Over the past few years it seems that Apple is slowly selling its soul. It’s a bit unsettling, as many people look to Apple as an example of a virtuous company. That’s how it started anyway, just two guys in a garage designing cool computers. Now it seems with every record quarter, new kick-ass product, and innovation made in media, Apple sells itself out. Before I continue down this road, let me make it perfectly clear that I still think Apple has it’s virtues. Apple products are top-notch, and I’m happy the Mac market share is expanding at the rate it is, simply because more Mac users means more potential Seasonality users. The Mac platform is a good place to be right now. So before you send me that hate mail, just remember that I’m telling it as I see it, and this is how I’m seeing it.
What does it mean to become a big, evil corporation? To me a big, evil corporation is one that is driven completely by profits, does not care what it sells, just that consumers buy it, and doesn’t care what it does to produce the products it sells. Actually, it pretty much is against everything that Apple stands for: free ideas, thinking different, and building tools that innovate to help you innovate. Imagine a bright, shiny, chrome shield of virtue; Apple’s coat of arms if you will. Here are a few things I’ve noticed keeping that shield from being shiny and new.
I spent some time thinking back to where it all started, and the best turning point I could think of was the introduction of the iTunes Music Store. I still remember the day this store opened. I remember downloading a fresh version of iTunes, and checking out the hip store that was so easy to shop at. 1-click shopping to purchase any of thousands of songs. Sure there was DRM, but there had to be or else none of the music companies would go for it. “Apple did good though! Only $0.99 a song, and you can play it on 5 devices, AND burn it to a CD!” DRM was certainly a bullet Apple had to bite, otherwise the iTMS would never exist as it does today. However, Apple as a corporation is about free thinking, selling products that you can use for endless innovation. DRM is most certainly against those ideals, being practically invented for the music and movie industries, which are the epitomes of big, evil business… Chink.
Remember when .Mac came out and they weren’t charging for it? “Really, it was free?” Yep. Does it make sense for this service to be free today? Maybe not. There are certainly a lot of people who take advantage of .Mac, and someone has to pay for all that bandwidth and server hardware. It’s not really Apple’s responsibility to provide such a service for no cost to all Mac OS X users. So what’s my dig with .Mac? What I don’t like about it is how many features in Mac OS X and iLife especially are completely crippled for users who don’t subscribe. Why can’t I use any online-accessible directory as an export location for iWeb or iPhoto galleries? To add insult to injury, Apple really puts pressure on developers to make use of .Mac in their software applications. Really then, it’s developers who sell .Mac for Apple. Want to sync X, Y, and Z apps with each other? Sorry you can’t do that unless you have a .Mac account…
The fact of the matter is, I wouldn’t even mind paying for .Mac if it was competitive in the hosting industry. For $100/year, you’re getting a paltry amount of online disk space (this was made somewhat better recently), a couple of email accounts, and some web space with a small helping of bandwidth. Compare to Google, who gives away disk space, email, and shared documents for free. .Mac is just another hook Apple uses to get more recurring money from customers, instead of being a solid innovation in the online sharing community like it should be. Sounds big evil corporationy to me… Chink.
“Because of Accounting…”
It seems we are seeing these paid hardware unlocks from Apple much more frequently. First, last year with MacBook Pros and 802.11n, and now with the recent iPod touch update. It’s blamed on some accounting rules, but really, since when can a company not decide to give something away for free? Why can only products sold on a subscription basis be given free feature updates? Is Leopard a subscription-based product? In the case of the MacBook Pro, the network card was already there, but you had to pay an extra $2 to use it at that speed. Why? Why can’t the users who bought those machines just find out their laptops are even more awesome than before? $2 is a pain in the butt. Katrina has one of these laptops, and we just never paid: not because of the money or the principle of the thing (the latter of which is certainly a valid reason to avoid a product for us), but because it was just another line-item on our todo list that gets lost below all the other important stuff.
Now the big rage is this iPod touch update. 5 new apps for the iPod touch, only $20…what a deal!</sarcasm> Actually, it is a deal. Those 5 apps make the iPod touch twice as useful as it was before, useful enough that I bought one yesterday to replace my Dell PDA. Now I’m in the software industry, so I understand that paid updates are important. You can’t just give away free updates forever, because you have to pay for that continued development. Furthermore, when current iPod touch users purchased their devices, they paid for the current features, so it was worth it to them at the time. If the iPod touch didn’t fit your needs before, then why’d you buy it to begin with?
On the other hand, these 5 applications have been on the iPhone for quite some time. They aren’t really new developments (though there are some new features in each of the apps), and the touch only came out back in September. If someone just bought a product from you less than 6 months ago, you shouldn’t be sticking them with an upgrade fee. Apple screwed up by crippling the iPod touch from the start “to protect iPhone sales,” they should be biting the bullet. It’s just a collection of bits anyway, nothing physical that would actually cost Apple money to offer.
Admittedly, this brings up a tricky topic: upgrade fees. Now since I just bought an iPod touch, if Apple decides a year from now to release and charge for a big software update, how will I feel? Actually, that would be completely fine by me. In fact, I’d be happy if they were still upgrading the software on my device after a year. So where do you draw the line? Somewhere between 5 and 12 months I think. Seriously though, Apple here is releasing software version 1.1.3… This is a point release, what most of the industry would consider a bug-fix. To charge for a point release is absurd, so at the very least, the iPhone/iPod touch development team needs to get their version numbering in check.
Upgrade fees are a fact of life, but these few select examples rub me the wrong way. I’ll be the first in line to buy a new version of OS X every year, but even noting that Apple has to point the finger at “accounting” is kind of a clue the company is going evil. Chink.
Just over a year ago, Apple dropped the bombshell that it’s new iPod phone would be running a “stripped down version of OS X.” I couldn’t believe it… I thought OS X was just too big for an embedded device, and I’m glad I was proven wrong. That means developing for the iPhone wouldn’t be much different than developing for the Mac. Awesome. Until developers asked Apple how we could go about writing software for the iPhone. Their answer: web apps… Great.
Now to give Apple credit, an SDK is expected sometime next month, and I’m anxiously awaiting such an SDK, but they didn’t get it right from the start. The iPhone is an iPod, but it’s a lot more than that…it’s a mobile device, and developers expect to be able to write software for mobile devices. Actually, development of new software for mobile devices really drives the platforms forward. Not having this is a slap in the face, almost as big as DRM. I’m just hoping they get it right the second time around. It would be a shame if they place too many restrictions or force developers to get “approval” to write apps for the platform. The verdict is still out on this one, but it still strikes me as a big evil company lock-out. Chink (but you might be able to buff this one out).
To wrap up my argument, I present the new Time Capsule announcement. If you’re unfamiliar, Time Capsule is basically a networked attached Mac hard drive, a NAS. Apple is marketing it as a Time Machine backup device, a hard drive any of the Macs on your network can use to backup files to. It’s certainly a product that Apple should produce, and it really seems like something they could do a nice job with. So what’s the problem?
For this one, you need a little bit of background. You see, when Time Machine was originally announced at WWDC 2006 (!), Apple claimed that backing up over a network would be supported. To me, this was it. I like running servers, and setting a Time Machine server sounded like a nice idea to me. Even better, last year the NAS market took off, and I ended up purchasing a 1TB NAS from Micronet, expecting to have no problem backing up over Samba, NFS, or whatever other network protocol Mac OS X supported (webdav?). Fast-forward to October 2007 when Leopard was released, and what do we get? You can backup over the network to a Mac running OS X Leopard Server, and that’s it.
So now you have all these NAS devices on the market, and none of them work with Time Machine, without the use of an unsupported hack. Supposedly, Time Machine requires backup to an HFS+ formatted device for it’s hard-link support. Well, my NAS is formatted ext3, which also supports hard-links. And why can’t Time Machine fall back to using a device without hard-link support and just take more disk space by writing more than one copy of the files? Or perhaps it would even be useful for users to have just a single backup copy of their files to a device that doesn’t fully support incremental backups with hard-links. It begs the question, was Time Machine built to truly bring backup to Mac OS X users at large, or was it designed into OS X to sell the upcoming Time Capsules? Chink.
Of the Coat of Arms
So our new Apple coat of arms is a little more battered than when it started. These are definitely areas that need improvement. Am I optimistic we’ll see these issues resolved? I try to be, but when the frequency of these events is increasing, it’s difficult to look at it with a positive note. Maybe it doesn’t matter… Apple still designs a lot of cool products, maybe that’s enough. This is true to some extent, as long as Apple continues to sell it’s products, it will continue to survive as a corporation, and we’ll still be Mac users. The drawback I think comes to customer loyalty. Apple is known as one of the strongest brands worldwide, simply because of their customer loyalty. Practices such as the above that step on their customers are sure to lessen their brand loyalty though. I won’t purchase or design products that use .Mac simply because I see it as a way Apple locks users into that service. I had no interest in purchasing the iPhone/iPod touch until it was announced I could write apps for it, and the verdict of whether that was a waste of my money is still out on that one. Steve Jobs noted 2007 as a great year in Apple history (indeed), and how much has happened in 2008 already. I sincerely hope I don’t have any more chinks to add to this list next January…