Visiting Apple Conspiracy Theories

June 25th, 2015

Here’s one that I’ve more or less given a bit of tacit support to. Apple Music was announced at the WWDC and, a little over a week before its debut, one of the top-selling musical artists on the planet complained. Why? Well, it seems that Apple opted not to pay royalties during the 90-day free trial, while offering higher artist royalties for the paid service to compensate. To them, it was a fair deal.

But Taylor Swift said it wasn’t acceptable. Her response was not unique for her. Spotify, which is the current number one music subscription service, essentially blew her off when she complained over their decision not to pay royalties during a 30-day period where customers could sample the paid service. But this is Apple, and the trial period is three times as long, so a lot of potential income could be lost.

Now Swift doesn’t have to worry about her next payday, but she said she was speaking on behalf of the majority of musical artists who are barely surviving.

Well, you know the rest: Apple relented, agreed to pay unspecified royalties during the free sampling period. In a few days, indie artists and labels were signed up. Chalk it up to a victory by the artists against an evil multinational corporation. Or maybe not! Could it possibly be that this whole exercise was staged a la professional wrestling? It sure generated a lot of publicity ahead of the Apple Music launch. Some last-minute drama, perhaps a cliffhanger about what songs won’t be included, and the ones that will, such as “Freedom” from Pharrell Williams.

Spotify would kill for that level of publicity. And yes I know that Wired has already raised such a conspiracy theory.

There are others, about Apple pulling something or other to keep you within their walled garden. But even the walled garden concept is sometimes a little much. Sure, Macs are designed to run OS X, but PCs are designed for Windows, although you can run Linux on either, and Windows on a Mac via Boot Camp, natively, or a virtual machine. So you do have a fair amount of freedom to use your computer as you prefer. You don’t even have to buy software from the Mac App Store.

Sure iOS is more restrictive, although some manage to jailbreak their iPhones and iPads to run software that isn’t allowed at the App Store. You can call the store policies too restrictive, although there’s a rich selection of apps that have survived the review process. I suppose a walled garden does exist here, to some degree, because Apple has taken steps to ensure security. You want more freedom go to Android, but there are regular reports of security leaks on that platform. There has to be balance.

But the main conspiracy is something that supposedly no longer exists, which is the “Reality Distortion Field” generated by Steve Jobs. His very words would lull you into a hypnotic state where you’d buy all the Apple gear you could afford, regardless of quality. Funny, Apple’s sales are higher than ever these days, yet some people still believe that the RDF still exists in some form. So is it being passed over from beyond the grave? Or maybe the RDF was so intense that the effects have yet to wear off, and when they do, Apple is in deep trouble. But what about people who never bought anything with an Apple label until long after Jobs died?

Or maybe the critics are granting Apple too much power to influence people. Maybe it’s all about selling products and services that people actually like and are willing to pay for. Maybe there is no trickery involved. Yes, that must be it.

Yet another conspiracy is planned obsolescence, that Apple deliberately cripples old hardware so features of new operating systems do not work, thus forcing you to buy new Macs. So with the release of Yosemite and all the publicity about the virtues of the Handoff feature, it turned out that many older Macs, mostly made before 2012, didn’t have the native Bluetooth LE hardware required. Even third-party USB-based Bluetooth LE adapters wouldn’t do the trick.

Now I’m not a programmer, so I won’t consider the sort of trickery Apple used to make Handoff work, to make it possible to start a document or message on your Mac and pick it up on another Apple device. My real complaint is that this limitation wasn’t revealed originally, and only programmers who attended WWDC workshops knew about it at first.

This year, Apple’s planned obsolescence feature may be El Capitan’s Metal feature, which allows the OS and apps to integrate tightly with the graphics hardware for a huge potential performance boost. It’s limited to Macs with the proper graphics hardware, mostly dating back to 2012. Again developers know the limitations, but it’s not at all clear from Apple’s public pronouncements or web preview about the new OS.

A conspiracy?

Not really. It’s more about requiring certain hardware so certain features will work properly. If Apple required that all features be available for all Macs that can run El Capitan, which date back to as early as 2007, Metal wouldn’t exist, nor would Handoff. Apple won’t cripple the OS to provide 100% capability for up to eight years. If those older Macs otherwise deliver good performance with the new OS, that’s great, and it keeps them current for another 12 months. No conspiracy there, except perhaps to force fewer people to buy new Macs.

Oh and by the way, iOS 9 supports the same iPhones and iPads as iOS 8. But don’t expect miracles with your iPhone 4s or iPad 2, so maybe you’ll be tempted to buy new gear. But the stuff you have now won’t mysteriously stop working.

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