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Integrated Apple and App Store Risk

 

Integrated Apple and App Store Risk

Courtesy of Ben Thompson, Stratechery

[Originally published June 8, 2021]

Apple acquired Dark Sky, the popular weather app and weather API provider, in March of 2020; the Android version was shut down in July, and the API in December. The real storm, though, arrived in yesterday’s WWDC keynote, when Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi spent 49 seconds previewing iOS 15’s new weather app, filled with new features and wrapped in a gorgeous interface featuring real-time weather elements like accumulating snow and bouncing raindrops.

What made these 49 seconds notable is that they came at a developer conference, and yet Apple’s acquisition of Dark Sky and iOS 15’s new weather app are quite clearly focused on obviating 3rd-party weather apps built by the developers WWDC is theoretically for. This isn’t a complete surprise — the public WWDC keynote is focused on consumers, while the afternoon Platforms State of the Union is for developers — but the new Weather App was only the most extreme example of Apple deciding what part of the iPhone user experience was theirs, and what was left for developers.

The Dark Side of Weather Apps

There is another way of thinking about Apple’s new Weather app; in 2019, a year before the Dark Sky acquisition, the city of Los Angeles sued the IBM-owned Weather Company for collecting and selling location information from its popular Weather Channel app; the company eventually settled with an agreement to better disclose that it was leveraging user location data for more than delivering weather reports.

The problem for users is that it is not as if they could turn location data off: unless a user wanted to manually enter their location every time they used a weather app the app would be fairly useless for its intended function — displaying the weather wherever the user was. The challenge for weather app makers, though, is that weather information is a commodity that costs money: app makers had to pay for the data, but that data was open to anyone willing to pay. The result was a race to the bottom, with user privacy as the casualty: AccuWeather was shown to be sharing precise geolocation data with advertisers, as was WeatherBug, Weather Forecast, and World Weather Accurate Radar.

From this perspective Apple deciding to nuke the entire category, not by outlawing weather apps from the App Store, but rather by investing in delivering a superior weather app by default on the iPhone, is less about being anti-developer than it is about being pro-user. Now users can get useful weather information without having to worry that their data is being traded for access to said information — it’s a reason to buy an iPhone.

App Store Controversy

While Stratechery started out extensively covering the App Store and Apple’s relationship to its developers from the moment it launched, the last year has brought the issue to the forefront in a major way: last WWDC Apple had a public clash with Basecamp; faced an antitrust lawsuit from Epic; received a statement of objections from the European Commission over its treatment of third-party music apps, most notably Spotify; saw CEO Tim Cook testify in an industry-wide antitrust hearing; and was dressed down in a hearing specifically focused on App Stores. There were even more stories, but you get the drift.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with major news stories, many folks’ positions hardened into one of two extremes: either Apple was 100% in the wrong, and ought to completely loosen the reins on the App Store, or Apple was being unfairly maligned for profiting from its innovations. I tried to dig out the nuance between these two positions two weeks ago in App Store Arguments, but the example of the iOS 15 weather app, along with the overall tenor of yesterday’s announcements, is a useful one to add more definition to that nuance, and show why Apple ought to change its approach out of self-interest, not just the goodness of its corporate heart.

Continue at Stratechery -> 


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