Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

Is Apple Evil?

Today’s iPad introduction has to be about the most depressing Apple product launch I’ve ever watched. As has been noted, Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field only works when he believes in what he’s selling and he didn’t seem to really believe in this. The audience must have further added to the disappointment, expecting a revolutionary product and only getting an oversized iPhone (iPod touch, actually).

That’s not to say the iPad won’t sell, or that I don’t want one. The scariest thing is that I think it probably will. It’s clear that Apple plans for the iPhone OS to be the future of its product line. And that’s scary because the iPhone OS is designed for Apple’s total control.

A lot of people have argued that requiring Apple to approve every application for the iPhone OS is some kind of “mistake”, something they’ll remedy as soon as they realize how bad things have gotten. But recent events — Phil Schiller’s personal interventions, comments on their call to analysts, etc. — have made it clear it’s not a mistake at all. It’s their plan.

The iPad is their attempt to extend this total control to what’s traditionally been thought of as the computer space. This is just the first step, but it’s not hard to imagine Apple doing their best to phase out the Macintosh in the next decade, just as they phased out OS 9. In their ideal world, all computing will be done on the iPhone OS.

And the iPhone OS will only run software that they specifically approve. No Flash or other alternate runtimes, no one-off apps or open source customizations. Just total control by Apple. It’s a frightening future.

I don’t know why they’re doing it. It’s hard to see how it makes them more money. (Curating all those apps must be expensive, not to mention the lost sales from the unapproved ones.) I can only presume it’s a result of Jobs’ megalomaniacal need for control — not only does the hardware have to be flawless, the software must be too. And the only way to ensure that is to have Apple approve every inch of it.

I love Apple products. I’m a huge Apple fan. I’d buy an iPad right now if I could. But, for the first time, I’ve got a real sinking feeling in my stomach.

You should follow me on twitter here.

January 27, 2010


Agreed. Been using Apple stuff since 1982, and I’ve had the sinking feeling for a while now …

posted by Dan Stocker on January 28, 2010 #

Good lord.. get a grip.. Apple’s offering the best mobile experience, and the best development platform available and all you can do is get a sinking feeling about their alleged control freakery? Maybe they just want to offer an ALTERNATIVE to what’s on offer. After all, you don’t have to buy anything they make; there are hundreds of alternatives to Apple products. Why are they popular? Because they offer the best user experience. Geeks may hate it, but users - ie. real people - love it. If you’re really worried I suggest you buy a Windows-based tablet, and a Windows Mobile phone, because they’re much better solutions aren’t they? I mean all that open-ness and adherence to non-proprietary standards - exemplary!

Flash will be irrelevant soon. Its a closed system controlled by Adobe. What Apple are doing is in fact forcing developers to embrace OPEN non-proprietory standards. The eBook standard they’re using is - unlike the Kindle’s - and OPEN standard.

I could go on.

And that’s a good thing, not a bad one. Apple may want to control the user experience, but hundreds of millions of users like what they’re offering. If they - like you - don’t, then they can go buy an Android, a Linux, or a Windows, or a Symbian solution can’t they.

posted by Tommo_UK on January 28, 2010 #

I’m a programmer, and a big fan of the iPhone but only because phone devices are so bad. I don’t, however, think this will be as successful. Sure, I think it will sell really well, but that’s because it’s priced to sell correctly.

Even if it sells really well, I’d be surprised to see people using it as their primary computer device, or become as ubiquitous as the iPhone. People use the iPhone as their primary computer device when they’re commuting or traveling. This seems too big for commuters to casually have with them, and not useful enough for travelers once they arrive.

Maybe they’ll filling this uncanny-valley niche. Maybe they can pull it off and I’m sure they’ll do a better job than competitors, but this feels like something I’d purchase and not use a month later.

posted by Justin on January 28, 2010 #

The sheer rawness of your thoughts is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

posted by on January 28, 2010 #

I doubt flawlessness has got anything to do with the approval process. Apple wants to have the ability to stop or delay any software that competes with their business, see google voice.

posted by Gilette on January 28, 2010 #

I don’t think they’ll phase out the Mac, so much as just extend their control to the Mac, or try to anyway.

The good news is, that will take a good amount of time to actually accomplish & alternate platforms exist.

The bad news? Alternate platforms will likely never be on par with the experience Apple providers & this will take considerably less time than just phasing out the Mac altogether, but at least in the first scenario, Jobs would probably retire (one way or another) before it finished.

Better news? They may never try to change Macs to be like iPhones, it’s certainly something they have or will at least seriously consider & may even be trying to figure out how to do now, but it’s just as likely they’ll never put the Mac behind a walled garden, so I wouldn’t worry about it very much.

posted by Sebastian Lewis on January 28, 2010 #

The console market works this way, and has no lack of innovative software. Also note the iPhone app store is getting software into the hands of millions of mobile users in a way which simply didn’t exist before. Not all users are engineers.

posted by Gaurav Sharma on January 28, 2010 #

I had similar thoughts during the announcement. The one point for me that keeps this theory—that Jobs wants the future of computing to be an entirely curated experience—from being completely compelling is Apple’s own WebKit team, which has done as much to push modern web standards forward as anyone, and with HTML5, , more CSS, and faster and better JavaScript (i.e., access to more system APIs), there’s a gaping hole in the fortress you can drive a Mack truck (or Google Voice, for example) through, and it’s getting bigger. The space between the capabilities of web apps and native apps is getting smaller all the time, due in no small part to Apple itself. Perhaps this tension/contradiction is actually part of what enables Apple to make products that geeks and mass market electronics consumers alike appreciate.

posted by Paul Smith on January 28, 2010 #

I mostly agree. But what you don’t understand is so simple: you’re already answering your own question. You love apple products BECAUSE they’re controlled by apple. Because every inch is done the “apple way”. Because things work as expected (and dont crash like adobe flash). I can continue count on

posted by Konstantin on January 28, 2010 #

I had a similar sinking feeling upon looking through the iPad’s picture gallery on Apple’s site. I can’t shake the feeling that the (default) lack of a physical keyboard implies the “internet” is becoming less of a conversation–maybe a slightly less passive television?

But like you, I can’t entirely deny it’s appeal. Unsettling!

posted by Jon on January 28, 2010 #

You don’t know why they’re doing it (phasing out Mac OS) because they’re not. Apple has just invested a lot of time and resources in Snow Leopard. They could have done another feature-rich release that buys them time until they’re ready to pull the plug, but instead they spent a major release making sure the OS has a strong foundation under the hood.

If you’re going to make such harsh conclusions about the company, you should look at their entire product line instead of a single product at its first release, where they need to have this level of control to be able to speak semi-confidently about its battery life.

posted by Bart on January 28, 2010 #

How many of Snow Leopard’s improvements can’t be used on a future iPad? They both run OS X, you know.

posted by Aaron Swartz on January 28, 2010 #

You are completely wrong. You can still write web apps for the iPhone/iPad/Touch, which have a lot of the functionality of native apps (GPS, Sounds, Vibrate, etc…) You can always use this way to get around the Apple Approval problem, which are good for most things except maybe games.

I just wish Apple would make an approved way to jailbreak the device. This would keep everyone happy.

posted by on January 28, 2010 #

I had a very similar reaction, something like “oh no, they’re going to keep pushing this closed model and it could easily become their primary business.” But I think I understand why they’re doing it.

Most people don’t understand file systems, so they’ve taken out the file system access. Most people don’t understand app crashes, so they’re trying to prevent those from happening. Most people don’t understand how to download and install apps, so they’re making that incredibly simple. Control for Apple is just a means to the end of a specific user experience. That’s not a user experience you or I care much about, but I know plenty of people who will prefer it to the confused metaphors that make up the standard OS experience.

posted by Scott Reynen on January 28, 2010 #

The “best development platform available”? I can point you at a lot of iPhone developers that would disagree. Just being able to release a bugfix in less than two weeks would be a big improvement.

As for the “open format” they’re using for books (EPUB, I assume you mean); the Sony Reader uses that open format as well. I’d like to see how many EPUB books you “buy” at the iBookstore you can transfer to your Sony Reader and read.

That said, it looks nice for reading PDFs and suchlike, and it’s not too expensive. So it’s something I might buy and tote around when I’m willing to carry something bigger than my Sony Reader. It would, however, be the first Apple product I’d bought since my Apple II….

posted by Curt Sampson on January 28, 2010 #

What really scares me is the fact that in this hype of apps we are getting into a more controlled and closed door arena of personal computing. Apple remains the master of the grounds, an innovative cool app needs the master approval to get in, if it conflicts with apple’s interest it gets rejected. The entire distribution …will be controlled by apple. Utilities are what keep a computing device in the market, apple is very intelligently outsourcing this and controlling the platform with gates (I applaud facebook for giving developers the freedom). Slowly apple will introduce a payment system, ad system and control the whole eco-system, seems like circa 1980’s IBM plan. All innovation is tied up to a cool hardware and we are going nuts about touchscreen forgetting the fact that intelligent systems need open platform to innovate. Customer is being locked in the name of visual design, touch and UI experience. All this hype and we are forgetting to analyze the danger of this hardware, software all in the hands of one company…. This is dangerous

posted by Rohit Nallapeta on January 28, 2010 #

“But, for the first time, I’ve got a real sinking feeling in my stomach.”

Good grief. Go get a drink or something. Apple’s not in business to satisfy your dreams of ‘openness’ or whatever it is you’re prematurely mourning. If you don’t like the trend, start your own company and improve on it.

I’m not blown away by the iPad, but I have been sufficiently impressed with what Apple has accomplished to think they will continue to deliver tools that I want to use. There damn sure isn’t anyone else out there doing it as well and as consistenly as Apple.

posted by SMC on January 28, 2010 #

They make a nice pile of money on the App Store by taking a percentage of sales. That explains why they’d extend the App Store model wherever sensible.

It wouldn’t be sensible to exert App Store-style control over laptops, desktops, and servers, because people who buy those devices expect to be able to accomplish arbitrary tasks with arbitrary software. Apple would have to get pretty dumb to throw away that pile of money.

posted by Amitai Schlair on January 28, 2010 #

It’s all about the user experience. Apple wants to make the entire experience as streamlined/pain-free/enjoyable to users as possible. That’s why Apple ranks so high in customer satisfaction surveys. It’s probably one of the reasons you like Apple products so much. That being said, the 30% cut from App Store revenue is good profit as well.

Regarding the iPad: Today was only the first step.

My thoughts on the iPad: http://bit.ly/bIBP1o

posted by nik . on January 28, 2010 #

Hadn’t thought about the evil angle, but I’m about halfway through the speech right now and you’re definitely right about Jobs’ lack of real enthusiasm for this device. He’s trying to be a good salesman but I don’t think he’s speaking from conviction. When you lead off your announcement with the ability to change your desktop background and then say things like “you can get the whole web page on a single screen… isn’t that amazing?”, you’re probably not selling anything too great.

Also, watching Jobs peck away with two fingers while trying to type on this thing shows me it’s not nearly as easy as he says.

posted by Mike D. on January 28, 2010 #

This seems to be a pretty typical reaction to the iPad. I must be missing something fundamental, here, because I don’t understand your reasoning. Why, exactly, is “No Flash or other alternate runtimes, no one-off apps or open source customizations” frightening?

posted by $mike cremer on January 28, 2010 #

You are of course entitled to your opinion and thoughts, but I found your whole Apple is evil/taking over the world scenario to be, to put it bluntly, boring.

Settle down, and get a grip. And as someone said, they can only control the segment if everyone chooses the Apple path. So if you are scared by it, go buy a Microsoft product - they certainly don’t have any plans to rule the world/internet/computer market. Oh yeah…

posted by Grant on January 28, 2010 #

Yep, you’ve got a solid read on the body language here, and of the larger ambition being revealed. The hard part is that I see so many people who know it but won’t resist it.

posted by Anil on January 28, 2010 #

First of all, Apple’s strategy is working. Second of all, it’s way better that Apple is doing things differently. If you want a more open product, you can get one. It will kind of suck, but that’s what you get in an open environment.

posted by pwb on January 28, 2010 #

Same feelings here. I think that’s yet another very cool product from Apple but the Store trends is really scary to me. For all the Apple fanboys and members of the Apple cult (am typing this on e a Macbook) commenting one day you’ll maybe understand that openness is important and that Apple product (OS) would not exist without it (FreeBSD Kernel anyone, Webkit based on KHTML, gcc as the core compiler, … list goes on).

Also the we have a bigger one than all the other smart phone makers is really annoying, and the we invented everything is starting to be boring at some point. Too bad someone cannot shut his mouth up sometimes.

posted by Benjamin Sergeant on January 28, 2010 #

People worried as the iPod, and then iPhone, revenue outpaced the Mac’s that Apple had somehow decided the Macintosh was at the end of its life.

I certainly don’t have any insider knowledge to prove Apple’s benevolence, but their claim has always been that the iPod and iPhone are providing a halo effect that leads customers to the Mac. The numbers in the last 10 years certainly agree.

Again, there is no proof that the Mac will remain open and standards embracing - and I’ll be among the first to leave if the system is unduly locked down - until they make such changes I think it is only fair to trust they will continue making the best computing platform as well.

posted by Owen Imholte on January 28, 2010 #

I don’t think Apple will apply the closed model to the Mac or to OSX. A lot of the developers for the iPhone and Mac are working on Macs. These people need to be able to install all kinds of experimental stuff and need fairly low-level access to the hardware. Do you think that Apple really wants all its developers to be working on Linux?

posted by Matthew Leifer on January 28, 2010 #

See Stephen Fry’s take. I take your point, but its more as an inconvenience. Of course, I can take the hardware (which I couldn’t assemble for that kind of money) and put anything I want on it. For most people though, this is great … Apple doesn’t control anything most that most people would rather not think about.


posted by Michael Fischer on January 28, 2010 #

My thoughs exactly. I’ve never bought media or apps with DRM, and I won’t be starting now either. The DRM really diminish the value of this device, and the apps.

If I buy this device it’ll be for what it does out of the box, not the apps. Unfortunatly, it doesn’t sound like it does much out of the box.

posted by Michel Fortin on January 28, 2010 #

I used to lump Apple in a different category than Microsoft. I don’t anymore. I don’t think they feel the same way about the customer they used to feel. http://www.goofywildcat.com/apple-is-evil

posted by goofydg1 on January 28, 2010 #

I totally agree with you. Why should I buy a second iPod touch? My one isn’t too bad at all.

posted by Moritz on January 28, 2010 #

I don’t think Apple will phase out OSX and replace it by iPhone OS. It doesn’t do multi tasking and is severely limited in traditional computational tasks.

posted by Dan on January 28, 2010 #

You are right about Jobs’ monomaniacal need for control, but you’re missing his underlying monomaniacal focus on marketing. His aim is to control the experience for the user, which is totally a marketing idea. His aim is not to advance information or support the communities that sprang up around Apple — scientific and democratic ideals I would like. Jobs is only a marketer. He gets design, he gets branding, he gets profit margins; he got Woz out of his organization, he ignores all other considerations. Jobs appears to be the quintessential hedgehog.

posted by Warren Yoder on January 28, 2010 #

i think all these talk of open and close system is a bit mispalced. iPad is not a computer its an appliance like TV , Toaster or Dishwasher . would you like them to be open or would you like them to just work out of the box .

much as we want to have open system we are a miniority ..geek minority most ppl don’t care for such things . so all this debate is an intellectual excercise only . real trouble with iPad is that it fail to make a case why i should prefer it over a iPod touch ? its just an oversized iPod thats it

posted by Prashant on January 28, 2010 #

Wait a second. For the iPhone/iPod touch, 140,000 apps developed and released in 18 months by 3rd party programmers is a closed system? That’s control? Name one other device in the history of mankind to create such activity? Not to mention the accessory market.

Note that the iPad keynote was designed for programmers, really. Apple mentioned that this could lead to the ‘next gold rush’ - knowing full well that the programming community will get busy.

The iPad will certainly get better with later iterations, adding some of those features that everyone is quick to cry and whine about.

The iPad isn’t a machine to run Garage Band, Photoshop or a web server, though it could run lite versions for the casual user.

I don’t think enough has been written about Apple’s new A4 Chip. Finally, Apple is seeing fruits of their PA Semi acquisition. You can only imagine that this chip will move to the iPhone/iPod touch and is just getting started. If I were Intel, NVidia or ATI, I’d be worried.

I’m sure the iPad will be a hit, because the buzz is just too strong. Will it be a slam dunk, or the most important thing Jobs has released? Probably not. But look for the netpad market to explode as others get in the game. But, do you really want a Win 7 tablet? A linux tablet? Who is best positioned in the market to win the marketshare? Apple Inc. that’s who.

Steve’s reality distortion field may be less powerful than it was, but there’s no denying this device will drive billions of dollars in worldwide sales by the end of the year.

posted by joe on January 29, 2010 #

Job’s lack of enthusiasm unveiling such a long awaited product could be related to his health? This is not the same Jobs that announced the iPhone in 2007

posted by José on January 29, 2010 #

My first thoughts about this product before its release, even though I don’t mind Apple products, was ‘here we go with another useless product.’ Then it was released and I thought, ‘cute.’ But the real questions do revolve around social control and it began from the time Apple wanted us all to wear white earplugs (note: ‘white’). I woke up after my first pair broke in less than a year, and I’m on a German manufactured pair of earphones that are still going strong. In other countries, there are issues relating to book publishing rights, and how local authors are affected. So yes, Jobs, like most CEOs is a megalomaniac, but for whose benefit?

posted by Anna on January 29, 2010 #

Before we get too scared about Job’s iron-fisted control of the future, remember that the iPhone taking the world by storm actually amounts to 2-3% of market share, and the Mac at its barnstormer best has managed to inch just north of 10% before falling back to respectable single digits. I think you be hard pressed to find anyone that does things with computers at all replacing a real computer with something like an iPad. For people that don’t use computers, iPad will be like Rockband vs music lessons.

Honestly, the iPad looks like a TV killer for rich people to me.

posted by quinn on January 30, 2010 #

Apple was not evil before but hard realities (about bankruptcy) and blessing and advice of great Bill Gates must have made them evil empire. Forcing people to buy macs/iphones/ipod for app development and not promising anything in return!!Evil media companies are equal partners here. Many americans wondered why such a Biblical level earthquake happened in their backyard and they don’t need to go further than looking at past few year’s stock market and financial industry history and American companies greed that wiped out wealth of 90% of common Americans. Long live EVIL capitalism.

posted by John Park on January 31, 2010 #

Is Apple evil? I don’t know.

I do know they don’t have anything close to a monopoly at this point. Right now they’re doing what they think is best for their business.

If the closed platform really turns people off, they won’t buy this thing. They’ll wait for the better version with the more open OS that lets them do what they want.

We get a sinking feeling because we can’t tinker with the latest gadgets like we used to (without sort of voiding our warranty). But Apple doesn’t make products for us (the tinkerers), it makes products for beginners and people who want it to “just work”. Mr. High-Powered-Traveling CEO and Mrs. Stay-at-Home Mom aren’t interested in effing around with software installation customizations and port forwarding. They have a task they’re trying to accomplish, and they need the OS to just get out of the way.

Is Apple’s way evil? Not to the end-user. To some developers, probably, to many of us tinkers, possibly. But to the actual target market for this device? Not so much.

posted by nic pfost on February 1, 2010 #

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