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Signs that Apple is Becoming a Big Evil Corporation

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.

The iTMS

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.

.Mac

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.

iPhone nonSDK

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).

Time Capsule

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…

14 Comments

  1. How about this for an alternate title: “Signs that *Coder is Becoming a Big Hyberbolic Pity Party”

  2. Apple could NOT have given away the iPod Touch upgrade, Sarbanes-Oxley makes that illegal, They could have chraged less, like the $1.99 they charged ro enable 802.11n, but they could not have made that upgrade free, The Apple TV and iPhone, which are treared as subscription-based services, CAN give away free uogrades.

    To me, the upgrade made the iPod Touch do enough things (Mail, Maps, Weather) to justify buying one, I bought a discounted older model and happily paid the $20. If I had bought one earlier, I would have been delighted to pay $20 to turn my MP3 player into a PDA. To those who object to the price, just jailbreak your iPod and run similar free applications.

    Apple, given enough power, MIGHT be really evil, but I don’t buy this as a reason. In the past, if you wanted to add features to an iPod, you bought a new iPod. This is much better.

  3. 1) You really can’t blame Apple for DRM. It’s the media-companies’ invention. Apple will happily provide DRM-free music, alas iTunes Plus – but now the media companies (other than EMI) are giving DRM-music only to Amazon MP3 store, but not iTunes, seemingly out of spite. Or perhaps, because they want a competitor to iTunes. Ironically, I don’t think Apple cares – MP3s play on iPods, and all Apple wants is to to sell iPods, iPhones, etc.

    2) .Mac sucks. I do remember when it was free … 4 years ago? It’s a rip-off now, one of the worst thing Apple does.

    3) I believe that Apple feels they need to charge for upgrades to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley. I don’t believe they need to charge $20. It’d be a lot nicer to charge $5. But, you know, iPod Touch owners knew they were buying a Mail-less, Maps-less, Weather-less iPhone. And if they think the price is too high, don’t buy it.

    4) SDK. Apple didn’t not release an SDK just to annoy people. Clearly, they had limited engineering resources (look at how they had to delay Leopard) to get the iPhone out on time. So, the SDK is just taking time. It’s not being delayed just to bug you. Now, how they implement it – will developers have to register, pay – will there be freeware, will Apple have to bless apps? Who knows. I hope it’s a full fledge system. If not, the hacks will continue.

    5) Time Capsule. I would hope they’d decide to enable Time Machine to Airport disks… it’s be pretty lame otherwise.

  4. I’ve stuck with Apple exclusively since 1989, thus am pleased to see them get the recognition they deserve so much. However, as they increase market share, they are beginning to exhibit typical Big Corp behavior. Eventually, if they continue to succeed, most likely Apple will forget what the PERSONAL computer revolution they started is all about. It’s at that moment that I’ll jump ship to regain freedom and control over my technology purchases. I suspect many others will be in that same boat with me. I would rue the day this passes. May Apple never forget it is the consumer from which its power is derived.

  5. Branding Apple a Big Evil Corporation for reasons like those stated here, in the face of the continued existence of companies like Microsoft and Wal-Mart, is a little like the police mounting a massive manhunt for a nice old lady who let her parking meter run out while she was volunteering at the local homeless shelter while hordes of mass murderers run free. The issues above are all handled by Apple in a far more customer-friendly manner than all of their competitors in similar circumstances. Is Apple a paragon of perfection? No. They are just closer to perfection — by far — than pretty much everyone else in their industry. Call me when you have to deal with REAL evil. Please don’t cry over a hangnail or two while there are a crowd of folks out there trying to disembowel us all.

  6. Google doesn’t give you the mail and space for free. They receive money from ads that support that site.

    I prefer Apple to charge me for the service and not present ads.

    They are not evil, just doing what they need to remain in business. They did not derive any of their monopolies illegally, unlike MS.

  7. Tomorrow morning Apple will effectively make me bankrupt. This is despite me making millions of dollars in profits for them over 15 years, and trying for over 12 months to make a deal with them.

    I stuck with them when they fluffed the introduction of the PowerPC, lost billions of dollars, introduced Mac OS X unfinished and more.

    I’m not the only one. They appear to be getting rid of any reseller they don’t like with unsubtle tactics. The Apple I started selling in 1991 had a heart.

    Thanks for nothing Apple.

  8. This is a pity piece.

    I am an Apple Shareholder – thus an owner of Apple.
    Apple is doing fine, thank you.

    Apple is never about FREE ideas – that is what open-source GPL-3 people do. Apple will do open source when it is useful. But it will not give away ideas if that will lead to its demise. Apple is so prolific in creating things other people want to copy Apple. Microsoft looks to Apple for ideas. Linux people look to Apple for ideas. Apple has to patent its ideas otherwise people will steal from Apple.

    Apple always – under Steve Jobs – tries to create the best products it can. It cares about its products. This is easily seen in how well designed and how easy to use its products are. It takes enormous amount of work to make something well designed and easy to use.

    Apple is not an expert in everything. It can make mistakes. Obviously, just as anyone else.

    Apple is to make a profit. No more bleeding billions of dollars as in the past. I would be happy for Apple to make a profit and forget about marketshare. It doesn’t have to make marketshare. However, many times good products will create their own market and gain marketshare without much work. Apple’s products are so good they are the only corporation which can create its own markets and expand on existing ones without much advertising.

    Apple does not own the music or video it sells. Duh. The music companies and media companies own them. Apple is at their mercy when it comes to selling the product – as is every other company. After all, if you own the product, someone can’t sell it without your permission. Thus DRM exists.

    HFS+ has been the standard disk format for Mac OS X for years. Of course, Time Machine is going to be optimized for HFS+ or even require it. Duh. It’s not going to support some weird disk format. It is not even going to support Microsoft’s proprietary patented disk format – for which Apple would need to pay Microsoft a license. So quit whining. If Time Machine doesn’t do what you want, get some other backup program. Time Machine is made for the beginniner who wants simplicity. It isn’t meant for the geek you are – who already has an NAS. If you were a smarter geek, you would immediately recognize this and use your favorite program – or even better, WRITE YOUR OWN PROGRAM.

    Mac OS X has a lot of utilities I will never use – they are too geeky. They are there if I want to use it. There are a lot of utilities I won’t use because they are meant for the beginner. But you have the choice of using what you want or writing your own – after all, the programming tools come with Mac OS X for FREE.

  9. Mike,
    You may want to read-up on Sarbanes Oxley and understand how Apple sells its different products and then come back and pen another blog entry. I am not saying Apple doesn’t put the screws to people but they can not give these upgrades away for free.

  10. Well, there’s one sure sign of evil. If you want to set Firefox as your default browser, you have to use Safari to do it. If you want to use Entourage, or Thunderbird or even Eudora as your mail application, you have to use the crappy mail.app to do so. This used to be in the Control Panel, now it’s tied to the browser.
    Didn’t someone end up in court for tying the browser to the operating system. Why do I have to use Safari for anything? Thank you Microsnot for showing us the way.

    Kill me now.

  11. I think you are reaching, lets look at the facts.

    1) iTunes DRM: Apple tricked the music industry into selling music online to Mac users with such liberal usage terms that many people will never know they bought into DRM. This was such a success the labels couldn’t help but allow Windows users access and that was such a success, one of the labels gave in and dropped DRM! This lead to others giving up DRM (to another store in an attempt to counter the strength of iTunes) and now all the labels have started offering DRM free music……YEH APPLE!

    2) .Mac, shouldn’t it just be free? Nothing’s free! Google sells directed ads and is amassing a huge database about us all. They never gave the kind of bandwidth access .mac gave and it is currently very competitive. Find 10GB of WebDAV accessible storage for less than the $70/year .mac costs (you can always buy it at a discount). Further, iWeb does publish to any server, just publish to a folder and FTP or if you found that WebDAV server mentioned above, publish to that (That’s all .mac does). As for developer support? They could support these features via FTP too, but WebDAV is easier (as it looks like a network drive). Apple makes things that work and developers follow.

    3) I’ll admit the iPod touch update is odd and a $4.95 update probably would make more sense but I think this is a precursor of things to come. Apple will be making software updates to the iPhone and iPod touch just like they make updates to iLife, iWork, and OS X. These updates will be $20 (my guess) and setting the price now for substantial additional features seems reasonable. These people purchased the Touch with no expectation that these features would be added. I wonder if people would have been as outraged if the iPod Touch dropped in price to $279 instead? Companies have to continue to add value to products and because of this some people are going to feel screwed! Get over it!

    4) iPhone SDK, cry me a river! OK, so maybe Apple was both evil and stupid and never intended to make an SDK and was forced by the ground swell of complaints and the awesome hacker community. OR! Maybe the SDK was always planned and the mobile version of OS X that shipped with the iPhone was nowhere near complete at introduction (which is evident by the massive changes made in the past 6 months). Now! do you delay the iPhone release by 6 months to get the SDK correct (as your competitors swoop in to steal your thunder) or do you release what you have and deliver the SDK when it is ready?

    5) Time Capsule/Airport Extreme: I’m betting we have not heard the last word on this. It appears that Apple intended to get things working with the Airport Extreme (and maybe still do) but performance was so poor they pulled the feature. In an attempt to satisfy demand, they saw that a redesigned piece of hardware (with a SATA interface to the drive) could get around the issues. I could be wrong but I’d guess that a future update will add this ability to the Airport units as well. As for Time Machine without hard links? Are you seriously purposing hourly clone backups? Sorry if your NAS is not up to the task but I’m going to give Apple the benefit of the doubt here too!

  12. Just so you know – A very large amount of engineering at considerable cost went into the Touch/iPhone update. iPhone users pay via a small portion of their monthly phone bill to Apple for updates. Touch owners pay directly. If you don’t think the work is worth $20.00, don’t buy.

  13. @Bob D
    $20 is certainly worth the upgrade price for those apps, I happily paid for it myself and use those apps all the time. I just think that charging users who bought an iPod touch less than 6 months ago $20 for an upgrade is ridiculous.

    @CouchGuy
    True, Apple’s big-evilness pales in comparison to the likes of Microsoft and Wal-Mart, but these are signs that Apple is starting to slide that way.

    @James
    I, too, am a shareholder, and in the financial respect Apple is indeed doing just fine. That’s my point really though…it seems that Apple is trading some of it’s ideals to make a buck. I want to see Apple succeed, but it is able to do that without stepping on it’s users. HFS+ has certainly been the standard disk format on the Mac platform for years, so I agree that Time Machine should be optimized for use on that filesystem. However, Mac OS X supports several filesystems, and to design a piece of software around a single filesystem is foolish, especially when rumors have it that Mac OS X will eventually run on ZFS (currently in beta) by default. Right now I use rsync for my backups, and that suits me fine, but Time Machine’s inflexibility makes it all but useless for the vast majority of Mac users. I’d be interested to see just how many people have started backing up because of Time Machine. I’m sure there is a much higher percentage of Leopard users who don’t bother.

    @Ghibertii
    I may do that.

    @Doug
    You make some good points, not all of which I think contradict my argument.

    1) I agree that the iTMS is somewhat responsible for the higher availability of DRM-free music for sale online, which is great. However, I’m not going to raise Apple up on a pedestal for a side-effect that was never intended.

    2) I don’t find the .Mac service all that incredible of a deal at all, but besides that, the 2 step process of publishing to any other web location is what I’m arguing with respect to iWeb. Sure, you could publish to a WebDAV folder, but 99% of users have an ISP that gives them web space via FTP, so why not support that and not force a .Mac subscription down your users’ throats?

    4) I believe your first scenario to be true…you’re certainly welcome to believe the latter.

    5) I hope we haven’t heard the last on this. I didn’t even mention the users who bought Airport Extreme Base Stations expecting to be able to hook up a USB HD and use that for backups. Seems like Apple will probably support that configuration, at least I hope so. Hourly clone backups might not be the best option, but what about weekly clone backups, or even just a single backup copy? Most backup systems can make a single backup copy to a remote disk.

    @Zato
    As a developer myself, I am well aware of the amount of work that went into creating those 5 iPod touch apps. However, these apps were finished before the iPod touch even shipped, and again, my issue is with charging an upgrade fee less than 6 months after the product was released. I don’t have a problem paying for increased functionality after a reasonable period of time.

    Regarding DRM:
    The music/movies Apple sells indeed does not belong to them, so DRM is necessary if the music/movie industry sees fit. Apple has opened spoken out against DRM though, and it strikes me as something they should avoid if they don’t believe in it. Would this have killed the iPod? Perhaps, but I think the iPod succeeded for reasons other than strictly the iTMS.

  14. You can blame Apple for the iTunes DRM. They are the 800 lbs gorilla of online music sales; they could get it changed if they wanted. I choose to have nothing to do with it.

    I also thought they were kind of evil with their “Don’t Steal Music” tagline used in some iPod ads. They were buying into RIAA language-mangling. I doubt it is possible to steal music using an iPod. You might be able to use one to smash in a window at a Tower Records/etc music store to steal some CDs, but I kind of doubt it. You’d probably smash the iPod without making a crack in the window.

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