All entries for October 2007

October 01, 2007

The Evil Apple

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I always had the idea of Apple as being the good guy of the techie world, a David against the Goliath of the universally despised Microsoft Corporation, fighting for style and quality against a grotesque and vulgar monster bent on world domination.

Well, maybe not quite, but as an underdog with a niche Apple did seem to be a relatively ‘cool’ corporation, its products supported by, and synonymous with, a more creative, ‘liberal’ (read ‘left-wring’) and generally less more agreeable section of the American better-off.

However, in recent years Apple has started to lose its shine. Apple’s turtle-necked CEO, Steve Jobs, has taken every opportunity to cosy up to some of the worst bad-boys in corporate America. Firstly the Disney corporation and later Starbucks, both of whom he repeatedly, and shamelessly, plugged in the iPhone launch earlier this year and the latter with whom Apple has an exclusive distribution deal for its new free-to-browse iTunes Wi-Fi service.

While Apple can perhaps be forgiven for cosying up to Starbucks, since teaming up with ‘the Starbucks experience’ will allow the company to roll-out a potentially significant new part of its iTunes business model to the public, the straw that broke this camel’s back is the aggressively proprietary approach to how its products are used.

I was personally disappointed at how restrictive the iTunes and iPod has always been in regard to how I mange my music. I originally bought a 20gb iPod to store all of my music in order to free-up space on my computer and allow me to add music from any computer that I wished. I was disappointed to find that, despite paying over-the-odds for legal downloads from Apple (Apple seems to think that the dollar to pound exchange rate is about £1 = $1), I could only play them on my iPod and my computer whereas ‘illegal’ downloads are free of any such restrictions – it makes you wonder what the point in paying for music if the pirated stuff is actually a more useful product. Similarly, if I wanted anything from my iTunes library to be automatically synched then I could only use the iPod with my own computer.

So, Apple started to lose its lustre for me some time ago, but its behaviour over the somewhat less than revolutionary iPhone really takes the biscuit. Despite Job’s manifold claims to its revolutionary features, the only thing that is particularly ‘neat’, to borrow Job’s favourite word, about the iPhone is that it is a pretty phone that it incorporates a pretty, if under-resourced in the storage department, touchscreen 16gb iPod. As a ‘communications device’ the iPhone uses slow 2.5G technology that has long seen been made obsolete by 3G in Europe and Japan. Yes, it has WiFi but so what?

Unusually compared to other handset manufacturers, Apple is launching the iPhone exclusively with one mobile service provider (AT&T in the USA). This is particularly strange in the US since, unlike the UK, US service providers do not provide significantly discounted handsets in exchange for lengthy contracts meaning that the full cost of the iPhone is borne by the customer even though they are tied to one service provider.

So, technically speaking, even if you owned an iPhone handset you would not be able to choose which service provider you wanted to use. Fortunately, the anti-heroes of the tech world, hackers, came to the rescue and freed iPhone owners of the proprietary shackles of AT&T by writing a ‘hack’ for the iPhone that unlocked it for use on any network.

Unfortunately, despite Steve Jobs loudly proclaimed, if barely credible considering how dire it was, admiration for Disney’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 3’, Apple has now released an ‘update’ for the iPhone that will effectively disable any unlocked iPhone, preventing the liberated handsets from being used on third party service providers and possibly disabling them entirely.

In defense of Apple, the company bore considerable costs in entering the mobile handset market, and by distributing the handset exclusively through one service provider allowed the company to recoup some of these costs by charging the lucky network for the privilege.

Boo Apple? Indeed. The iPhone is due for release in the UK this Autumn, again under an exclusive network provider agreement. It will be interesting to see what the European Commission, the EU’s competition regulator, makes of Apple’s cosy cartel with one of the big-boy service providers.

October 2007

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