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  • Does Apple Exert Too Much Control?

    December 2nd, 2009

    On this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Ted Landau reminds us how he once wrote a book entitled “Mac OS X Disaster Relief.” Unfortunately, Apple chose, in its infinite wisdom, not to offer this book to their customers because someone “higher up” in the Apple food chain decided that the words “disaster” and “Mac OS X” didn’t convey the correct image for the company.

    After all, Apple doesn’t want you to think that you could ever confront a potential disaster with one of their products.

    Then there was the time that Steve Jobs reportedly ordered all books from a certain publisher removed from the Apple retail stores when that publisher released a title about him. How dare they do that?

    Of course, it’s also true that Apple is a private business and they can sell what they want, and if a particular product from a third party company doesn’t suit their requirements, even if those requirements are arbitrary, so be it. Unfortunately Apple gets lots of severe criticism whenever they make decisions of this sort, and highly publicized rejection of certain apps from the iPhone App Store has added more fuel to the fire.

    On the other hand, how often do you hear complaints because Target and Wal-Mart chose not to carry a specific product? Well, in all fairness, the App Store is the only official means to acquire software for your iPhone or iPod touch. If you don’t like what Apple is offering, your only choice is to go without or jailbreak your iPhone so you can have other options.

    When it comes to a regular Mac, you aren’t locked in to any single outlet for your apps. Indeed, you aren’t even restricted to using Mac OS X if you have other needs. So many Mac users run Windows under Boot Camp or just reformat their drives and use another flavor of Unix — even Linux — instead. The Apple Tax police won’t come to your door and tell you that you are buying the wrong products from the wrong suppliers. But if something goes wrong, well, that’s the risk you take, and it’s your responsibility to fix the damage. Usually, however, a reformat and reinstallation of your stuff will set things right.

    When it comes to a mobile platform, you’re dealing with a much more restricted environment not just because Apple forces you to accept that situation. There are serious hardware and storage limits to consider, plus the matter of security. If your iPhone — or any mobile phone — is lost or stolen, you can face all sorts of complications, and just having someone use and abuse your wireless account is a small part of the dangers you face.

    Recently, it was reported that jailbroken iPhones on which SSH is configured for secure networking are vulnerable to actual viruses if you don’t change the standard password. Now I would presume anyone clever enough to jailbreak an iPhone successfully and get these things to work would realize that choosing a new and secure password is a necessity. For those who fail to realize that basic truth, that’s just too bad.

    The meta issue of Apple’s obsessive control of its platform also includes the Mac lineup. Based on what you readers have told me in recent days, it’s clear that Apple doesn’t always build the product you want, so you have to make compromises. I can see Apple’s reasoning in wanting to keep the lineup as simple as possible, with a small number of stark choices for customization. That helps reduce production costs, simplify the ordering process and it sure makes your decisions simpler. But you have to take it or leave it.

    On the public information issue, we all know how hard Apple works to control its message. The problem occurs when things go wrong, and the reasons why aren’t readily forthcoming. It often seems as there was just too much of a delay before you knew, for example, that Apple was looking into reports about User accounts being deleted when switching back from a Guest account under Snow Leopard.

    Yes, that particular problem was apparently fixed successfully in the 10.6.2 upgrade, but people who were impacted by that bug, if they haven’t actually contacted Apple, may miss the press announcements about the fix, or the tiny release notes. Apple could have delivered a press release, but chose not to. They only deal with good news, and have to be dragged kicking and screaming into releasing information that might not always reflect favorably on the company.

    Of course, that sort of corporate spin control is normal. Apple just happens to do it better than anyone else. But when it comes to the way they exercise absolute and resolute control over all their product lines, you wonder if customers aren’t being forced to accept things they just don’t like.

    I suppose the response would be that you could always go elsewhere, but when it comes to personal computers, the other side of the tracks is usually not a suitable alternative.



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