Apple’s publishing announcement, and the usual commentary

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Tell me if this sounds vaguely familiar. Apple announces they’re going to announce something. A few details leak. The speculation goes crazy, and the usual suspects end up deciding that what Apple needs to do includes a couple of puppies, a unicorn, three rainbows and free coffee for life.

Apple makes their announcement. It merely includes one puppy, a pony and a rainbow. No free coffee.

And the usual suspects jump on Apple because the product isn’t what they decided they wanted, even though that was clearly not what Apple ever intended it to be. This is somehow Apple’s fault.

The big criticisms coming back at the announcement seem to boil down to:

It’s for the iPad only, and it isn’t a publishing environment that can be used for other devices or platforms (like the Kindle).

And the licensing says if you sell it, you have to sell it via Apple’s iBook store.

Horrors.  And, evidently, that kind of licensing is unprecedented.

Well, no, it’s not. If you view the iBook store as a platform, which many pundits have already declared it to be, than the new Apple book publisher tool is the equivalent of its SDK. And it’s not unprecedented for a company to limit use of it’s developer tools to its platform. We did that with webOS, where if you wanted to build webOS applications and sell them, you had to sell them through our store.

Matthew Ingram @ GigaOM worries this puts this content deep into Apple’s walled garden, and I sympathize, but there’s no licensing restriction that keeps you from publishing your content on other platforms using other tools; merely not using this tool to publish on those platforms. That’s a standard business decision about going cross-platform. If the market warrants it, you take your source code and build it for two platforms, only in this case, those platforms are iBook and Kindle instead of IOS and Android. In my mind, it’s a non-issue, just like it’s a non-issue to worry that publishing Angry Birds on the iPad might keep it off of other platforms. It won’t — if there’s a market for it. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Apple to “not make it easy” to publish on competitive platforms, that’s not in their self-interest.

Much as I want a multi-platform, one-button, publish my stuff everywhere tool — I fully understand why Apple wants to see some return on the investment it made in its tools, and I never expected Apple to create that. Ultimately, Apple is about selling hardware, so the way you do that is target the results of the tools to the platform that runs on that hardware. That’s what Apple did.

The alternative is to charge for the tools up front. If they did that, we’d simply be having a different argument, and the chance of adoption would go down dramatically. Now, if you want to do content to give away, you have many more options then if Apple charged $99 for this too. And if you plan on charging for it, well, don’t complain about Apple wanting a piece. That’s business.

Thinking that Apple should build a tool and give it away for free that enables you to put your content on the Kindle store and sell it? Incredibly naive, if you really think they should do that.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the publishing tool I was hoping to see, primarily because of these licensing restrictions. On the other hand, what I wanted it to be was never what Apple intended to build, and I didn’t really think they would.

I do think, however, that now that we’ve seen how Apple built this, it’s only a matter of time before some third party does build a tool very like it that does spit out a PDF and a Kindle doc and an iBook doc from the same tool. Apple has defined the direction, and (not surprisingly), targeted it to benefit Apple. I know this upsets some of the geeks, but hey, ultimately they have to pay the bills somehow. In this case, by convincing folks to put content on iPads instead of Kindles and Fires and TouchPads (hah. just kidding) through building really good tools to build it with. (and that’ll work. Just watch).

These tools will arrive for the other platforms, now that Apple has (again) set the bar. It’s not like Apple built a closed platform; others can build tools to publish to iBook as well, without the licensing restrictions. And they will (it should be Adobe, but it won’t be, I bet).

And this is a 1.0 product, in a new market they’ve been involved in for less than 24 hours. Free Coffee takes time to brew. And it’s far from unprecedented for Apple to build the basic product, stick the flag in the ground, and say “we don’t really know where it goes from here, so we’ll ship it and innovate as we find out where we need to go” — they did that with iTunes, and it didn’t turn out badly (and with iAds, where it didn’t turn out so well). You have to start somewhere, and if you wait until all of the features are thought out and implemented, you lose, because someone else will have shipped something first and pushed the market away from you.

The only problem I see here is the common one with Apple announcements: it’s not the product people fantasized it would be. And my guess is that like other times when the tech echo chamber roundly raised up in horror over not getting enough free coffee and rainbows, the criticisms will be ignored by those the product was really intended for, and it’ll be a nice success. Which will only annoy the pundits even more….

I really like what I saw today. I’m admittedly disappointed that it doesn’t serve my personal goals — in other words, I’m going to experiment with it, but probably not publish through it — but I’m not the intended audience. Fortunately, I actually recognize that, so I don’t take it personally. And I see how this can be extended later, and how third parties can compete against it and build on its foundations, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be too long before I do start getting the tools I want, driven out by what Apple set in motion today.

And I think this will impact the education system in a number of good ways, too. Which is bigger and more important than getting me what I want, anyway…

(hat tip, Daring Fireball and ReadWriteWeb)


This entry was posted in Computers and Technology.
  • Sean Fagan

    Apparently nobody remembers compiler licenses from 30 years ago.

  • ozan yigit

    good note, but i don’t understand why you have to be oblique about some things as if this was an editorial in some local newspaper.  “And the usual suspects jump on Apple because the product isn’t what they decided they wanted …” do name names, give examples of criticisms you find less coherent than you would like.