There has been a lot of news lately about Apple reversing course with various apps using extensions and widgets in iOS 8. At WWDC a few months ago Apple (or more precisely the engineering branch of Apple) announced a lot of new toys they’d thrown in iOS 8 to make it easier for developers to extend the experience of their apps to notification center, other applications, and cloud based storage. To me, and a lot of other people, it felt like exactly what iOS needed.
Then a group of smart developers started building things with these new tools We got Today View widgets that could open apps, calculate a tip, and otherwise increase the functionality of our iThingies. More developers dug in on the cloud accessibility with, perhaps one of the best new apps being Panic’s Transmit which gave us the ability to move files between different cloud services at will.
Apple approved these apps, put them up for sale, and, in some cases, even featured them. We paid money for the apps and now a bunch of them are being required to remove the innovative features we bought them for at risk of being pulled from the App Store.
So how did Apple get so bi-polar on extensibility in iOS? I’d argue they’ve always had warring factions over this issue but the battles have always been behind closed doors in Cupertino. Now it’s public. Now we actually see some really great functionality only to have the carpet yanked from under us. If Microsoft or Google were changing its mind publicly like this, all of us Apple geeks would be giggling about it.
There is no doubt in my mind who should win. I think the extensions mentioned above only make iOS better. They are all in applications that users must download and extensions that users must enable. I can’t see how the “this will confuse users” argument holds any weight since these all require action by the user to enable. If I found myself sitting at Tim Cook’s desk, I’d say let them through. I’m sure developers are taking the iOS 8 tools to places the iOS development team didn’t anticipate. However, I think this is something to celebrate, not restrict.
There is a separate, equally troubling question arising from all of this. How is this all happening in public? Regardless of whether or not Apple agrees with me about what developers can and can’t do, somebody needs to decide, predictable standards should be identified, and we should move on. Let’s hope the days of wibbly-wobbly changes like this are nearly over.