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iOS’s Walled Garden is Cracking, for Better or for Worse

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 10:23am
Ben Munson

Apple is doing something right.

I asked a developer friend of mine what he thought of iOS 8 and he actually had a lot of nice things to say about it.

He reserved his biggest praise for third-party keyboards. Besides the benefit of being able to swap out the iOS keyboard, he said that giving developers access to the firmware showed progress for the traditionally guarded Apple.

Custom keyboards and other iOS 8 additions like interactive notifications have been available to jailbreakers for years now. Apple making those features iOS official essentially renders those jailbreak tweaks obsolete. There will always be tweaks or modifications enough to motivate some to jailbreak. But my friend said that if Apple keeps this up, he was hopeful that by iOS 9, he won’t even have to jailbreak.

If that feeling even partially resonates through the developer and jailbreaker community, then Apple’s made a huge step toward opening its doors to the outside world.

In that case, though, the inverse effect must be considered. If the hurdles for developers are shrinking, the learning curve for the common end-user might be getting steeper.

The grumblings are minor but the few I’ve seen so far go something like “Oh, great. iOS is getting more complicated?" *frowny face*

Apple is still holding a dominant 41.4 percent share of the U.S. smartphone market. But it risks mildly irritating a huge section of that audience if it strays too far from its friendly user interface.

A small crack in the wall could potentially let in some fragmentation. It was just this week that Apple CEO Tim Cook so proudly trumpeted the huge uptake numbers of iOS 7 versus the scattershot Android user landscape. He clearly doesn’t want that to change. But opening the customization floodgates might scare off some iOS users, the type who value timely updates and things working the way they should above all else.

Developers have warmly received iOS 8. My friend even said the beta version wasn’t so buggy that it couldn’t be used for day-to-day activities. That’s a huge compliment of any beta.

And it may be a little soon to speculate about end-users’ reaction to iOS 8. The majority haven’t spent any time with it yet and a fair amount of customer grumbling is common with any major OS update.

But if the modification-happy crowd likes what it’s seeing, then there’s a chance the everyday user might not.

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