Monday, September 10, 2007

Apple’s glass is half empty, too

In standing in a room full of (student) Windows users Saturday, I was reminded of how much of a pro-Apple cheerleader I’ve become. Yes, I prefer to see the glass as half full — Apple’s strategies are partly open like Microsoft, Symbian, Red Hat, Real Networks, IBM, etc. etc. And certainly in some markets (PCs, cellphones) Apple is trying to get single-digit market share that, by its nature, is likely to increase rather than decrease competition.

Despite the expensive make-good on the iPhone price cut, Apple has had some good iPhone news recently. It sold 1 million iPhones in its first 74 days. That is consistent with Apple being the top-selling smartphone in the US in July — even though that was only 1.8% market share. And apparently the 3G iPhone is going on sale in Germany in November.

Nonetheless, Apple’s glass is also half empty, i.e. partly (significantly) closed. Sometimes — even trying to put the best possible face on things — its actions are undeniably to increase lock-in and protect the proprietary (i.e. closed) aspects of their business model. I found two examples Saturday in catching up on the iPhone news.

First, last Wednesday Apple announced a new version of iTunes that allows you buy a ringtone version of your songs for 99¢. Clever hackers found out there’s an easy technical approach to converting an existing MP3 file into an iPhone ringtone. So Apple updated its iTunes software to 7.4.1 to block this, and others are trying to find a work-around to that block.

Now it may be that Apple is obliged by contract to share some of the incremental cost of the ringtone with its music suppliers. If challenged, one would expect they will, indeed, point the finger. Which brings us to the second criticism, also tied to last week’s announcements, in this case of the iPod Touch.

Chris Soghoian, a Kling-on from Indiana, reminds us of a previous excuse Steve Jobs used for selling a closed iPhone:

Conjuring up the 40-year-old ghost of AT&T, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claimed that the reason for this was because they didn't want poorly coded apps to damage AT&T/Cingular's fragile wireless network. He told Newsweek, "You don't want your phone to be an open platform," meaning that anyone can write applications for it and potentially gum up the provider's network, says Jobs. "You need it to work when you need it to work. Cingular doesn't want to see their West Coast network go down because some application messed up." …

Apple announced the new iPod Touch today, essentially an iPhone without the phone. …

If Apple's main excuse in locking down the iPhone platform was a desire to protect the wireless carriers' networks, that reason would seemingly not be an issue anymore. After all, the new device doesn't have the hardware to connect to those oh-so-fragile cellular networks. As Cory Doctorow has repeatedly noted, one of Jobs' gifts is being able to lock in his customers and blame it on others. Apple blamed the record labels for the DRM lock-in on the iTunes Store, and then passed the buck to AT&T for locking developers out of the iPhone platform.

Unfortunately, the odds are that Jobs will come up with another reason for keeping developers locked out of the iPod Touch, although who he'll pass the buck to is anyone's guess.
Soghoian’s criticism is not only fair, it’s unassailable. It reminds me of the advice I’m sure all of us parents have given to our kids at one point or another: it’s better to tell the truth, because otherwise you won’t be able to keep your stories straight and someone will eventually catch you in a lie.

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1 comment:

Doug said...

I sadly have to agree with you. Jobs hates open systems and the iPhone/iPod touch are proof that he hasn't changed in the decades since the beginning. Total control freak.

The irony of the power of the Mac development eco-system and the now closed iGadgets is nothing if not depressing. So close to the ideal handheld, yet so far from perfect :(

I'm thinking Nokia might be my next music device ..