violating your contract
with us and we’d like you to pull the app,” said McIntosh, a
North Saanich-based developer, who is not affiliated with MIT
but created the application independently. “The issue is that
Scratch is an interpretive programming language and Apple does
not allow people to download interpretive programming languages
to their iPhone or iPad and run them.”

“We are really collateral damage with the issue Apple is having
with Adobe and Apple is just being consistent in enforcing the
regulations,” said McIntosh, referring to Apple’s controversial
decision not to allow Adobe’s Flash on its iPhone or iPad.”

Kids Caught in the Crossfire?

There is a huge debate raging around this “we want to dictate
what development tools you use to create iPhone apps” issue. You
can dive into the debate here. The recent change to the iPhone
developer agreement has been interpreted by some as Apple’s attempt
to force application developers to use Apple-only tools. Others
feel that Apple wants to control the quality of the iPad/iPhone
customer experience. Still others feel that the move is targeted
specifically at Adobe—to keep Adobe Flash out of the Apple iPhone
ecosystem. This has been characterized as a “war” between Apple and
Adobe.

Many, many pundits have weighed in on the topic of the roller
coaster relationship between Apple and Adobe—who pioneered
desktop publishing which put the Macintosh on the map. If you
want the “real” history about the relationship between Apple and
Adobe, you can read and comment on my brother Jonathan Seybold’s
history lesson and current perspective in my blog. Jonathan was the consultant behind the
scenes who brokered the original relationship among Apple’s
Steve Jobs, Adobe’s John Warnock, and helped Paul Brainerd focus
Aldus on producing the first desktop publishing application for the
Mac—PageMaker.

How Will Apple Recover Its Kid- and Developer-Friendly
Image?

This is a great example of the way that well-intentioned and
even customer-centric business strategies sometimes backfire.
Apple might have been able to deal with the ire of Adobe fans and
Flash developers. Apple can easily brush off the criticisms of
people like me who advocate the use of cross-platform development
environments to make it easy for developers (including customers
and kids) to write once and run anywhere (with automagic optimization
for each platform), by pointing out that you can’t really deliver
an “Apple” customer experience without taking advantage of
the secret sauce that using Apple’s xCode allows.

But Apple will need to make peace and restitution with the
educators who make up such an important group of advocates for
the Apple platform. I’m sure Apple will do that by helping Mitch
Resnick’s group with the financial support required to develop
Scratch for iPhone—so that kids will not only be able view their
Scratch projects but also develop them on the iPhone ecosystem.
Apple will probably also negotiate a compromise with John
McIntosh.

Only time will tell whether Apple’s taking firm control of the
iPhone development environment was a smart bet in terms of growing a
vibrant, profitable, customer-centric ecosystem.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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