Sunday, 25 April 2010

Why Not Just Let The Market Sort It Out?

Dan Kennedy gets his knickers in a twist about the mighty Apple corporation:
The case of Mark Fiore, an editorial cartoonist who was banned from Apple's iTunes Store, illustrates a heretofore unappreciated connection between open systems and an open society. And it raises serious questions about Apple's supposed role as a saviour of the faltering news business.
It seems Fiore, a political cartoonist, ran afoul of Apple’s policy of not accepting apps that ‘ridicule public figures’.

At least, until he won a Pulitzer, and Apple had a rethink. So, all’s well that ends well?

"I feel kind of guilty," Fiore told the Wall Street Journal. "I'm getting preferential treatment because I got the Pulitzer."

The trouble, as Fiore noted, is that Apple rectified its mistake while maintaining the right to ban any content it doesn't like from its new generation of closed-system devices.
They didn’t ‘rectify a mistake’, at all. They corrected a potentially embarrassing PR disaster by allowing this app through.

And why shouldn’t they keep control over their systems? If people don’t like it, there are other worlds systems than this one…
The best-known example of the former involves Adobe, whose Flash animation software has been excluded from the iPhone, iPod and iPad. According to Apple, Flash hogs resources and makes its devices unstable – an assessment shared by many computer experts. Still, you'd think Apple might let its users decide whether or not to install Flash.
Would you? Well, just because other companies have up to now, is no reason why they (Apple) should do so. They must, after all, be quite confident that their target base is happy to give up that freedom. After all, their prickly defensiveness is legendary, as Angry Exile can point out.

And they seem to have judged them pretty well, too…
…no one disputes that the company has given us the smoothest, sexiest integration of hardware and software available. (I am writing this commentary on a MacBook, by the way.)

But Jobs has either forgotten that open systems and user choice are what drove the past 35 years of personal-computer and internet development, or – more likely – he doesn't care now that he has established himself as the Bill Gates of 21st-century consumer technology.
Or alternatively, Jobs thinks that the audience has changed. That today’s consumers aren’t as interested in freedom as they used to be.
The implications for journalism are considerable. As Jeff Jarvis (and others) observe, media executives have acted as though the iPad gives them a chance at a do-over – to move away from the free web model (even though the iPad has a slick web browser) and instead get users hooked on paid apps. Apple would like that too, since it gets a cut of everything sold through iTunes.

Yet the Fiore fiasco shows that what Apple giveth, Apple can also taketh away.
As can any company. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the product.
Media activist and author Dan Gillmor, noting the rapturous coverage given to the iPad by many news organisations (none more so than the New York Times), has demanded to know what guarantees they have received from Apple that their apps won't be killed if they somehow offend the mighty Jobs. So far, the Times has declined to comment, and no one else will even respond to Gillmor's inquiry.
Awww, diddums! So he’s having a tantrum, and dumping his stock in the NYT. As he’s quite entitled to do.

Just as Apple aren’t under any obligation to respond to him.
"This is about journalism integrity, and the absolute lack of transparency America's top news organisations are demonstrating by blowing off a totally reasonable question that these news people refuse to raise in their own pages to any serious degree," Gillmor wrote.
I rather think ‘journalistic integrity’ is something that’s gone by the wayside, and it wasn’t Apple who killed it.

It was crooked journalists.

Still, at least Dan doesn’t fall into the usual trap:
What Apple is doing isn't censorship.
No. It isn’t.
As Michael Corleone memorably explained, "It's strictly business." If nothing else, Jobs has boosted interest in Google's forthcoming tablet computer, which may not be quite as ooh-la-la as the iPad, but which is expected to be wide open both to developers and content-providers.
See? Let the market decide.
Journalists, meanwhile, might consider rethinking their love affair with a company that arrogates unto itself the right to act as judge, jury and executioner as to what it will make available to the public and what it won't.

A free society depends on the free flow of information. It's bad for democracy if an admired, influential company like Apple stifles that free flow in ways we would never tolerate from the government.
So let’s see if all the buyers for the iPhone, iPad and other Apple products agree with you, shall we, and buy Google’s product in protest…

I’m betting they won’t.


Mike said...

Apple is not there to create freedom it is a company that makes profit out of its customers. When its dedicated following of customers realise that they can get something they want elsewhere for less money this represents a loss to apple and a gain for the consumer. I do not try to play porn on my Wii because it was not designed to do that well and it would be cost prohibitive never mind a bit daft although I'm sure someone has complained that Nintendo don't stock their favourite slice of porn in their software range. Why do people insist on trying to run Andriod or Windows on an iPhone?

Longrider said...

The market is the right approach. I don't have an iPhone because I object to the hardware manufacturer dictating what service provider I must use. I have O2 anyway as it turns out, but I don't want the contract that comes with this phone. I also don't much like Apple's control freakery over what apps I might want to put on the phone. Once I've bought it, it's mine and I'll do as I please with it, not what Steve Jobs thinks I should do with it. Jobs disagrees. Fair enough, that's his choice. My choice is that I won't give him my money.

Simples, eh?

Joe Public said...

Nice post Julia.

The Fiore & Adobe issues are completely different.

The analogy is: Fiore standing in the street expressing his right to free speech on a matter you don't agree with (as is your right); and, Adobe wanting to come into your house to do the same thing.

Longrider said...

Adobe wanting to come into your house to do the same thing.

Not sure about that. Adobe want to produce an app that the purchaser of the machine may want to install. It is the purchaser's machine, not Apple's, therefore, Adobe should have the absolute right to produce apps and the purchaser/owner of the machine should have the absolute right to install it. Nothing to do with the manufacturer of the machine. It is because of Apple's rampant control freakery that I will never buy one. They do not tell me what I can or cannot install onto my machine. That they continue to do so, is a continued reason not to give them my money.

Free markets - wonderful, eh?

JuliaM said...

"I do not try to play porn on my Wii because it was not designed to do that well..."

Give it time, Mike. They are probably still working on the periperals... ;)

"Free markets - wonderful, eh?"

Certainly a lot better than all the alternatives!