There’s some news circulating today that Steve Jobs emailed an intern at the Free Software Foundation and informed him that:
A patent pool is being assembled to go after Theora and other “open source” codecs now.
This doesn’t seem too surprising, and the email seems pretty legit, so I was pretty frustrated to see that Apple may be doing this. I’ve been getting a reputation among my friends for demonizing Apple, so I thought I’d take a moment and lay down some of the reasons that they’ve gotten the brunt of my technology-related ire. A lot of people see them as a great and open company with a great product, but more and more, they are locking in users, and creating products and technologies that are just as bad, if not worse than, the lock-in technologies that Microsoft used back in the day.
Here’s a short list of the things that Apple has recently done that has been for the worse for technological progress and for the worse for users. I write this not just to make a list, but to point out that Apple has become just as bad as the other companies before them. I fully admit, their hardware is great, but at this point, there can be little doubt that they are doing bad for technology and hindering the forward motion of progress.
- The power cord. As I understand it, Apple invented (or at least patented) the really cool magnet on a cord thing. It would be great if this were offered on all laptops, but because of their patent, only Apple laptops have this feature. This is an example of a company using a patent in a way that only helps their customers. But what’s worse is that because they have this patent, they can mark up the prices of their replacement cords. They’re nice, but are they really $80 nice? Normally, you could get a replacement cord from anybody for your laptop, but because of the patent, you have to buy theirs. For $80.
- The requirement to own a Mac to develop for a Mac.To develop for a Mac, you have to use XCode, and to use XCode, you have to have a Mac. This is another case of Apple finding a way to lock in its customers and developers. No other explanation of this that I know of holds water.
- Gizmodo, an iPhone and police. It appears that Apple has sent police after a blogger that purchased a lost v4 iPhone. The verdict is not yet in as to whether the blogger’s actions were legal or not, but he did have his house searched, and all of his computers taken by the police. All of this because he wrote a story about an iPhone that wasn’t yet released. He was able to do this because an Apple employee goofed by leaving the phone at a bar, so it seems like the company should simply chalk it up to their mistake and move on. Instead, they send police.
- iPod lock-in, lack of compatibility, etc. iPods are the worst when it comes to using them as general purpose music players. You want to move your music from one computer to another with an iPod? Oooh…I don’t know if you can do that. You want to use USB cable with that? Oh, no, we have a /special/ cable for that. You want to dump your MP3s onto the device outside of iTunes? No, no, no, you have to use iTunes or else it won’t work. Etc. Anybody who has owned an iPod for any length of time knows the pains of which I speak.
- iPad VGA is a private API. It appears that in order to have an application on the iPad use an external monitor or projector, you have to get Apple’s permission first, because the VGA API is not public. This means that Apple has a monopoly on which applications can be used in this way. The result: More lock in for Apple, and less power and utility for users.
- Psystar and Palm. Both of these companies tried to leverage the Apple platform to their advantage. Both were hit hard when Apple locked them out. Both of these outcomes were bad for consumers.
- Music store lock-in. I don’t know if they’re only selling MP3s now or if they are still doing DRMed music, but their DRMed music has been a pain for a number of people I know, since it can only be played through iTunes. Again, this creates more lock in, since users can’t take their music with them.
- Suing HTC over multitouch. Apple is now suing HTC over their use of Apple’s patented multitouch interface technique. This is another case of Apple using a software patent for the worse. Which would you prefer: only Apple having multitouch phones/computers, or every company making them?
I don’t follow Apple news as closely as a number of people I know, so I’m interested in hearing other people’s thoughts about all this. From my perspective, Apple has become a very secretive company that is incredibly willing to sue and patent. It doesn’t seem like they want to help people or innovate so much any more. It seems more like their goal is making money, which is an important goal, but doing so should not be in conflict with taking care of those people that buy your products as well as those people who do not.
I love getting feedback and comments. Make my day by making a comment.