iOS: The Runtime System for Innovation

This post may ruffle some feathers.

As I take as step back from Apple’s WWDC, I think a couple of observations are worth making. First, Apple is continuing their trend toward more openness with their platforms. The argument Apple is “closed” no longer holds much water. More importantly, a philosophy around this openness is starting to take form. While Apple is continuing to open up elements of the platform, something they have been criticised before about keeping closed, the underlying theme for the way in which they are becoming more open is through user experience. Apple, it seems, has observed the hard lessons learned from Microsoft’s platforms and Android which, while “open”, more often than not, the extreme degree of openness has an impact on customer experience. That impact can be in security, inconsistency in interfaces or operations, or even just causing fundamental issues of hardware failure. Apple is striving to strike a balance in how they open up core parts of the platform experience they once strictly controlled and are doing so in a way to ensure these past lessons of extreme openness that hurt the customer experience are not repeated.

The criticism Apple so often faced by those who believed their lack of freedom or choice was inhibited by Apple’s closed platforms were often a critique of things very few people do. Very few users want to root their devices or customize them to no end with third party options. The criticism which did hold slightly true was the one that stated such a closed platform fundamentally limited what the consumer could potentially do. Which is why Apple’s slow walk to open up more parts of the platform, and thus give developers/third parties new levels of opportunity to add value to core experiences once controlled by Apple, is so interesting. It speaks to a level of maturity in the market to be open to such new potential, but also for third parties to now also create fundamentally new experiences and in brand new ways. Which is why the moves made by Apple convince me iOS is the primary platform where software and services innovation is going to happen.

That statement has been argued before and is quite difficult to debate if we are honest. The vast majority of new startups being funded are apps focused on iOS. Companies like Google and Microsoft are continuing to create software experiences that also start on iOS and are sometimes iOS only. Apple’s customers remain the most valuable group of humans on the planet which adds to the economic incentives for the focus on iOS and users of the platform. But the big picture observation most interesting to me is that iOS will be the platform where consumers will get the best of all worlds. The best of Apple, the best of Microsoft, the best of Google, the best of Amazon, the best of the startup and entrepreneurial software community, and slowly but surely, the best of the business world. The best of every company’s software and services efforts will be on iOS. This is not something I can say of any other platform. It is not true of Windows, as much as Microsoft hopes it will be with Windows 10, and it is not true of Android.

Apple’s continued position of iOS as the main platform for innovation is extremely difficult to compete with but also extremely attractive from a value proposition as mature market consumers come to understand this reality as it plays out. Furthermore, Apple is starting to take a back seat when it comes to first party software in many areas. The fact you can now delete (actually, hide) Apple’s first party apps in iOS 10 is an admission, in my opinion, that they are surrendering specific experiences to third parties who will do it better. It’s a compromise to make their hardware and their platform the most worthwhile place for software and services innovation. What is interesting are areas where Apple is innovating in first party software. Apps like Photos, iMessage, Home, and others are making the most compelling first party experiences central to Apple’s ecosystem but letting Microsoft be the best at productivity or Facebook with social media for example. Balancing this tradeoff is key in having robust software and services companies make your platform the best place for innovation.

If anything, what Apple did with WWDC cements this direction. Android will continue to have the dominant share of platforms but it will not be the platform where the most interesting and innovative software is. Certainly, some apps and experiences will also be on Android but, en masse, iOS is where all the best companies and brightest minds’ efforts in software and services innovation will converge.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

870 thoughts on “iOS: The Runtime System for Innovation”

  1. I think you’re deeply misunderstanding what “open” means on at least 2 axis. Hint: it doesn’t mean “extensible”:

    1- “extensible” is not “open”. The technical ability to extend the abilities of an app is a required first step, but isn’t openness until you are actually allowed to do it. Apple’s app extensions are as closed, actually more closed, then Apple’s whole ecosystem. Apple still curates based on obscure criteria that include business, legal, technical and ergonomics, and randomness of the day. Same as for apps, with a few more layers. One needs to drink a lot of magic kool-aid to mistake that for open. Naofumi came up with the very apt browser analogy: most browsers are open because they accept plug-ins, anyone can make plugins, and *the user* can install the plugins he wants.

    2- “open” is not about rooting a device (that’s a technical measure that relies on bugs and exploits to force the OS open, similar to jailbreaking on the Apple side, it is not openness unless officially allowed/supported); sideloading (installing an app NOT downloaded from the official store) does fall into the “open” category on Android since it’s an official option. Nor about “customize them to no end with third party options”. It’s about being able to do whatever you want with the device you own, ie run one of the numerous apps Apple banned for random, moral or business reasons (don’t trust me, see EFF: ). Maybe a tourist in Amsterdam would like brothels and coffee shops to show up on maps. On we’d like to be able to fling shoes at GW Bush. Or to use a non-Apple payment system, say in a country where Apple Pay isn’t available, or to use a different HTML/javascript engine that better complies with HTML5 )… That’s not “customize them to no end with third party options” that’s “use my device for I want”.

    1. If I may add to your excellent post, “open” also very much means what other developers, both hardware and software get to do, freely. The customer is the sole arbiter of whether they use it, and whether they like it.
      Having an “App Approval Process” is censorship. This alone does not disqualify “open”, keeping other stores out does.
      “This post may ruffle some feathers”-B. Bajarin
      Only in the sense that you can say whatever you want, as long as I agree with it. The author presented a well thought out (and intentinally well limited) position. Some would call it focus, in this instance I call it bias.

    2. “I think you’re deeply misunderstanding what “open” means on at least 2 axis. Hint: it doesn’t mean “extensible”…”

      I wish you could state your opinion as just your opinion. Maybe you’d win more hearts and minds.

      1. It’s not opinion-based, it’s reality-based. And the required reality for something to be open is roughly described in my post.

    3. I intentionally was careful wit this wording, hopefully you caught that. I said Apple is getting more open, but doing so with caution to preserve the customer experience, but also that this is an evolution, meaning I expect more as well.

      I also made the point about what most decide as “open” as the definition is not what the mainstream really cares about. So I’d again focus your counterpoints with mainstream consumers in mind and what is good for mainstream consumers, not what is “open” and good for the minority who care about full flexibility in their OS.

      1. Excellent point about mainstream consumers. What the Open! crowd misses is that most of our world is not open, it is regulated and closed. But they don’t complain about other closed systems because in relation to those systems they are the mainstream consumers. Cars for example are closed systems, but hardly anyone cares about modding their car, swapping engines, etc anymore. Most of the systems in our lives are regulated and closed. But most of us are mainstream consumers in relation to those systems, and those closed systems provide a lot of stability, benefit, and value to us. So we don’t complain about open vs closed. It is mostly in tech where we hear the Open! crowd complain about closed systems, and yet in other areas of their lives they are fine with closed systems. It seems obvious that tech will evolve along this same path, to become more closed, more regulated, more abstracted, and yet at the same time more extensible, more powerful, and this will ultimately provide more freedom to more people.

        1. Where we agree is that ease of use (not just a closed system attribute) raises the average. In that sense, it’s more freedom to more people.

          Even if I were to accept your “the world is closed” argument it does not change the fact that computing has been dominated by openness (in the PC era at least) which is giving way to closed censored and restricted with a mandatory IT overlord (led by Apple).

          We’re losing freedoms.

          1. This is simply the natural evolution of technology. The world around us is both closed and open, but it leans towards regulation and closed systems (as well as abstraction). This is how we arrive at stability and value, and ease of use, and that does result in more freedom, not less. You didn’t build your car from the ground up, you simply leased it. You also don’t need to be a mechanic to keep it running. And to gain those benefits you gave up some control, you submitted to a closed system. Of course you’ll argue that your car is actually open. It is not, it is extensible and standard to some degree, but it is not open in the way you talk about Open! and Freedom! when it comes to technology. The “PC era” as you call it was a stage of evolution, it was never going to be the end point. Of course you’re free to dislike this natural evolution of technology. My 82 year old father didn’t like the natural evolution of cars becoming more closed either.

          2. The market wants just works, with no headaches, consistent experiences, etc.. This is why most systems are more closed. But that is also why I make the point that Apple is evolving along this path of opening just enough to add new capabilities. The market evolves, it wants more, there is a balance to be struck between flexibility/freedom and a consistent user experience. That is what Apple is trying to do that I find so interesting.

          3. So then what would be your objection if I had alternate stores from which to buy software for my iPad?

          4. It’s simple, less guarantee of quality of experience of apps, more likely to sneak in malware or hack ware, etc. Not sure if you have seen the mess of app stores in China, I think there are over a dozen still. Hugely inconsistent experience that is more pain than its worth.

            The more open any platform the more one needs to fuss with it. Just simply the way it is, more problems come up. Not something most want when it comes to technology.

          5. That explains why you would want it, not why you would mind if I had it.

            No disrespect, but for the sake of argument, who are you to decide where I get software for my device. I understand Apple’s reasons (though I consider them less than noble), I don’t understand your reasons about MY choice (or lack thereof) of where to get iOS programs.

          6. Your request naturally introduces complexity. You can’t introduce complexity without impacting all users in various ways. That may not always be true of course, which is why I’ve said it may be possible to have additional sources of software in the future. But for today your request isn’t practical. Ben did explain all of this, not sure how you didn’t understand the answer.

          7. But it would be MY complexity, not yours on what programs I run. You are free to stay within the walls.

          8. Introducing complexity to a platform (modifying the platform so that you can have additional app stores and sources for software) necessarily affects the entire platform, and all users of that platform. Your choice cannot operate independently of that reality. You seem to be in denial about this.

            That said, it may be possible in the future. Once technology evolves enough and is abstracted enough, there could be a way to compartmentalize software and deliver what you’re asking for. But I could be wrong, maybe it isn’t possible.

          9. Okay, and each and every jailbreak of an iPhone involves use of a vulnerability in iOS.
            “Momma always told me not to look into the eyes of the Sun,
            But Mama, that’s where the fun is…” -Bruce Springsteen
            Freedom understandably can lead to more trouble to be had. But the indiscriminate limiting of freedom is a only the user’s decision (i.e. stay in the walls). I’ve brought this up before, ’90s AOL was “safe”, but not exclusive. The user chose.

          10. I’m not saying I care, my reasoning falls in line with Apple’s. Most don’t care and are perfectly happy with apple’s approach. If your not then other platforms exist where you can have more choice. Pretty simple.

          11. You’ve lost no freedoms. Apple does not dominate computing. Actually never has. You are free to choose other than Apple. There are lots of companies vying for _your_ dollar. Why you insist on the rest of us not having the choice we’ve made is beyond me.

            Having history “on your side” doesn’t actually matter. History is on the side of many things—horse powered transportation, hand cranks to start cars, hand made vs machine made products, slavery, women not allowed to vote, computers the size of small buildings—that doesn’t mean things can’t or shouldn’t change. Now, get off my lawn!


          12. Once bought I’ve lost freedoms I’ve traditionally enjoyed on all other platforms including, Mac, Windows, Android, Linux, WP7-10, WP3, Symbian, etc…
            Should other stores come to iOS it is exactly zero skin off your nose. Your support of forbiddance is skin off mine.

          13. Blaming others because you want to hit yourself in the head seems both pointless and worthless.

            But mobile is a step _forward_ in, well, mobility.


          14. Here’s where you and I agree. The best computer is the one you have with you. When at home all my mobile devices are secondary or tertiary. But what about laptops? They’re quite mobile, just not pocketable.

          15. Interesting, you either can’t see or refuse to see how other stores would affect all users of the platform. I’ll give you just one example. Let’s say you get your wish and other stores for iOS apps exist. Now you can put whatever app you like on your iPhone. But wait, you just downloaded malware which spreads through messages or email, and so on. Now you’ve spread malware to other iOS users. Or worse yet, the malware you installed somehow connects and gathers data from those around you. Ah, the freedom of open. There are many more examples. It is disturbing that you can’t or won’t think of these obvious scenarios.

          16. It hurts no one, you’re FUD of “modification” is unfounded. They would use existing installation mechanisms.
            It’s only bad when MS does it I suppose. (Which even they, evil as they are, have not)

          17. I was hoping you’d say something like this. So, if alternate stores use the same mechanisms and are presumably as locked down and curated as the single app store (since you’re saying the possibility of more malware is FUD this has to be the case, by your own logic), then alternate stores are no different than the single app store. You won’t be able to get any more or less software through an alternate store. If you can get more and alternate stores are more open, then that has to open an avenue for more malware, but you’ve said this is FUD so alternate stores (in your mind) will not be more open, in fact they wouldn’t be any different from the single app store. If that’s the case you’ve just argued against alternate stores. Unless all you want is multiple copies of a single app store, which is quite odd.

          18. Slide whistle…..
            Alternate stores foster competition and market segmentation.
            I would not expect a Christian book store to sell sleazy novels, but I would expect the freedom of having other book stores that do.
            It also opens up competition for channel for developers and content creators.
            If YOU SG fear sleazy novels (malware), no one is telling you not to shop at the Christian book store (Apple App Store)exclusively. Don’t tell others where they can shop.

          19. But you said my example of malware in alternate stores was FUD. Now you’re saying alternate stores would have malware. Which is it? If alternate stores have a higher rate of malware (or even if they just open up more avenues for new malware, Competition! Freedom!) then that does affect the entire platform and your statement “Should other stores come to iOS it is exactly zero skin off your nose.” is not true. You have to pick one story and stick to it.

            I’m not opposed to alternate stores if that can be done in a way that does not affect the entire platform, but currently that is not possible. Your assertion that alternate stores would have zero impact on other users is magical thinking.

          20. No you’re supposed “modifications” to the ecosystem required to do what I say were FUD.

            “I’m not opposed to alternate stores if that can be done in a way thatdoes not affect the entire platform,” Good!

            “but currently that is not possible.” That’s the FUD.

          21. The ecosystem would very likely have to be modified in many ways to accommodate alternate stores. Who refunds your money when you get scammed in an alternate store? Who supports your device when an app from an alternate store causes problems? Who pays when a piece of malware uses up way too much data? Who is responsible when you tell a friend about a great app and he mistakenly gets it from an alternate store and that version of the app is malware? I could go on. It can’t be Apple taking care of any of these problems, since you’ve said this change would have zero impact on the platform. But let’s leave this part of your magical thinking for now.

            The introduction of alternate stores would naturally affect the entire platform, which means all users. You’ve admitted that alternate stores would open more avenues for malware. This has to affect all users. I’m not sure it will ever be possible to implement alternate stores and a more open app system without affecting the entire platform. I say “more open app system” because without that component there really is no point to alternate stores. The onus is on you to explain how alternate stores will not affect the entire platform. So far all you’ve done is state that it won’t. That’s not an argument, that’s magical thinking.

          22. Ostensibly all these “quality” issues would/should be handled the same way as on the Mac. Apple certainly doesn’t need to warrant stuff they didn’t sell you. The extent of their obligation would be “factory restore”.
            You have completely ignored the competitive advantages of multiple stores.
            You have failed to demonstrate how my iPad getting malware impacts yours.

          23. Both Ben and I have explained multiple problems with alternate stores. New avenues for malware is only one problem. The malware on your iPad could exist within a messaging app and spread easily. There are many other ways malware would not be contained to only your iPad. At this point you’re denying reality because it doesn’t align with what you want (magical thinking).

          24. If the ecosystem is that delicate it’s useless. (Hint: It isn’t that delicate)

          25. Once again you’re simply stating your opinion as fact. You haven’t made a single cogent argument to support your position. So now if Apple can’t give you what you want it’s because the ecosystem is useless, or too delicate. What is so hard about admitting that you want what you want and you don’t actually care if it impacts others? Why hide behind the nonsense that the changes you want Apple to make won’t affect anyone else in any way?

        2. Some people are morally offended when they encounter a computer that runs consumer software but is prevented from being a general purpose computer that you can code on or that you can hack to your heart’s content.

          To which I say, it’s a damn good thing that my phone is not allowed to be a general purpose computer. It’s designed to be a computing appliance that also makes phone calls. Locking it down so that it can’t run unapproved software is a GOOD thing, because if the computer phone in my pocket is vulnerable to worms and trojans and so on, then that makes it a WORSE, not better, device.

          For a computing appliance, Closed is good. Locked down is good. Open is bad. being hackable is bad. The whole “idevices are closed, android is open, therefore android is better” meme is founded on a fundamental misapprehension of what these pocket computer phone things are FOR.

          1. Well said. I think our computing appliances will of course evolve to become more powerful and extensible while at the same time being regulated and closed. This is the way most of the systems in our daily lives work and we’re all fine with it (including the Open! and Freedom! crowd).

          2. Yet some here would count mobile devices as PCs, a general purpose computer. We’ve had this conversation before on these boards. If they are, they need to be open.

            I do like the idea of a pocket computer. I would still prefer the less restricted one on ownership grounds.

            PS-censorship offends me deeply, on moral grounds. So does no recourse over the rules.

          3. A PC doesn’t need to be open, it simply needs to be useful. You seem to define ‘useful’ as open, but that’s just your own belief, it isn’t an objective truth. Your car is useful, and it is not an open system. It is extensible and relies on many standards, but it is more closed and regulated than it is open. This is where technology is going. This is both obvious and inevitable.

          4. “A PC doesn’t need to be open, it simply needs to be useful.”
            Utterly arbitrary definition. Mine has history on it’s side. General purpose PCs are useful, in fact they are more so.
            Still, what then would you call the “old” PC? Better “Pocket Computer” for mobile.

          5. There’s nothing arbitrary about my definition. A tool must be useful, it’s really that simple. You’re adding conditions and looking to the past in order to confirm your bias. Good luck with that. The future will happen without your consent.

          6. Merely being useful is not sufficient to distinguish a PC from a Pocket Computer from a tissue paper. Try again.

          7. There’s no need to try again. A tool is useful. The tool helps you accomplish a job-to-be-done. I’m not trying to distinguish between computing devices, that’s your hang-up. Perhaps you should spend some time thinking about why you feel the need to create a class system among computing devices.

          8. “A tool is useful”
            Ergo, a tissue paper is a PC.

            “Perhaps you should spend some time thinking about why you feel the need to create a class system among computing devices.”
            For better understanding of the subject matter, of course. Otherwise I would be deluded into thinking the screen was the computer.

          9. I didn’t equate ‘useful’ with PC, that’s a failure of basic logic that you committed. What I said was “A PC doesn’t need to be open, it simply needs to be useful.” It doesn’t follow that all things that are useful are then PCs. That is one of the first exercises in an entry level logic class.

          10. If you want a pocket computer buy a Raspberry Pi and do what you want with it. Apple is not designing for that. Choosing an alternate store is like getting into a committed relationship and then going somewhere else for raspberries.

          11. I don’t want a committed relationship, I just want to date. That’s my point. Apple gets paid, so like any good street walker, she should have no problem with that. 🙂

          12. You do realize that Apple’s closed ecosystem also has worms and trojans and other vulnerabilities, that Apple carefully bars its employees from acknowledging. And that Apple forbids antivirus apps ?

      2. Let’s change the context so emotional and financial loyalties get a chance to be handled.

        Would you call “open” a border that does/requires the following to/from would-be immigrants:
        1- requests $100 to a few K for just a chance to show at the gate
        1b- requires a credit card and banking info, minors need not apply
        2- requires signing off 30% of their earnings in perpetuity
        3- has a doctor check you for illnesses
        4- has a stylist check you for good looks
        5- has a businessman double-checking you’re not going to compete with the natives
        6- has the morality police check you’re not a sex worker, political activist, drug dealer
        8- hands out a list of random stuff you can’t do, and more importantly an exhaustive list of stuff you can do, once inside.
        9- has a bureaucrat of random toughness and a direct line to his political bosses review your… application… ^^
        10- if you make it through, clearly explains you can be booted out at any time w/ no reason
        11- if you have a pet mouse, you must leave it behind ;-p
        12- any luggage you bring with you must be approved and taxed (peripherals)

        Is that the description of any flavor of open border ?
        If this were the immigration policy of a presidential candidate… it would be Trump’s ?

        edits: various stuff

  2. “The criticism Apple so often faced by those who believed their lack of freedom or choice was inhibited by Apple’s closed platforms were often a critique of things very few people do.”


    It’s the right to “Think Different!”, but also the right to be wrong.

    Since when is freedom only applicable to “the vast majority” of jobs? That’s a business decision, which has very little to do with the user’s freedom.

  3. Mobile device is not a sandbox for experimenting for individuals. It is a communication device. And experiential developments made to the communication device has an immediate effect on all the actors. Adding a level of curation protects developers from copying look and feel of their applications by other developers and lawsuit protection for them in case of the misuse. And Apple also might take care of the app promotion. Opening iMessage to developers enables sharing the sentiment of the day with the artists for inclusion in their topics.

  4. Great article as usual. I guess, for the Apple community, the next logical question is what happens to the Mac? Does it stay in “maintenance” mode until it iOS takes it over or does it receive innovations / features from iOS?

  5. What I find interesting is that the closed nature of iMessages was essentially what made opening up of iMessages valuable in the first place.

    If Apple had been completely open and allowed other apps to handle SMS and messages, then there would be many other messaging apps in use, even in the US. This would then create a situation where opening up of iMessage would be mostly inconsequential. Similar discussions could be made for Maps.

    Being closed to begin with was what made opening up so valuable. If on the other hand, they had opened up in the first place, then adding extensions to iMessage would have been inconsequential. Closed makes openness valuable, whereas open makes further openness worthless.

    In fact, this is the situation that Google is finding itself in. Google has had very little success in the messaging market, and hence their recent efforts will most likely be totally irrelevant.

    1. Agreed. Tightly controlling their user base is worth a lot of money to Apple. It’s a very smart move for them. It’s kind of weird the users ride along though. I’ve been sending SMSes from my PC for years now, yet when it was enabled by Apple via Apple on all-Apple configs the only reaction “that’s so great”, not “but… everybody else who cares has been doing that for years”.

      1. On the Mac you used to be able to send text messages via email, as well as through web-based services. That was over a decade ago. Later you could use iChat, maybe a decade ago or slightly less. There have been third party apps as well, for many years. Yep, all of us poor dumb helpless Apple users, just riding along 🙂

      1. Interesting idea, from the article “One possible exit for Google out of all this chaos would be to take control of Android itself and move the project from being an open source project and turn it into a proprietary project.”

        Most people don’t care about open vs closed, and even the people in the comments here that blather endlessly about Open! and Freedom! are fine with many closed systems in their daily lives. A more closed and regulated Android would maybe drive away a tiny fringe of users, but perhaps even those folks would come around, especially if Android was open enough. As long as Android was arguably more open than whatever Apple does, that should be enough to soothe egos and foster acceptance of a more closed Android.

    1. It doesn’t sound very good taken out of context, I’ll give you that, but what Ben means is that Apple customers tend to be really good customers, arguably the best customers on the planet, willing to pay for what they want. Given the data we have about Apple customers it’s tough to view it any other way. Apple tends to dominate the high end segment of the market. The anti-Apple crowd interprets this as Apple customers simply being dumb or foolish and easily parted from their money, but that’s a childish interpretation by people who simply don’t like Apple. The reality is that Apple customers are just as smart and capable as others who don’t choose Apple, they’re just making different choices for different reasons.

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