A recent article concerning the Tesco API appeared in Computing magazine on 22 September 2009 telling of some developers being unhappy at our plans to have our own iPhone application for grocery in the Apple App Store.
One paragraph in the article quoted an anoymous developer who apparently said,
“Tesco has just taken a big dump on our heads by announcing the creation of an official iPhone app for Tesco,” said one developer, who wrote to Computing on condition of anonymity.
“I don’t know how many other developers were looking at iPhone solutions but I was certainly one of them. Fortunately I had only invested about 20 hours so far in a project I expected to take 400-600 hours, but I think Tesco has sent a clear message to developers that as soon as a market looks like it might have mass appeal they intend to stomp all over the little guys by writing an official app of their own. That is not how to foster creativity with an experimental new API.”
Despite the robust language of the developer, and bemused concern that he demanded anonymity (in case I go round his house and ‘request’ our Tesco Direct catalogue back?), I certainly empathise with his view.
But I also disagree.
First of all, applications of this new genre follow the principles of evolution by natural selection – each new application takes all the good bits – and dumps the bad bits – of previous incarnations, evolving as new ideas come into focus, and following popular ideas.
A good example is the evolution of Twitter clients – each application has evolved and extended the Twitter system way beyond its original design. I’m on my third iPhone Twitter client (Twitterific) because it has more facilities than previous clients and is easy to use.
I hope the same happens with our iPhone grocery application. Yes it will be good, if basic, but I encourage third parties to take its best bits and go forward.
Secondly, if I denied anyone in Tesco.com from writing an iPhone application (or for any platform for that matter) what message would it send to our staff? That they are forbidden from spending time working with this form of innovation? If that message got out we would get a worthy exodus from Tesco.com of the most innovative of my colleagues and a total inability to recruit anyone.
In Tesco.com IT I am working with the leadership team to foster innovation – indeed we have our own embryonic IT Innovation Club up and running, and colleagues can spend both their own time and some business hours on R&D projects that they wish to try out. It’s from this source that our first iPhone ‘Store Finder’ application has been created.
Tesco.com is a great place to work but not everyone thinks of us first when considering an exciting future in IT. The Tesco.com IT Innovation Club is my overt part in changing that external attitude. If that means we have applications from our developers in our name (and theirs of course) alongside applications of third party developers, so be it.