Much has been made of the closed nature of Apple’s App Store. No other current application ecosystem defines the development environment that must be used, the terms under which an application is developed, and an approvals process that must be followed before an application can enter the environment. Apple fought a very bitter and intense fight with Google to keep a Google Voice app out of the App Store. It was with much interest to Apple followers then when Opera submitted an iPhone version of their mobile browser for approval late last month. Most figured it was a cheap publicity gimmick by Opera; Apple would reject their app and they would get some face time for a browser that is otherwise quickly dropping out of relevance. Well, as Apple tends to do, they completely did the unexpected today and approved the Opera browser. As I write this article most App Stores worldwide should be providing it.
The really intriguing question then is why? Why would Apple break with the precedent they’ve set and allow Opera into the iPhone ecosystem? The answer in my mind is twofold.
The first and most obvious reason is good press. Several stories over the past few months have centered around Apple’s sometimes arbitrary decision making when it comes to the App Store. Similar applications being allotted different treatment, whole categories of applications purged from the App Store, and applications being yanked back after approval. Quite frankly, Apple needs to engender some good will and approving Opera does just that. Its function doesn’t threaten Apple in any way, using Opera instead of Safari doesn’t hurt Apple in the long run in the same way someone using Google Voice instead of their phone does. Opera can be the shining example Apple heralds as part of its free and open marketplace.
The second is to cut off talk about how Apple is currently engaged in tossing third parties off the iPhone environment. If Opera had been denied, you can bet Adobe would have been quick to jump into the fight, followed by all the other people currently doing battle with Apple. Again, Opera is an easy thing to relent on. Having it around doesn’t hurt Apple in any way and the user experience on the platform may actually be enriched by its functionality.
What this does however is create a dangerous precedent for Apple. If they are actually starting to open their environment up a bit and not just including Opera for publicities sake, Apple will have to tread carefully about rejecting apps again. This is will hold true especially for apps like Google Voice that was rejected for supposed duplication of iPhone functionality. Opera clearly duplicates the functionality of Safari.
What do you think about the approval of Opera Mini? Does this herald a new openness in the App Store or is it just a cynical attempt by Apple to silence critics? Will we see more apps that challenge Apple come to the iPhone? Will Google Voice ever get approved? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.