As you may have heard, the iPhone NDA is fading away. The exact scope of the new NDA is still a bit murky — it is unclear if you can talk about the iPhone SDK, or only your own iPhone apps. Still, though, it is clearly a step in the right direction, one for which Apple should be applauded. And the details should be clearer in a week or so, when the new NDA text is made available (and, hopefully, talked about…legally).
Some in the Android community will claim this is a “win” for Android, insofar as Android “caused” the change. It probably did play a role. Android has just enough of an “it” factor that makes it a likely place for disaffected iPhone developers to jump to. Up until the Android SDK was updated and a champagne bottle cracked across the bow of the T-Mobile G1, Android was a theoretical place of refuge. Now, it’s real enough that Apple was probably hearing stories of various individuals and firms jumping ship.
Still, I suspect that Apple was swayed less by a looming Android and more by the practical impacts of their NDA. They were being bombarded with questions (“Can I publish a book on iPhone?” “Can we teach a class about iPhone?” “Are black mock turtlenecks covered under the NDA?”), and the FUD the NDA put on the iPhone community clearly stifled their ecosystem. The fact that they’re doing as well as they were, despite the albatross they hung around their own neck, is a testament to the Apple brand.
However, the changed NDA doesn’t really change anything about the iPhone-Android relationship. Despite media reports to the contrary, this isn’t an iPhone-Android fight. Comparing iPhone to Android is comparing apples and orchards — at present, iPhone is a solitary device available on a restricted set of carriers, while Android will be used on all sorts of devices (phones and otherwise) and available on any carrier that wants it. If you want to compare iPhone to the T-Mobile G1, that’s a fair comparison, device to device, even if in some markets (e.g., US) they’re only sort-of competing due to disparate supported carriers.
In my humble opinion, Android is less about open source or open communities or open markets or open systems, than it is about open opportunity. We need Android to succeed to ensure that open source, open markets, et. al. are a viable, not-too-crazy choice for people in the marketplace. This does not mean that “iPhone must die” or anything of the sort, which is why I get nervous when people use violent imagery to depict the iPhone-Android relationship. If we really believe in what Android brings to the table, while we say we want Android to succeed, I hope it is more that we want the principles of openness embodied in Android to succeed. Android will bring those principles to the market, and if other platforms adopt those principles, we all win, above and beyond Android’s own success.
So, in contrast to Marc Antony, I come not to bury iPhone, but to praise it. We should celebrate this incremental step towards openness that Apple has made, and hope that over time, it makes many more steps in that direction. In the meantime, though, since we can’t count on them taking those steps, we have some ‘droids to build.