No More (Apple) Kool-Aid For Me, Thanks

In Marketing, Technology by J Michel Metz11 Comments

I watched the WWDC feeds and paid close attention to the claims that were made by Jobs/Apple and felt that, despite the technological magic that Apple produces, it couldn’t outshine the deep-seated emotional anger that my intelligence was being insulted, blatantly and deliberately. The “reality distortion field” didn’t work for me, not this time.


Let me begin by saying that I have no real qualms about the new iPhone hardware – after all, I’m a former Apple employee and all of my computer systems are Macs. I have a wicked-fast Mac Pro for serious work, a 13″ MBP for mobile computing, three iPhones (one for traveling to the UK, one 3GS and one older 2G model for backup, an iPad mini, and an 80Gb iPod Video, plus an iPad on the way.

This isn’t even including the gear that I’ve bought or handed down to my girlfriend.

I’ve always been amazed that Apple makes certain choices, and even have had a few thoughts of my own about how it might be able to compete in an area they currently only barely acknowledge they serve. But one of the reasons why I’ve loved the company – and its products – is because even if they couldn’t give me Truth, at least they could give me a Vision, a Vision I could adopt and believe in.

Breaking Down the WWDC Keynote

The 2010 WWDC Keynote divorced me from that vision, abruptly ripping me from the safe and comfortable womb I had nestled into. I freely admit that part of my frustration stems from the feeling that I had not left Apple, Apple had left me, and there’s more than a little sense of betrayal.

The first warning flag came when Jobs started enumerating the “top 3 reasons we don’t approve apps:”

  • They don’t function as advertised
  • They use private APIs
  • They crash

Now, it seems to me that #3 is part of #1, but by and large I have no qualms with that list. Either an app functions or it doesn’t, or will function or won’t (over time and through changes). Quite frankly, if Apple updates its software and the app no longer works as advertised, it seems to me that consumers will cease using it, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

Apple wants the apps to work. Fine.

But where he starts off by saying that “You’ve read a lot about our process of approving apps,” and looks like he’s going to address the elephant in the room.

What elephant? The one stomping all over the very thing that made Macs so wonderful to begin with.

The reason why I came – and stayed – with the Mac platform was because it allowed me to do what I wanted to do without interference. It allowed me to have a freedom of expression and use my computer the way I wanted to use it, instead of spending all my time fixing it or getting workarounds.

Now it appears that Apple has taken a reverse position. They want to prevent me from making the choice of which content to have.

It started with the Flash, debacle, of course, more than two years ago. Now, personally I detest flash because it sucks up resources more viciously than Transformers 2’s Devastator. Apparently I’m not the only one who hates this software because there are a few free flash-blockers that will permit users to use Flash only when they want or need to.

The key is that as a user I have a choice of my content, and I choose to avoid it and only use it when necessary. The fact that my preferences are aligned with Apple’s is coincidental, not mandatory. A.k.a: my choice.

Not so with the iPhone, obviously. Now, interestingly enough I can understand why Apple bans Flash on the iPhone. Unlike my computer, if something crashes the iPhone it won’t be Flash that’s blamed, it will be the iPhone. Apple has an understandable vested interest in preventing that from happening.

Jobs’ open letter about Flash made several great points, and while it wasn’t 100% accurate it was sufficient as a business case. Had things stopped there I could have still been safely warm and cozy in my little bubble.

But then Jobs started in on content.

Apple’s App Store Content Restrictions

So, Apple wants to prevent Flash technology on their phone. They then said that you can’t even use it to develop apps and recompile. This of course really cheesed off developers.

Then Apple started killing off apps that created their own desktops on the iPhone – including apps that had previously been approved (and paid for by customers). Doing this is bad enough, because it makes consumers suspicious of what apps they have purchased will no longer be available or developed. But to do it without notifying the developer or even providing adequate explanation can only have a chilling effect on true innovation and development.

What about actual content? There’s long been a ban on porn on the iPhone, and despite the fact that some developers tried to update their apps and keep them on the store as long as possible, Jobs has stated clearly that he sees this ban as a “moral” obligation.

Now, regardless of how you feel about pornography (a subject that is obviously highly emotional and outside the scope of this blog post), there’s no question that once Apple becomes a regulator of content, it is impossible to avoid capricious approvals or denials. This is especially problematic as high-profile (and high-paying) vendors such as Sports Illustrated were allowed to keep their equally salacious apps on the store.

Almost as if to show how quickly the slippery slope actually works, Apple has determined itself humor police as well. Cartoonist Tom Richmond got his caricature app denied, and Pulitzer prize-winning editorial cartoonist Michael Fiore’s iPhone app was denied because it “ridiculed public figures.” Both cartoonists apps were later reinstated, but both only because of the public media negativity.

Okay, so that’s just entertainment, right? Wrong. Apple’s app store censors are taking the brutal axe to political speech it doesn’t approve. A few months ago Apple killed off a Republican candidate’s app, while permitting Democrat candidate’s apps. There have been issues surrounding app approvals of Che Guevara over Glenn Beck, and rejected an app critical of Muhammed while permitting one critical of the Christian Bible.

The criticism of bias is inevitable. I am not attempting to push any promotion of one ideology over another, and am not placing value judgments on the quality of the apps in question, only that their acceptance or rejection reveals an avenue of bias, whether intentional or not.

As a consumer of Apple products (and the products on the App store), I am concerned that the products that I purchase constitute a contract with the vendor, not the marketplace itself. I don’t want distributors to get involved in my purchase of my household appliances; that’s between me and the vendor who makes the appliance. I don’t want Macy’s to tell me how I can wear my Levi’s. It’s just none of their business.

Moreover, if I establish a relationship with an app vendor, it’s unique because there are no returns. Software piracy laws prevent me from getting my money back if the software doesn’t work the way I like or want it to, so I have a large degree of caveat emptor. When I do find a vendor that I’m willing to exchange my money for their product, I want to be sure that the market doesn’t arbitrarily and capriciously sever the ties with that vendor.

This is what we’ve heard about the app store, and this is why Job’s 1-2-3 rejection process spiel is such an insulting joke. By trying to claim that Apple only rejects apps because of those technological reasons is reprehensible, given that there has been such a trust of aligning with Apple’s vision for so long.

More To Come

I had wanted to write more about this laundry list of issues I have with the keynote:

  • I wanted to opine about how idiotic it was not to put the FaceTime videochat on its own private, dedicated wireless network.
  • I wanted to discuss all of these bandwidth-hungry applications that make AT&T’s change in bandwidth plans infuriating.
  • I wanted to point out how the wireless issues surrounding FaceTime meant that public hotspots – such as Starbucks and hotel wifi services – couldn’t possibly handle a single conversation, let alone many simultaneous FaceTime conversations.
  • Continuing on that point, I wanted to question the wisdom of providing high-definition videochat service over 802.11g instead of n, since it’s wi-fi only. Update: I have been informed that the iPhone 4 does support n, just the 2.4 Ghz variety.
  • I wanted to reiterate the excellent points over at ReadWriteWeb on additional issues Apple glossed over, missed, or avoided entirely.

I also wanted to discuss Apple’s HTML 5 pronouncements, especially given:

I didn’t mean for this to be a rant on the app store’s approval policies, but this post is way too long as it is, and this was just the beginning of the long list of things that have made me realize that Apple’s vision and mine apparently parted ways at some point.

Losing My Religion

With apologies to R.E.M., that’s me in the corner, re-evaluating the values that Apple has projected for the past 30+ years of being in business that I affiliated with, versus the values that they seem to be pushing now.

Apple used to be about quality by design. Now it’s about quality by coercion.

Apple used to be about thinking different, now it’s about “thinking Apple.”

Apple used to be about innovation, but now it’s about removing developers’ (and by extension their customers’) ability to innovate. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Apple is afraid that they may be out-innovated on their own platform.

Somewhere along the line, Apple lost its way from the original vision, Nowadays Apple isn’t the only one with similar public goals and the competition is fierce.

The Bottom Line

At some point in time I came to a realization, one that was cemented firmly in my mind during the WWDC Keynote.

As long as Apple’s products continue to “just work” and do what I want them to do, as opposed to have me do what Apple wants to permit me to do, I’ll remain a customer. After all, there is a huge investment in the technology and it’s not cost-effective to abandon it.

However, I’m no longer looking to Apple as the default for my needs. Apparently I’m not the only one, as evidently many of the things that make Apple’s products great are no longer exclusive to Apple, and there are additional reasons to start being cautious now with this iPhone release:

If a company or product comes along that offers me:

  • Equipment that works out of the box
  • Equipment that supports my existing investment
  • Equipment that doesn’t limit my creativity or self-expression
  • Equipment that I can afford

I’m going to buy it. It’s just no longer a guarantee that Apple will be my first – or final – choice.


You can subscribe to this blog to get notifications of future articles in the column on the right. The opinions and ideas expressed in this blog are solely mine and not that of my employer. You can also follow me on Twitter: @jmichelmetz


  1. Windows 7 is fast, lightweight, and stable
    Windows 7 runs on tons of different form factor machines
    Android phones are just as good as the iPhone

  2. “A complaining customer is a loyal customer” I once heard. Maybe you are still more loyal than you think. 🙂

    It’s interesting to hear Apple fans starting to grumble and be upset. Though Apple was once on life-support, it’s always been a mega corporation that makes products that people will buy or not buy. They do “sell” it all as if they are a warm and fuzzy company, but the truth is, they want us to part with our money.

    My thing is, why does what they’re doing surprise anyone? Further, what they’re doing is insignificant in the broader scheme of things. Have we lost perspective on life?

    I don’t get it. It’s almost as if we’re “supposed” to not like what they are doing. Most of the world, doesn’t even know this argument even happens and if they did, they wouldn’t care. Perhaps we’re just upset because we aren’t in a select club anymore. Apple has gone mainstream in a big way. We sort of got what we wanted, now we don’t like it.

    I do think you wrote a good, balanced post here and what comes through is that you’d like to continue loving Apple instead of just liking it or worse, leaving it at some point.

    1. Author

      It’s when customers stop making noise that companies should really worry. 🙂

      I share some of your confusion about why people become disgruntled – I was thinking the same thing when I heard it over the past several years – but I took great pains to explain that I wasn’t trying to categorically bash Apple. Thank you for noting my attempt to be balanced.

      I am not trying to persuade anyone else to dislike Apple (after all, I don’t dislike them). And I’m not criticizing them for wanting us to part with our money. Note I’m not griping about not getting “free” stuff.

      After all, I will willingly part with my money *in exchange for value*.

      My point was that part of that value was a shared vision. It’s the “something extra” that Apple always brought to the table. When they claim a certain value (as in the introduction of the iPad) and their sole partner rescinds that value (elimination of unlimited data plan) and charges a monthly fee for the privilege of a service, and not the service itself (tethering, which costs $20 but you don’t get any bandwidth for it), and THEN insults our intelligence by saying this is a “generous” offer, I need to seriously question the value of that vision.

      The other aspect of this value-exchange is the element where suddenly part of this exchange requires that I use the equipment I buy outright in a manner that I don’t have 100% freedom. If a developer makes an app that I am willing to pay for, it’s none of Apple’s business what the content of that app entails. That is an exchange between me and the developer.

      No such requirement exists on my Mac, but will this change? Am I going to be arbitrarily required to use Safari 5 (like their HTML5 “demo”), which will likewise restrict my access to content? Will they not tell the truth (like the demo) and say that it’s unavailable, when in reality they simply don’t want me to see it?

      More importantly, given the trends of their behavior, and trying to spin these restrictions and limitations as “promoting quality”, do I not have cause to ask these questions? There seems to be an alarming trend here, and Jobs’ D8 speech doesn’t do anything to ameliorate these concerns.

      Controlling quality is one thing. Controlling content (and by extension, users) is another. Claiming that the latter is the former is a shift of value and vision, and an insult to the intelligence. I don’t believe it’s necessarily grumbling to point it out.

      1. Controlling quality is one thing. Controlling content (and by extension, users) is another. Claiming that the latter is the former is a shift of value and vision, and an insult to the intelligence. I don’t believe it’s necessarily grumbling to point it out.

        As a matter of fact it is. There is nothing arbitrary here and it is fundamentally very simple. Did you not read all the legal language when you install an OS or app, and clicked on Agree? You agreed to let them control and do whatever they want and whenever they want. You had a choice to decline. You did not. All of your arguments straight away vanish under what you have legally agreed to apriori.

        Please note that I am not trying to be negative here. Paragraph 1 reminded me of the question: “What took you so long?” Paragraph 5 under “Losing My Religion” leaves me to ask: “Do you guys seriously believe in all these marketing gimmicks companies spend copious hours to come up with to gain an edge over competitors?” You are really remarkably true romantics!

        I have no need for an iPhone or iPad. I am perfectly happy with a 30 Euro Samsung phone I use for private voice mail and SMS. I am also perfectly happy with some business Nokia I chose for my official duties when my company told me to pick whatever I wanted for business needs. The phone or the myriad of apps it has does not make me a success or failure.

        If I want porn, there are Android marketplace choices. If I want Glenn Beck or Che Guevera, or some Republican candidate or Democratic candidate, there are other options. It has zero impact on an individual consumers like me who could care less if such apps are available in a phone or not (that why anyone would want to waste precious time on such things in a phone is an entirely different discussion).

        Again, please don’t take it negatively that I am dismissing your article. You should know me better than that. You just can’t have illusions and be surprised when they are shattered. That is all.



      2. So what Ravi is saying is that he doesn’t have any use for all those things, so you shouldn’t have any use for them either. How sanctimonious of him.

        Yes, we sign End User License Agreements (although, I didn’t install the OS on my iPhone, it came packaged with it, and I didn’t sign an EULA to use it, I signed a cellular contract). Apple provides a EULA for their SDK, fine. Assuming the EULA is legal and enforceable, of course. Nevertheless, they are acting capriciously with regard to their App Store, which they have made the only legitimate channel to obtain apps from, and I don’t think it’s poor taste to complain about that, or to warn other users who may not realize the policies they’re signing up for. Ideally, the complaints would be heard in Cupertino and their policies adjusted.

        I didn’t sign anything that waived away my ability to see “ridicule of public officials”. Frankly, I don’t care if Apple allows pornographic apps in their store (though girls in bikinis are not pornographic), but they should apply their standards universally. If they’re going to squash Apps with political speech, they should do so fairly, and transparently, so we all know what we’re getting into. While they’re at it, why not block any app that mentions Tiananmen? They should state clear, relatively objective standards for app approval and not change them arbitrarily after someone’s invested time and effort into developing an app that meets the previous standards.

        Apple wants to control the iOS experience, and I can at least see their side of that, even if I don’t entirely agree with it. But like J said, when they start trying to control the content within that experience, I start to have a problem. I didn’t sign any EULA for that.

      3. Aaron

        No. What I am saying is rather simple. Companies provide products and generate their revenue process in whatever way they see fit. It is their choice. If I don’t like their policies by which they go about it, I, as a consumer, equally have my choice not to support them and can exercise my choice. That is all. If you consider that attitude as being sanctimonious, so be it!

      4. I can certainly agree with your point about the restrictions Apple places on what apps are allowed and how if they took that approach to my Mac, I’d be upset.

        Fundamentally, I agree with your points. Where I step away a bit has more to do with how I think we’ve all developed almost a sense of entitlement. When Apple makes one of its decisions that goes against what we feel they should be, we (a segment of consumers) get all up in arms about it as if they’ve contravened human rights. I think we lose perspective.

        Add to this, the idealogical aspects of “Apple vs. Google” (much like “Apple vs. Microsoft” coming on 20 years ago, and it further confuses things. I see biases starting along these lines as people start to gravitate to one company’s approach over another. We are getting the whole war going again but with different companies this time.

        I’m as guilty as the next guy. Here I am even talking about. I have to wonder why. Maybe it’s just a topic that interests me, which if fine or maybe it’s because your post challenged my assumptions and I am finding a way of justifying why I like my iPhone.

        I’m more passionate about using the Mac OS than I am about my iPhone. I’d be hard-pressed to give up my Mac (it will never happen to Windows) and from what little I’ve seen of Chrome, unlikely too, but you never know. A for the iPhone, it just works well for me, I like it and perhaps in my younger days, I’d have wanted to test the two platforms (iPhone – Android) and weigh all the pros and cons, but now, I prefer to not go there.

        I ramble. 🙂 But thanks for the discussion.

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