Before you correct me, I’m aware that Communism is, by and large, an unworthy experiment. The Ruskies gave it, what, more than 70 years… for what? I was pretty young before the Berlin Wall came down, but I can recall when cool clothes and records were being smuggled into the USSR, not out of it. But when I look at the Apple Computer of today, I wonder if Karl Marx wasn’t onto something. It’s almost miraculous to think that the man was able to come up with snappy phrases such as ‘industrial bourgeoisie’ without having Apple as inspiration. I’m certainly willing to spend a week assembling tractor transmissions, just to see if it’s an improvement under our so-called ‘free’ lives toiling under Apple’s iron thumb.”
“Bastards! Miserable, stinking, bastards!”
Well, now I’m just quoting Rick from The Young Ones. I’ll keep working on it. There’s plenty of time; these are just trial balloons. I’m worried that Apple Computer is turning into one of those soulless and remorseless corporate behemoths. I’m powerless to stop it – but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have my hyperbole all cleaned and pressed and ready to go so I can take full advantage when the day comes.
Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, we should be hating Apple instead of having their logo tattooed in places where it’s sure to surprise and delight people during a third-date situation? I’ve been a happy user since the beginning. There isn’t a single Mac – from 1MHz machines to 1.5GHz models – into which I haven’t accidentally spilled a Coke. “Faithful customer” – that’s me from the dandruff on south. But even so, I have to wonder.
First, there’s the super-colossal success of the iPod and the iTunes Music Store. It really is quite phenomenal. Apple sure didn’t invent digital music files, portable players, or even the concept of an online music store. But just as they did with the mouse and the graphical user interface, it took languishing concepts and turned them into revolutionary and wildly successful products. Everyone else had been coming up with products that would appeal to recording industry lobbyists, which is silly because (a) they’re a small part of the total music market, and (b) as amoral lizard scum, they never buy what they can shoplift. Apple focused on the needs and desires of the users and on the potential of the technology. Result: two out of every five digital music players sold is an iPod, and the iTunes Store is the only online music seller worth speaking of.
We all like the iPod story because it’s an all-too-rare example of the best product actually becoming the best-selling product. But as a consequence of becoming the Microsoft of digital music, Apple’s starting to act like the Microsoft of digital music. What you buy under the Apple logo can only be played under the Apple logo, whether it’s an iPod, iTunes for Mac, or iTunes for Windows. What would users gain if Apple decided to license FairPlay – the efficient digital “wrapper” that prevents you from sharing your iTMS songs with a thousand of your closest friends – to other manufacturers and developers?
Well, you could play your songs on your mobile phone, your PDA, and on any of a dozen wunnerful new bits of hardware for jukeboxing your music library throughout the house. You could play them on £50 off-brand portable players. They might lack simplicity and elegance, but you can’t demonstrate an intuitive non-mechanical jog-shuttle to the guy who shows up at your door and reasonably expect that this will convince him to not shut off your electricity for non-payment.
In a word, users would have freedom of choice. I’ve seen people lined up to buy an iPod mini, and I know that it’s excitement that brought them there – not an angry and resigned sense that this is the only way they can listen to their £28 worth of online music while jogging. Surely iPods would remain at the top of the heap if Apple licensed FairPlay to enough third parties to introduce a greater variety of options. But it’s likely that we’ll never find out.
Making things worse, Microsoft is a bit miffed that there’s something out there that it’s not the Microsoft of, and it’s licensing its own DRM technology to all takers. It’s not getting into the business of online music sales itself, but it is cannily prepared to take a few cents away from every transaction of anyone who wants to compete with Apple. It’s hard for any one entity to fight the rest of the world. It makes it easy to keep one’s enemies straight, but there are really no other upsides.
Apple’s also being a little bit mean to its developers. When I got my first look at Tiger, the next and bestest version of the Mac OS, I got to the bit about Dashboard and I got that same sinking feeling I had when Jaguar was first demonstrated and I saw a new feature that looked, behaved, and quacked just like Watson, one of my favourite third-party utilities. Dashboard is a virtual clone of Konfabulator, a third-party app that’s stunningly similar in appearance and function. And no doubt it’ll suffer the same fate as Watson: dying a deathly death of death shortly after the new OS is released.
Let’s be fair: neither of these OS features are ripoffs.
Watson was just a natural interpretation of an Internet search tool under the Aqua user interface. You could also charitably say that Konfabulator was just an updating of the basic Desk Accessory concept, and Apple simply saw fit to take the concept back. Still, Apple could probably have handled the situation with greater finesse.
Finally, it has so much more money than I do. How can I think highly of any organization that’s so clearly rolling in the stuff and won’t let me stick so much as two fingers in the till? That’s not right. It’s just not right.
I’m no closer to settling on a good, rousing, sinuses-clearing anti-Apple tirade than I was at the beginning. I’m definitely going to use the word “bastard” because writing it is nearly as much fun as shouting it at underfunctioning civil servants. I hope I won’t need to settle on a final candidate. For one, any dissatisfaction with Apple is more a case of my not being used to the company actually being the leader in any market segment.
It’s like when a friend of yours wins the lottery. You’re happy for the guy, but still, he has so much more money than you. Until they address that simple but unforgivable slap in the face, the potential for a rift remains. MW