The better way to think about Buzzfeed's critique of Apple's own apps


Buzzfeed is better known for top-10 style listicles and celebrity gossip than longform think pieces, but as the iOS crowd exited the Moscone Center in San Francisco last week, there was nothing more provocative written about Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) than a diatribe by Charlie Warzel.

Warzel, a Buzzfeed news reporter, suggested that for all the interest around iOS 9, Watch OS and Apple Pay, the company is in danger of becoming most successful as a hardware OEM, rather than a creator of great mobile software. He called this Apple's "junk drawer" problem because so many of its own apps aren't nearly as good as those of its developers. Warzel went on to suggest this casts events such WWDC in an entirely new light:

"In some respects, they're not really about developers at all — they're about the experiences that color everything we do with the devices that are attached to our wrists and stuffed in our pockets and in front of our faces all day. By so many measures and for so many people, Apple owns those experiences," he wrote. "It's done that by building products that have quite literally reinvented the way we think of music players, phones and how we access all our information in the ever-increasing moments where we aren't chained to a desk."

There are probably a number of app developers who would dispute that first sentence. Even though the entire world seems to tune in for the keynote, what will matter in the coming weeks is how developers take the raw materials of an operating system and create value on top of it. There is a reason things like iOS are referred to as platforms. Of course, Apple is free to build on top of that platform as well as offer it up to others, but if that was its sole mission, WWDC could probably be folded into the latter half of the company's traditional fall launch of its smartphones, tablets and other devices.

In fact, for all the tweets I saw like "FlipBoard just died" in the wake of the Apple News app announcement, I see Apple's own apps as merely the first in what could be a wave of innovation. There were plenty of news apps before Apple News. There will be other that follow. All platform providers "compete" in this sense with the rest of their ecosystem (witness Microsoft's own Surface tablet versus the many other tablets that use Windows).

Warzel may be right that Apple's apps should be trend-setting, but that doesn't mean the trend ends with Apple. We wouldn't have the kind of mobile experiences we enjoy today if that was the case. Developers should walk away from WWDC with a sense of where their opportunities are, with Apple as a case study, hopefully, in how to pursue those opportunities successfully. Yes, Apple should set the bar for apps pretty high--but that doesn't mean developers shouldn't be the ones who take it even higher. --Shane

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