Steve Jobs Resisted Third-Party Apps On iPhone, Biography Reveals

iOS apps have become a booming business for Apple–mainly for their status as a selling point for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices rather than their direct revenues. Apple’s App Store is now past the 18 billion downloads mark, while $3 billion has been paid out to developers.

Even so, Walter Isaacson’s authorised biography of former Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs–which is now on sale–explains that Jobs was initially unconvinced that apps would benefit Apple or its iOS platform.

“When it first came out in early 2007, there were no apps you could buy from outside developers, and Jobs initially resisted allowing them,” writes Isaacson. “He didn’t want outsiders to create applications for the iPhone that could mess it up, infect it with viruses, or pollute its integrity.”

Hence no external apps for the first iPhone. However, the book explains that behind the scenes, Apple board member Art Levinson and senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller were pressing Jobs to change his mind.

“I called him a half dozen times to lobby for the potential of the apps,” says Levinson, while Schiller adds that “I couldn’t imagine that we would create something as powerful as the iPhone and not empower developers to make lots of apps. I knew customers would love them.”

Though it is not mentioned in the book, there was pressure from outside too: sources from Apple have told the Guardian that the first request for access to the tools write a third-party app for the iPhone was filed with Apple before the end of Jobs’s keynote introducing the iPhone in January 2007.

The book claims that Jobs initially “quashed the discussion” to focus on the initial iPhone launch, with Schiller and Levinson both telling Isaacson that it was only once the device was available that Jobs relented.

“Every time the conversation happened, Steve seemed a little more open,” says Levinson, who goes on to describe Apple’s approvals policy on the App Store as “an absolutely magical solution that hit the sweet spot. It gave us the benefits of openness while retaining end-to-end control.”

There is some more background to this in a recent BusinessWeek profile of Apple executive Scott Forstall, which describes the decision Jobs made in 2005 to assign the job of creating the iPhone’s software to a team led by Forstall trying to shrink Apple’s OS X operating system for a phone, rather than a rival team led by Tony Fadell using the iPod software as its base.

According to BusinessWeek, “Jobs preferred the former option [using OSX], since he would then have a mobile operating system he could customize for the many gizmos then on Apple’s drawing board”.

Externally-developed apps may not have been on his agenda in 2005, or even in 2007 when the first iPhone launched, but that decision proved crucial, because apps could thus be written in Objective-C with Apple’s existing developer tools.

There is also some good stuff in the book on Jobs’ negotiations with magazine and newspaper publishers to get them to offer their digital publications as iOS apps. It describes a conversation between Jobs and Isaacson in early 2010 about the New York Times: “One of my personal projects this year, I’ve decided, is to try and help – whether they want it or not – the Times. I think it’s important to the country for them to figure it out,” said Jobs.

The book describes the arguments between Jobs and publishers as he refused to give them access to the email addresses and credit card information of iTunes customers who subscribed to their apps.

“I’m not the one who got you into this jam,” Jobs told a NYT circulation executive. “You’re the ones who’ve spent the past five years giving away your paper online and not collecting anyone’s credit card information.”

There is also a passage on the back-and-forth with Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes on this issue, with Bewkes telling Jobs of his fears that if Apple builds a “monopoly”, the company would come back and tell him that “my magazine shouldn’t be $4 a copy but instead should be $1”.

Interestingly, News Corporation boss Rupert Murchoch–hardly a dove when it comes to business ne

This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.