Look, Apple left us a Christmas present under the tree. On the 24th of December we discovered an Apple patent for its own version of the hateful Windows Genuine Advantage system. Did Apple think we wouldn’t notice?
Well, it was wrong. Not only did we pick up on the story at the time, but I made a mental note on Christmas day to return to it in the New Year. After all, some of you may have missed this during the yuletide festivities, or been too full of turkey to care.
Before I get my knives out, let me just remind you that a patent and a product are two different things. Apple has taken many patents that never turned into products. Sometimes to protect an idea, sometimes because the idea doesn’t work out in development; occasionally we think Apple just enjoys playing with the rumour-mongers.
But not this time. This time we think Apple really is playing with the same fire that’s burnt Microsoft’s fingers so badly in Windows Vista.
Essentially this patent appears to be for a system that has a central management module that registers your software details with Apple, it then injects code into each application and checks the application with the management module and won’t let the application launch.
It could – in theory – be similar to the system that Adobe uses. The one that recently decided I didn’t want to use Photoshop after all. Or, God-forbid, the one Microsoft was forced to abandon that stated: if you change three things in a system (hard drive, graphics card, memory) then you should spend another £400 on a new copy of Vista.
Apart from slowing everything down while it does its checks, and the hilarious escapades you have with customer service when it inevitably goes wrong (and it will – trust us on this one,) these internet-enabled checks are a farce for people who've bought and paid for software and simply want to use it.
It’s the ethos that treats every customer as a criminal until they’ve proved they aren’t. A system which usually requires a customer to jump through hoops and over hurdles (typing in security keys, connecting to the internet, downloading decryption keys, then usually using the telephone to sort things out). It’s a poor user experience that you don’t expect when spending a considerable amount of money.
And cutting off customers from products they’ve legitimately bought is a sure fire way to lose them. As Microsoft has discovered to its cost with the difficulty it's having getting Windows Vista to sell.
I actually thought Apple was smarter than this. That Steve Jobs had come up with the perfect solution. While Microsoft charges a huge amount (£400 plus) for Vista, Apple charges a lot less (£85) for OS X; but updates OS X every year. The point being that people are more inclined to spend £85 once a year, than £400 once every five years. Hence, less piracy. And because you’re upgrading every year you end up giving them the same amount of money in the end.
This also applies to the yearly updates to all of Apple’s major applications, and the relatively low cost to seemingly high-end programs like Final Cut Express.
But maybe I was wrong. Maybe this wasn’t such a smart scheme after all and Apple has decided that there’s too much piracy going on. But an Apple that stamps down on both legitimate and non-legitimate users isn’t really the company I know and love. Apple products are both easy and seamless to install and use, something I just don't equate with the painful experiences I've had with anti-piracy schemes.
Anyway, all of this could be irrelevant. It could really be just a one-off hardware check to ensure that Mac OS X is running on genuine Apple products and not Hackintosh machines (PCs hacked to run Mac OS X).
Or it could simply be a system to ensure that the iPhone software isn’t stolen and installed on cheap knock-offs made in the back-end of China.
I do hope so. It would be terrible if Microsoft saw sense at the exact same time that Apple lost it.