Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Apple, Dropbox, our PC-free future and our sweet solution past

Apple, Dropbox, our PC-free future and our sweet solution past:
A few days ago in the Dropbox forums, a developer said Apple had rejected his app due to a little quirk, so to speak, in using Dropbox. Specifically, if a user doesn't have the Dropbox app installed, a link to a web page would be issued, causing the user to go to Dropbox's website or a mobile version which would allow them to log in. That's not the problem. The problem was that this web page contained a link that could eventually lead to a user establishing an account with Dropbo, or even (gasp!) paying them for storage.
Problem is, you can't do that without Apple getting a cut. Apple has rules about subscriptions, you see, and by allowing a (supposedly new) user to create an account that could be paid monthly, the developer in question was in violation of the App Store guidelines. Naturally, other developers have come forward either with similarly rejected apps or suggestions to Dropbox with changes that might help.
The Verge reports that Dropbox has confirmed Apple IS rejecting apps which allow users to buy a Dropbox subscription. Except Dropbox has taken the step to remove any and all links to the "desktop version" of their site, which effectively blocks anyone using an app that would behave in such a way from actually purchasing the Dropbox account. It would appear they've made it impossible to create an account entirely once you are in an app using the latest version of the Dropbox SDK, which developers should be doing.
Recently Apple made a big deal about a "PC-free" era, touting the power and simplicity of the iPad as a reasonable PC substitute. My kids use iPod touches as their own mini-computers. It makes sense, doesn't it? Until you run into something like this Dropbox issue, which I have little doubt will be resolved soon. The problem is that the solution, as it looks now, isn't very user-friendly. That is, if you value choice.
But there's this notion that Apple doesn't like choice, remember? Conspiracy theorists have already said this is Apple trying to push iCloud over Dropbox. I can't argue that Apple will always prefer a native solution to any problem (that's their way), but I would never argue that they arbitrarily make life difficult for users in a rush for profits. Besides, iCloud isn't making them money yet, it's just a value-add to their hardware business.
The fact is we have a sweet solution that Apple intended all along: the open Web. As long as web browsers are still allowed on iOS, developers have that as a fallback. I was enthralled today to read about Blackline, and other magazines who are retreating from "apps" and moving back to the web, where standards and cross-platform compatibility were always the cornerstones of development. Frankly, we could use more web apps and fewer native apps.
Nevertheless, I think this stinks for users. I can see confusion over setting up an account, as an app will dump them into a web page within their app, but if they don't have a Dropbox account, they'll have to go to Safari itself and establish one. Rules are rules, but this isn't elegant. Dropbox, for its part, has said it will try to work with Apple for a better solution. Here's hoping.
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