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Apple’s benign digital dictatorship

Steve Jobs is a dictator and the Apple brand is his republic. But this is a country of gardens surrounded by invisible walls, designed to keep the good stuff in and its citizens happy, for the most part…

Apple logoSteve Jobs is a dictator and the Apple brand is his republic. But this is a country of gardens surrounded by invisible walls, designed to keep the good stuff in and its citizens happy, for the most part…

Apple have amassed an irresistible collection of digital devices around their music and movie offerings. Some will always find room to criticize. I count myself among them, those decadent few who dare ask for more.

Not being able to copy & paste on my iPod Touch is a major blow, for example. But these are things Apple often sort out in their own sweet time, not ours.

But after spending the best part of two days playing around the new App Store and a few choice applications, the depth & breadth of Apple’s strategy has become clear to me — just like Microsoft before them, they want your world to be their world.

World domination in 3 easy steps, by Bill & Steve — an illustrated electronic guide

Bill Gates, once airing publicly his frustration at not being able to gain any traction for either Microsoft or their partners’ music players. He commented on Apple’s lack of fair play (not to be confused with Apple’s FairPlay DRM, and certainly not with Microsoft’s damned awful Plays For Sure initiative, that did anything but play for sure) when it comes to iTunes and non-Apple music devices.

His comments were along the lines of: we’re all about choice, but Apple aren’t giving people any choice.

To which Steve Jobs replied along the lines of: people always have a choice, Bill just doesn’t like the choice they’re making.

There’s absolutely no doubt that Microsoft offer the wider choice when it comes to sheer number of supported music players for their music software. The problem is, for the most part, their stuff doesn’t work the way they would have us believe it should.

The options can be summarized thus:

Microsoft’s way of doing things

  • More choice of often inexpensive, sometimes quality devices;
  • More problems getting everything to work together;
  • Often confusing set-up & installation procedures;
  • An often less reliable and less predictable experience between software and devices.

Apples’ way of doing things

  • Apple’s own premium hardware linked to their loss-leader free software;
  • A marginally smaller collection of music and video content;
  • An often reliable, predictable experience between software and devices.

In the end, people are choosing Apple because firstly their friends are (in their droves) and secondly, they know they’re getting a quality product.

All of this while knowing it’s Apple’s way or the highway? You’re damn right!

Apple have been shrewd in offering a range media players, which removes yet more reasons for its digital denizens to look elsewhere, beyond the glass walls of Apple’s electronic garden eden. Or so they’d have us believe.

So within Apple’s walled garden, you have choice, but it’s choice from the Henry Ford school of thinking — anything you want, so long as it’s an Apple product!

And there we see the seeds of Apple’s benign dictatorship.

The sound of the silent few — PR now has a volume control

There is dissent, but it’s often from afar. By the time the sounds of discontent reach the meter-thick walls of our Apple garden, they’re but echoes, often met with a silence like no other.

Few brands engender such stoic, emotive and resolute faith as Apple’s, bordering on religious devotion. Even when Apple offer a product or a service that quite clearly lags behind something more popular, we Apple acolytes perceiver, trusting that Apple will deliver, or that those other things more than compensate.

Steve Jobs mastery of Apple is breathtaking. Legends abound of his wrath unleashed on the party faithful in elevators, reducing them to tears. Dropping product demonstrations at the last minute because not everything was 100% correct. Even stories of banishing key partners from the Apple garden for blurting out their deals before Apple themselves could make the announcement.

Our pleasure at using Apple’s products is usually the result of someone else’s pain. Is this different from any other business? Probably not. But the higher we reach for perfection, the more likely we are to stress, strain and injure ourselves, or each other.

And oh how hard, how far and how high Apple have reached…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

5 replies on “Apple’s benign digital dictatorship”

I reckon I’m a card-carrying member of Apple’s republic. A mac user since Apple were “beleagured” and I bought an iPhone 3G last Friday (I passed over the original model). I wouldn’t bet on seeing many older people or teenage girls queuing for a Google phone as I saw for the iPhone last week…

I’d love to see Apple face some real competition on their software / product design / integration turf. Unfortunately Sony, Microsoft, Creative etc have totally failed to do that and the public voted with their wallets. Then they stroll into the mobile market with the iPhone and demonstrate how feeble the products from Nokia, Motorola, LG, RIM etc really are.

My previous phone had email, RSS, internet, games and mp3 player features – the problem was they sucked.

I’m quite content to live in Apple’s walled garden, as long as they don’t become complacent.

Let’s look at it from this perspective. If you were an Apple shareholder, would you be dissatisfied from the way the company is being run?

If you were to run your own company, wouldn’t you prefer to have more control over how things were run. Would you rather have your operating run on your own hardware or not? Do you think you could have better quality control if you specify your OS to run on locked down hardware or hardware that is totally open to whatever a user throws together. Just try to look at it from a company’s point of view. I feel that Apple can offer a more stable experience for the average user. Windows for the longest time was being distributed without competition. Now people have a choice to decide and maybe MS Windows isn’t the preferable way to go for all users. Time will tell.

I like using Windows XP and I like the idea of building my own computers, but I don’t consider myself the average user. However our society needs some restraints and I can’t tell how much restraint they need. You feel that Apple is too locked down, but do most users feel that is so. My experiences with Apple products over the years have been very good, so I have very little to complain about. Same with my investment in Apple stock which has performed for four years better than most (except for RIM).

Hi guys and thanks for the comment! Always appreciated.

Mark — most likely.

Alex — as I commented in my Seeds of Apple’s growth article, despite being a revolutionary product in so many ways, the iPhone lags significantly behind in many ways; poor quality camera, no video function and no MMS.

And those are the things the iPhone really needs if it wants people like me to tak it seriously.

Constable Odo — “You feel that Apple is too locked down, but do most users feel that is so.”

First of all, that’s not what I’m saying. Secondly, most people probably couldn’t care less either way so long as what they buy works and keeps working, which is what Apple’s gear nearly always does…

Couldn’t agree more. The camera in particular is a big disappointment – I want to be able to take decent quality photos (in resolution if not composition!) and upload them to Flickr. I don’t think I’ll be taking my holiday snaps on my iPhone.

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