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

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.

Disclaimer

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.

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