Apple: the "evil fruit"

There’s finally been a lot more people – influential people – waking up to the reality of what Apple has become: more evil, monopolistic and selfish than almost anyone else in the technology business. The fact their products are pretty and the company was once the underdog is no longer enough to cover over the fact that their behaviour unfairly screws their users time and time again for the benefit of Apple’s bottom line.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for many people was the news the Apple had rejected the official Google Voice application from the App Store, and it then proceeded to remove two other applications for using Google Voice that had been previously approved. There was – finally – uproar, and I’m really glad to see it.

I was interested to read Jason Calacanis’ strongly worded “calling out” of Apple in “The Case Against Apple – in Five Parts” from earlier today. Instead of just ranting at Apple for their very very bad behaviour, Jason also tries to justify the business case for Apple changing their ways and not screwing and controlling their customers so much. I’m not sure the case needs a whole lot of justification, but you’ve got to admire his efforts.

A few days before Jason’s post, my friend Michael Arrington announced he was Qutting the iPhone. In explaining his reasons, Mike says “…I choose to work with the company that isn’t forcing me to do things their way”, and he chooses Google over Apple. His approach is entirely pragmatic, but it also helps that he’s on the right side of the moral and emotional debate on all of this.

One thing that has always bothered me is the number of Mac Fan-boys in the technology industry. They like to beat up Microsoft as the evil empire, and see purchasing a Mac as an act of defiance. Many of these people are also passionate about open-source, and see Microsoft as the enemy in this regard. Now, I’m no Microsoft defender, but don’t these bone-heads appreciate that the Mac and the iPhone use a lot of open source software under the hood, and then proceed to wrap the products – particularly the iPhone/iPod and iTunes stack – into a walled garden which is more monopolistic than Microsoft and Windows have ever been? Surely this is the definition of “closed”?

As if to demonstrate just how one-eyed many in technology circles are, when news of the rejection and deletion were first announced, people assumed it was AT&T who were at fault: surely Apple, the perfect dictatorship, would never do this? It might turn out that it was AT&T – thankfully, the FCC is investigating – but regardless of whether it was Apple or AT&T calling the shots, I think the real problem is Apple being able to tell users what they can and can’t do with a piece of hardware they’ve purchased and own.

Apple should have the right to choose which applications to ‘stock’ in its store, and they should have the right to decide that almost without recourse, just like a vendor at the corner store should be able to choose what products to carry. The problem isn’t the approval process: the problem is that users should have the right to install applications on products they’ve purchased without needing to hack in, something Apple is trying to have made into a crime based on bullshit reasoning they should be ashamed of.

My moment of “wow, you guys really, really suck” was crystalised when I was travelling with my girlfriend in New York last year. I was using my laptop to charge her iPhone, and it asked if I wanted to upgrade to the newest firmware. I said OK, but then it didn’t work, and the phone needed a hard reset. My girl was pretty understanding considering she’s just lost all of her contacts and SMS messages, but the frustrating bit was that the apps she’d previously bought were wiped. By doing the hard reset while being attached to my computer, the iPhone had associated itself with my iTunes account. No problem, I thought: when we first got the iPhone, we signed into the iTunes store via the iPhone (no laptop or iTunes). I just needed to find that screen again, sign out from  my account, and she could sign in as hers. After searching for ages, and having a trip to see the very pretty Apple store near Central Park on our walking tourist agenda anyway, I figured we’d ask one of the geniuses for help. When we got there, I was amazed to be told the menu option I couldn’t find is deliberately hidden from the user, and the only way to change the iPhone to her account was to plug it into her laptop: which was at home, back in Australia, where we wouldn’t be returning for 2 more weeks! And the reason for deliberately hiding a menu/feature that I knew existed on the phone? It’s a “security feature”. Bullshit. It’s there so Apple can continue to screw and control its users and wring out every last cent from them.

Still, even a week ago and just after the Google Voice debacle broke, when I was doing some training with people from a company brave enough to make their motto “Don’t be Evil”, the topic of Apple came up, and I mentioned that I thought they were “evil”. The person I was speaking to couldn’t believe what I was saying, and that surely I meant the other guy, and that Apple is beyond reproach. Unfortunately, this attitude is all too prevalent in technology circles, but then it takes time for people’s attitudes to change.

Even so, there are people out there deliberately and consciously doing the ostrich. I read a post tonight (via Techmeme) from a guy who argued against Jason Calacanis’ post after proudly disclosing he hadn’t even read the post. Weird: you normally only see that kind of deliberate ignorance on matters of religion.

So, what’s my problem with these fan-boys, choosing to stay ignorant and fighting the battles of the early 1990’s? If it were people just choosing to remain ignorant fan-boys I wouldn’t care as much, but these are often the people who family members and friends turn to for technology advice. That’s the real problem, and until the mainstream press start paying attention and asking questions – like why can’t I sync my music I’ve paid for to a Palm Pre from iTunes – people are just going to get more and more screwed by an increasingly more powerful and despotic Apple.

4 thoughts on “Apple: the "evil fruit"

  1. Good points Geoff and good to see the chorus if dissent growing. As you rightly point out – great industrial design and UX does not substitute for a fair and balanced vendor/consumer relationship.
    I did a talk at Barcamp Sydney that repurposed the title “cathedral and the bazaar” (http://slideshare.net/djinoz), explaining imbalances in the iPhone developer ecosystem (sins that Microsoft never perpetrated on their developers) and why developers should back and hope Android gains market share. The talk had an element of risk as many Barcampers are iPhone users/fans which is natural of early adopter communities. However, it was interesting the talk surfaced a latent but growing dissatisfaction that pre-dates the Arrington abandonment.
    My guess is that iPhone will still finish 2009 with hockeystick growth just because consumers will slipstream the hype but Apples controlling ways are now as dated as my dance moves and beehive hair-doos.
    Regards
    D.

  2. I very well articulated argument. I too kind of agree that they should be able to choose which products they put on their shelf provided shoppers can choose to go to a different store to get other products if they choose to. I have recently been reading up on the iphone developer terms and have an idea for an iphone app. It worries me a bit that I could develop the app and it be completely rejected and all my time and money would be wasted.

    Having said that, this week I am going out to buy a new MacBook Pro… They are so pretty 😉 That’s what I am supposed to say isn’t it 😉

    Regards,
    Colin

  3. Great article. I’ve tried telling people this for years and they look at me and laugh. The exact reason I purchased myself a HTC Hero the other day and not an iPhone.

    Don’t get me wrong, they make sexy hardware and awesome software – I just don’t agree with their attitude/philosophy towards consumers. Its the classic question, would you buy a car if the bonnet was welded shut?

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