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An Open Letter to Steve Jobs

Published by Eric T. Peterson on April 13, 2010 All posts from Eric T. Peterson

Update (April 22, 2010): This article at Venturebeat suggests that iPhone application measurement vendors are hearing good news from Apple regarding their ability to measure in-app data.  The article, however, is devoid of any kind of details whatsoever and so the Tweets saying “Apple NOT banning analytics from OS 4.0″ appear to be somewhat optimistic in my opinion.  I’d love to hear from Google, Omniture, Webtrends, Coremetrics, Unica, etc. and see if they are having the same “you have nothing to worry about” conversations with Apple. Obviously is Venturebeat is correct this is great news, but if I were developing an iPhone application I’d want a little more  than rumor to contradict the language in Section 3.3.9.

Wait and see I guess …

Dear Mr. Jobs,

As a very loyal Apple customer and user of your products I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for computing in general. Your attention to detail and your vision have resulted in many of the most useful and usable products I own, too many to list honestly. While I was able to hold off for three days before purchasing the original iPhone (now on my third since I upgrade with every release) I pre-ordered my iPad and absolutely love it.

Thanks for that.

Unfortunately as a long-time member of the digital measurement industry I am in the uncomfortable position of having to ask you to reconsider what will undoubtedly be viewed by many Apple customers, developers, and end-users as an egregious mistake. I am talking about Section 3.3.9 in your updated iPhone Developer Agreement in which you apparently ban all third-party in-app measurement. While I respect Apple’s right to privacy, for those not familiar with Section 3.3.9 I would encourage you to read the following articles:

The summary statement is that your updated Developer Agreement, if my read is accurate, strips all of your Development partners of their ability to measure application usage with an eye towards improving the overall quality of their product.  Just as a reminder these Developer partners include Best Buy, Expedia, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Netflix, and some 150,000+ other companies working to deliver great experiences on your iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad devices.

While I certainly understand the over-arching desire to have quality control in all things Apple, which the mobile family of applications essentially become by proxy, banning the ability to measure application use is likely to be met with some resistance among your larger Development partners.  Many of these companies are known to me as a consultant and have active programs in place to use solutions like Adobe’s Omniture, Webtrends, Coremetrics, Unica, Google Analytics, and Yahoo Web Analytics to determine which application functionality is working and which needs to be addressed in future updates.

Given that Apple is a long-time Adobe/Omniture customer I rather suspect that this third-party tracking is embedded in many of your own applications.  Perhaps that’s not the case, but given the general utility of these applications I would be pretty surprised if your own developers aren’t in violation of the new Developer Agreement somewhere in the pre-installed application stack.

If not, well, shame on your developers for not embedding application tracking in complex applications like Pages and Keynote on the iPad. While I certainly do love the freedom I have to write on the iPad, I suspect if you were using Adobe/Omniture to track Pages you’d see me continually tapping the page in landscape mode trying to get a menu to come up so I can make a bulleted list …

But I digress.

Since many of your best Development partners are companies well-known for their general prowess for digital analytics — companies like Best Buy, Expedia, Cisco, Netflix, Disney, ABC, ESPN, and many, many more — you may want to give a little more thought to Section 3.3.9. If this section remains you are essentially blocking all of these companies (and all mobile developers in your App Store) from gaining valuable insight into how their applications can be more useful, more delightful, and frankly, more like Apple.

Hopefully this was just a huge oversight on someone else’s part within Apple, especially since as far as anyone knows you don’t have technology available to replace the data that would be lost if (or when) Developers comply with this requirement. It may seem a touch geeky but business owners are increasingly relying on this data to justify the expense and commitment it takes to participate in the App Store (and the mobile revolution in general.)

Being such a fan of your work I’d like to offer a solution, just in case your open to the idea.

Apple has an opportunity to do something that, well, nobody else really has or does in terms of digital measurement. Because of how the App Store works, Apple could create a set of terms and conditions for application tracking that would simultaneously provide guidance to your Developer community and create an unprecedented level of transparency for technology end-users everywhere (or at least those using Apple products.)

Imagine a tier of requirements and resulting notifications to the end-user based on the type of data the application wanted to pass.  Just like geo-location requires explicit one-time opt-in today, tracking of individually identifiable (e.g., device-level or personal) data could require the same type of opt-in.  For more basic tracking (e.g., completely anonymous interaction data) you could simply allow that without opt-in to foster the growth and development of the application development community.

The most important thing is you would have an opportunity to craft a set of mobile tracking requirements that could be extended and applied across the entire mobile universe. In the same way Apple has changed our relationship with “pocket computing” forever, your company could essentially resolve a problem that in some ways is an accident waiting to happen, and do so in a way that creates opportunities rather than creating tension with the very group that is making your products so successful today.

If this is in any way interesting to you I’d love to discuss it more. My contact information is on my web site.

Measurement is not as sexy as the iPad or iPhone, but at the end of the day it is just about as important. With every new technology comes the need to understand it’s use and justify related expenses. Your Development partners are intensely drawn to the iPhone opportunity to be sure, and it’s great that you’re making people like Loren Brichter and others rich thanks to their efforts.

But not everyone will be as savvy as Apple or as fortunate as Atebits; most companies work to use the limited data they do have to understand user behavior in an effort to make incremental improvements to their applications. Section 3.3.9 seems to prevent this data from getting into your partner’s hands, preventing the very thing I suspect you’re working to promote: the highest quality applications possible delivered via amazing devices.

Hopefully I and others are simply reading Section 3.3.9 the wrong way. I would be honored if you or someone from Apple would provide guidance on this point and I’m happy to help communicate that guidance in whatever way I am able.

Sincerely,

Eric T. Peterson
CEO, Founder, and Senior Partner
Web Analytics Demystified, Inc.

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  • http://www.rudishumpert.com Rudi Shumpert

    Eric,

    Well said.

    -Rudi

  • Meng Goh

    On the other hand, Apple’s competitor is developing Silverlight Analytics Framework to help analytics community better track their applications. The same apps would soon be developed to run on both desktop and Windows Phone 7.

  • Pingback: Is Apple Preparing to Offer Advertising/Web Analytics? « Peter Adams Weblog

  • Adam Marshall

    Point well made.

    Could however be a bit more concise if you remove the sentences which are dedicated purely to Apple sycophantism? ;P

  • Bill Gassman

    Eric, if the measurement community was only about improving digital applications, I would agree with your point of view completely. However, digital marketing professionals put much more emphasis on supporting the advertising networks and creating digital profiles for users across web sites and applications. There are too many third parties with their eyeballs in a user’s cross-property activity stream. Your letter did not address that, yet I suspect privacy from ad networks is at least partly behind Apple’s measurement policy.

  • http://dialogcentral.com Sean Wolfe

    Eric,

    I really agree with you. Being that I come from an opt-in measurement company, it’s really sad to see Apple take such a stance.

    What you say about a user being able to opt-in to certain types of information gathering I think is a great idea, and should be par for the course. On Google’s Android Market, when a user wishes to download an app, it first lists a number of services and sensitive data the app will, or can access. A user must say ok in order to download the application. I think this makes things more transparent to the user, and keeps them informed about potential privacy issues, and the ability to explicitly opt-in to using such services or data.

    Whats worse is that Apple only provides 3 possible metrics for applications to developers. The number of “sales”, the itunes store rating, and the crash report. All of these are void of much useful info, horrible to access, or have nonexistent or private API’s. Attempting to use other tools to automate this information gathering can also be met with equal hostility from Apple. If Apple doesn’t want 3rd party measurement involved, then they need to improve their tools.

    It is very important as a developer today to be able to measure if a user uses the app frequently after downloading, or do they only use it a couple times after download. Are there parts of the app that is never used? Are some parts taking longer than others? Do users experience confusing interfaces? There is much more to developing applications than writing code and releasing software. If developers can’t access this important information, they cannot build useful, compelling and competitive applications.

  • http://www.webanalyticsdemystified.com eric

    To everyone who has commented and emailed and RT’d thanks a ton. This is clearly an important topic, even if my email to Steve Jobs has gone unanswered. Let me offer some responses/comments to you all:

    Meng: Okay, but that’s an apples to oranges comparison don’t you think? Silverlight is to apps as Flash is to apps, not iPhone, at least in my mind. Kudos to you all for being thoughtful in that regard but since MSFT is still only getting traction in this market the Apple announce certainly creates more concern (at least for now, who knows what the future will hold.)

    Adam: Yeah, but I reserve the right to actually, you know, have a personality in my blog from time to time. Someone gave me shit when I blogged nicely about our President too … you can’t please everyone I guess!

    Bill: Maybe, but this is exactly why I proposed that Steve Jobs and Apple create a framework for how this data could be used by third-parties, rather than ban it wholesale. Also, I’m not sure I understand your comment “too many parties with their eyeballs in a user’s cross-property activity stream” and how that is relevant to Section 3.3.9?

    I don’t fault Apple for wanting to have some control over ad tracking given their iAd announcement lumping ads and analytics together feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, doesn’t it? It feels more like an oversight than something intentional … but who knows. Thanks a ton for your comment!

    Sean: Agree fully, and neat site/app by the way!

  • Meng Goh

    Not for recently release Silverlight 4.0 that support the analytics framework. The concept is that you can develop apps on desktop and port to Windows Phone 7 without much problems. Seesmic took their desktop foursquare app and port to Windows Phone 7 and have a demo up and running in no time. “Goo Splat” created using XNA Game studio can also easily ported to Windows Phone 7. The developers support and flexibility for Windows Phone 7 is going to be amazing and moving toward a different direction of iPhone.

    http://www.ditii.com/2010/03/31/windows-phone-7-series-demo-apps-from-mix10-xna-demo-seesmic-major-league-soccer-foursquare-and-more/

  • Nfinity

    Maybe people need to wake up and stop supporting such a tyrannical technology company.

    They should have been let to go bankrupt a long time ago.

    More and more developers and companies are going away from Apple because you can’t innovate and push boundaries when you have Steve Jobs telling you how to do things.

    They are setting some incredibly dangerous precedents in the tech world and should cut off immediately.

    And to be quite honest, since they do have a larger market share of mobile market FTC should get involved.

    I agree with you Eric, I would just like people to stop kissing their behinds and stop doing stuff on their platform. They need to be put in their place and not begged.

  • Pingback: Is Steve Jobs Just Pissed-off at Adobe? « SPECTAPROD

  • http://loopanalytics.com Edward Hunter

    It’s just another clear indication that ultimately, Jobs cannot allow Apple to win – at least not over the long haul. “Because we believe in choice…” is only the mantra he espouses when he’s getting trounced in market share, but as soon as he feels he has control over a marketplace – well we can all see what happens.

    For those of you that think for a moment that Apple gives a single second of thought to consumer privacy be clear about this; they will in fact leverage device data to it’s fullest extent in targeting ads in the new iAds platform.

    There is no illusion here, this is a move to corner the ad market, snub Adobe even further and here’s the punchline:

    The marketplace, with regards to everyone from developers to advertisers and publishers *doesn’t like* monopolistic tendencies.

    Minimally, this move drives a stake into the big picture for iAds over the long haul. Why?

    Because one of the oldest rules in advertising is, you don’t accept your campaign ROI from the one selling you the advertising. Hence, Arbitron – hence Nielsen, hence comScore.

    Oh well. Android and Microsoft will be happy to fill in the gaps left in the marketplace by Apple’s capricious moves.

    Meanwhile, fortunately our platform is packaged and ready to install directly for publishers and developers wanting analytics from their apps. Yes, analytics that you actually get the data for yourself and own it.

    Until of course Apple decides that you must be completely in the dark about your apps performance – we’re still working on a solution for that one.

    Droid starts to look better and better every day, doesn’t it folks?

  • Pingback: The Coolest Dictator « Los Malos

  • Pingback: iAd: Apple’s 30 Rock? | |

  • sleepless_san_francisco

    You know, I don’t blame Apple. JavaScript tagging is just not a good way to track a page, the language itself has it’s problem, some hardcore JS developer would consider current ways of tracking pages a hack. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of other options.

  • Phil (from London, UK)

    Steve Jobs explains reason for disabling app tracking and why Flurry Analytics “really pissed him off” on 2nd June 2010…

    [30min Video]
    http://video.allthingsd.com/video/d8-steve-jobs-onstage-full-length-video/70F7CC1D-FFBF-4BE0-BFF1-08C300E31E11

    [Transcript of SteveJobs video]
    http://d8.allthingsd.com/20100601/steve-jobs-session/

    Steve Jobs said he does want to talk to Analytics Vendors, but… he is not “yet” in the mood to talk.

    FlurryAnalyics have responded saying they are going to stop device data collection (e.g so they dont detect & blog about a new iphone user-agents before the new phone is made public)
    http://www.tuaw.com/2010/06/02/flurry-agrees-to-stop-device-data-collection/

    Off topic, but the FaceBook Founder Video is pretty interesting:
    http://video.allthingsd.com/video/d8-facebook-ceo-mark-zuckerberg-full-length-video/29CC1557-56A9-4484-90B4-539E282F6F9A

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