Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Case Against the Case Against Apple

Here we find an unhappy post on why Apple is done. Aren't articles about why Apple is done ... you know ... done? (Well, "the end of Apple Computer" is accurate insofar as the name changed to drop the word "computer" but otherwise ....)

The most recent diatribe against Apple is written by a late-thirties guy connected to a tech conference, so it's tempting to dismiss anti-Apple vitriol as simple marketing: people love to read stuff about Apple, whether because they want to see Apple fail or because they think Apple's being picked on. So it's a win-win: you get traffic from people who hate your post, and from those who want to believe it. Yea, right?

But the Jaded Consumer is about criticism of the tripe we're offered as steak. Let's take it point by point.

Six Years Ago The Author Started Buying Apple's Products.
He says he dropped $20K on Apple wares. I don't know how many there are like him, but as a shareholder may I be the first to say: God Bless You, Mr. Calacanis.

He says everything on Apple's platforms costs twice as much, but he was willing to pay for quality because his money wasn't precious and the quality was. The relative value of Apple's products is an endlessly fruit-bearing tree, and we can't exhaust it here. Suffice it to say that Apple has had some recent high-profile attacks on the price of its machines, and the chief impact has been to drive chintzy, low-margin customers to Dell a little faster. Apple's own sales have improved at a better pace than those of the U.S. market as a whole, which means Apple has actually gained share against Microsoft's OEMs (who comprise the non-Mac market).

The author has this to say about his experience with Apple: "I over-pay for Apple products because I perceive them to be better." The Jaded Consumer asks: why is it over-paying to pay more for something perceived to be better?

The Author Is Mad At Steve Jobs
"Steve Jobs is on the cusp of devolving from the visionary radical we all love to a sad, old hypocrite and control freak--a sellout of epic proportions."

The author's hypothesis seems to derive from the apparent view that Apple now stands in the abusive monopolist's shoes Microsoft wore fifteen years ago. The author offers no support for the view Apple could possibly wield the kind of market power Microsoft ever wielded, or that it holds such power in any particular market.

As we've seen in the music market, Apple did capitulate to the demands of indispensable third parties (companies with the rights to distribute music) and offer DRM-laden music, but was happy as a clam to blast DRM as a flawed strategy even as it obeyed industry demands, and eventually – when it became able to negotiate contracts to support the move – to offer music products with no DRM at all. The fact that Apple can't offer tethering, and is restricted in offering applications that compete with carriers whose business model depends on selling airtime minutes rather than allowing IP calls on the back of customers' pre-existing all-you-can-eat Internet access, seems quite obviously to result from the same kind of restriction imposed by a necessary third party. In the case of IP telephony and using the iPhone as an unlimited-usage 3G modem for notebook computers, the indispensible third party in question is plainly the cellular carriers – in the U.S., an exclusive carrier, AT&T.

Why would Apple reduce the value of iPhones by refusing to allow "tethering" and Internet telephony? Apple has no incentive at all to make its products less attractive at the same price. These features would steal customers from competitors all day long, and Apple knows it. (I know people paying Verizon $50 to $100 a month for unlimited wireless Internet for notebook computers, and Apple's ability to offer the same thing from iPhones would be a clear win for Apple's move on the technophile world.)

Apple is clearly not the bad guy on things like DRM (the only plausible basis for arguing Apple's store ties music buyers to Apple music players) or tethering or IP telephony. The author is simply not thinking.

The Myth of Non-Openness
The author blames Apple for third parties' hardware not synching with Apple's products. Anyone is free to offer music players for Apple products (Cassady and Greene offered SoundJam before Apple bought SoundJam and renamed it iTunes, for example), and Apple does nothing to keep people from allowing their hardware to communicate with the software they deliver their hardware customers for use on Macs. Apple's excellent and well-documented loadable kernel extension system for supporting unknown hardware added on-the-fly by customers with tools Apple has never heard if is a great way to let developers of third-party applications support whatever hardware they want -- whether from Apple or from any other vendor. Bashing Apple for "neglect" of hardware in such slight demand that the author admits mobody knows what it is called is frankly silly. Apple can't be expected to read the minds (or spec sheets) of every 0.02% market share player and ensure support.

Music players aren't like cameras, in which Nikon, Canon, and a few other manufacurers need Apple's support to allow users to access their self-made content. Music players come from what the author admits are a dizzying array of manufacturers, with a hellish range of features and hardware variations, and nothing like a big base of users around which Apple might build a sensible basis for third-party device support. Just supporting cameras was so rough that Apple called it "the chain of pain" -- and cameras offer computers much less range of supported features than some of the MP3/movie/TV/radio gadgets that the author seems to think are so badly missed by Apple customers (but which I for one have never hoped to own).

The author's confusion – that Apple's lack if iTunes supprt for others' hardware is like a Microsoft effort to stop third-party hardware from being accessed by users of Microsoft's operating systems – is absurd. iTunes is not an operating system. Microsoft doesn't write and bundle hardware drivers for all the MP3 players in the known universe, which is what the author claims Apple ought to do. And Apple doesn't prevent manufacturers from offering support for their own hardware by MacOS X users, which is what the author falsely suggests in its attack on iTunes.

The author's argument is a transparent straw-man. He should be ashamed.

The Author Wants Third-Party iPhone Browsers
Apple has a well-documented scheme for well-behaved iPhone applications: how apps store and use data (Apple offers a data storage API based on CoreData that allows persistent databases full of usable data of all kinds, but doesn't want applications littering the iPhone with self-organized garbage in the filesystem), how they should behave when users open different applications (they should close, to allow other apps a fair shot at limited system resources), and how they should maintain the security environment supported by the signed-application system that keeps Trojans and viruses from running rampant on the iPhone platform.

Applications that dynamically hunt the Net for plugins (read: foreign executables of uncertain origin) to load in order to process stuff hunted down off the Net blow this totally out of the water: they download files for storage on the phone where users can't find them, they load applications nobody has vetted for their behavior and whose authors aren't known in case they turn out to be malicious, and they handle content in a way that can't be shut down if it's found out there's a security problem. The author's call for third party iPhone browsers sounds exactly like a plea for this very kind of application that has been positively identified as a menace to the iPhone.

Anyone wanting to offer browser power in an iPhone app can access WebKit, just like Safari does. If someone has information about a browser that doesn't try to deploy unsigned plugins, that Apple has nixed, then I'd like to hear about it. However, an application that offers WebKit and nothing more ... well, it does the same thing as Safari but will fewer frills, right? Who benefits from this kind of project? Is there a non-plugin browser that depends on a different rendering engine, that might have some value for iPhone users? Does anyone care about this besides refusniks like the author? Is this a real problem, or just one cooked up by bashers of the App Store (which has done the public some good by shutting down really ugly apps that do nothing but steal users' money)?

Author Claims Apple Hates Competition
The author says Apple warned off would-be competitors with this ultimatim: "Don't create services which duplicate the functionality of Apple's own software. In other words: 'Don't compete with us or we will not let you in the game.'"

The facts say otherwise. Although Apple clearly would benefit if everyone satisfied all their music needs using Apple's music store, the App Store has lots of music apps – not just to make music but to find it on the Internet to hear in direct competition with Apple offerings. Google quickly supplies a top-twenty list.

Apple's warning about duplicating the functionality of Apple software might be ambiguous, but it's not stupid. Imagine an application that tries to synch your iPhone with your Apple-supplied applications. Imagine this app might screw up your data, or get out of synch with current versions of Apple applications, and botch synch. Why would you want a third party app doing what Apple is already doing automatically? Why would you want the confusion of having to update this app, and wonder if current versions are adequate to current tasks, or if the sortware is even being maintained?

Summary: Another Vacuous Apple Bash
The author's positions are generally baseless. Apple may have some problems with consistent treatment of applications submitted to the Apple Store -- these are pretty well documented in the blogosphere already -- but the offensive denials that prevent tethering, IP telephony, and so forth are pretty certainly results of carrier contracts just as offensive DRM was a result of music labels.

The fact that the author fancies the Opera browser is entertaining -- it's not the smallest or the fastest browser, and the vast majority of the Web-using world is clearly opposed to paying money for a browser -- but hardly constitutes evidence that Opera ever contemplated a browser that meets Apple's general guidelines for designing applications on the iPhone, much less evidence Apple ever rejected such a submission by Opera.

The author says "Man, do I miss being a journalist. I wish I could split 50% of my time being a journalist and 50% of my time being a CEO." I say: thank goodness this tripe isn't being passed off as journalism. I can't imagine wanting a CEO with such weak analytical powers, but at least the victim pool in that case is limited to company stakeholders, and not the news-reading public at large.

UPDATE: This isn't the only place that silly opinion-piece is being ripped.

1 comment:

Marc said...

And amen to that T (well said, though tis a shame it needed saying at all!)