Ever since I've been able to use a computer, Macs have been my favorite. Days spent playing Spellacopter on an ancient Apple desktop started it all, and my loyalty to the company remains strong to this day. My household contains no less than 10 separate Apple products, but I fear a little company called OnLive may have inadvertently switched my allegiance. How is that possible? What is OnLive? What's got Jason so upset? We all know how diehard Apple fans can be, so aren't you curious as to what event could sway one of us, maybe more? Keep reading.
If you don't know what OnLive is, I'll explain that first. OnLive is a relatively new online game service that offers subscribers streaming full versions of their favorite console games. Subscribers can pay a monthly fee to access a 'Playpack' of nearly 100 games, or they can buy or rent games individually. And these aren't crappy cell phone games; they are actual console titles, such as Lego Batman, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Borderlands and Darksiders (yay!), and all are played by streaming into a PC, Mac or the company's specially made console. It's a fantastic business model, giving even the most impoverished (rental) access to $60 console games for pennies on the dollar. And even better, the games are yours instantly, unlike the Gamefly rental service, which sends games through the mail.
About six months ago, OnLive announced they would be bringing the service to the Apple iPad and iPhone product lines, as well as to the Android Marketplace. That six months was apparently up late last week, when it was announced that the service would finally be available to tablet and smartphone users. Games could be played with either special on-screen touch controls or with an OnLive gamepad, sold separately, of course ($50). With this move, OnLive basically told all gamers with tablets that with a mere $50 controller, you can now play console games any place you desire, exactly as they were meant to be played, so long as you have a strong enough Wi-Fi connection, an extremely tantalizing promise for most of us.
So what is the problem? The OnLive app went live on the Android Marketplace almost immediately, but now, days later, the iPad/iPhone version is still nowhere to be found on iTunes. Rumors are circulating that the delay is due to Apple's app screening process, but it is equally plausible that Apple simply doesn't want to approve the app, for fear of cutting into its own profits. How? When you purchase something through an app bought on the iTunes Store, Apple automatically gets 30 percent of that money. With OnLive, players do not have the option of buying games in-app (you'll need a computer), a choice made by OnLive to increase its chances of approval for iTunes. OnLive isn't the first to have this battle with Apple; The Daily, Amazon, Google; I even fought them myself over an app I developed for my previous employer. Despite their wishes, Apple's system for charging developers and approving apps is under more scrutiny than ever, and one wonders if their policies will end up causing more harm than good down the road.
The fact that OnLive is having this trouble with Apple is baffling. If you are to believe the first excuse, a rigorous screening process, than one must wonder how hundreds of thousands of broken, buggy or completely unusable apps are green lit. If the other school of thought is to prevail, Apple is unhappy about in-app purchases (despite Onlive's efforts to appease them), then one wonders how other hugely popular apps, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, get away with the exact same thing. The third rationale is that having OnLive on the iPad would hurt the iOS gaming industry. Completely untrue. There is a pretty big difference in the gamers who want to play Angry Birds and those who want Saints Row: The Third, and one must remember that OnLive's games are only available with an Internet connection, while iTunes games can all be downloaded and played offline. It seems, in this case, that money is the most likely factor in Apple's decision, which is a bit funny, considering how much OnLive must be losing for every second the app is still in limbo. I ordered, at first sight of this service, my own controller. I have since canceled that order. I wonder how many have done the same.
Regardless of Apple's reasons for delay (and possibly denial) of OnLive's app, there is a much bigger picture to consider here: If it is denied, Apple will have essentially given the competition their first 'killer app.' One of the strong points of the Android Marketplace has always been its more open nature, and Apple loyalists are often shocked by it. You won't find any pornography on iTunes, but Android has a dedicated store. All this charging 30 percent nonsense is unheard of in that camp, and that's just the first few Android-vantages I can think of right now (I claim the word 'Android-vantages' as my own creation, by the way). It used to be easy to think of Android users in the same vein as the Zune loyalists. Not anymore. With all Apple's missteps and their possible free gift of a killer app, along with already exploding global sales, I can't help but think that Apple is actively working against its own best interests. And the real shame is OnLive, a growing company with an impressive service, is getting caught in the middle.
If you have any knowledge of business, you know that rule number one should be to give the customers what they want. In this case, Apple's customers want access to a revolutionary new app, OnLive. Instead of giving it to us, we have had a week of deafening silence, with no indication of when or if the app will be up. Denying the customer what they want and then having the gall to be sneaky about it is the business model of a business that won't be around for too long. I'm not saying Apple will fail because of this move; that would just be stupid. But I do predict consumers will take a closer look at how the company does business. Apple's bizarre, sometimes greedy policies concerning their apps has gone un-called out for too long, and if there is a silver lining to any of this it will see Apple forced to change some policies to stay competitive. With rumors of the iPad 3 already swirling, I find myself asking whether or not the next Apple product is for me. When it comes to buying a new tablet next year, which would you choose? The one that plays Darksiders and Batman: Arkham City? Or the one that doesn't? And, come to think of it, what will the latter tablet be missing out on in the future? They aren't questions easily answered by a die-hard Apple fan, but if it weren't for my beloved company's strange policies, the question would never have been asked in the first place. That, and I'd be playing Darksiders on my iPad. Perfect world.