Apple: I love to hate, and hate to love thee
Rebel, patent wrangler, aggressive litigator
Open ... and Shut I want to hate Apple. The company takes the most egregious of Microsoft's monopolistic practices and raises them to an art form.
It's aggressive litigiousness threatens to impede innovation in the mobile industry for years to come: innovation that isn't Apple's, that is. And Apple's lust for control makes it a very poor centre for the rising mobile ecosystem: Apple takes virtually all the profits, very unlike Microsoft in the desktop era, which spread lots of wealth around.
And yet... I love Apple. As much as I love the idea of Android and open source, I find myself buying Apple products over and over again. For the seamless computing experience. For the beautiful industrial design. For the exceptional customer service.
Saturday my daughter came to me with a crack on the face of her iPhone 4S. I was still seething from Apple's court victory over Samsung (I really hate litigation of any form, and particularly this litigation that seemed designed to protect Apple's high-margin business model, as Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard argues, and not to protect Apple from evil copycats). I knew my odds of getting Apple to replace the phone were roughly nil, but I decided to try.
The experience was extraordinary. The Apple Genius Bar representative surveyed the phone, finding no evidence of trauma to the phone (ie, my daughter hadn't dropped it). Within five minutes she had set me up with a new phone and was exceptionally pleasant throughout. I felt like I had just walked into retailer Nordstrom, also renowned for its customer service.
This was very similar to an experience I had this past winter with my son's iPhone 3GS. He had dropped it in water, and in an attempt to revive it I had melted the poor thing with a hairdryer. I went down to the Apple Store knowing full well that we were doubly at fault for the mostly destroyed iPhone. And they replaced it, anyway. "Merry Christmas!" the Genius Bar employee told me.
I know not everyone has this experience. But I've had it twice, and I'm not anyone special to those Apple Store employees. Or maybe I am: I am an Apple customer. They treated me like that made me special.
Using Apple products doesn't make me cool. If anything, it makes me poor. At last count, we have six Apple laptops scattered around the house, five iPhones, a few iPods of various vintages, an Airport Extreme, and a few Apple t-shirts. We are an Apple family, through and through.
And yet, as I said at the start, I dearly wish this weren't the case. Apple is toxic to the computing industry, sucking up all profits for itself. It is a "sector unto itself", as was noted in a previous post, which is the exact opposite effect Microsoft had on desktop computing. It wraps itself in the flag of innovation, even while borrowing heavily from others and now threatening to cut off industry innovation at the knees with its patent portfolio.
It's unclear why Apple's voracious appetite for money needs to be bolstered by such suits, as Iain Thomson argues in The Register:
Apple is now the most valuable company on the planet... dominates the tablet market, and has the high-end of the smartphone sector locked down. It has also got the most lucrative apps market and reaps 30 per cent on everything sold. Is this not enough?
When IBM made the x86 PC platform popular and Compaq made it affordable, sensible minds decided neither could charge a tax on the development of the platform. Apple tried to gain the rights on the GUI system and lost that battle, but now it seems it will be doing this for tablet and smartphones. Not even Bill Gates stooped that low.
I have long raged against the Microsoft machine for its greedy saber rattling against Linux and open source, designed to protect its business model more than its intellectual property. If anything, Apple is worse. It wants an entire nascent industry to be comprised of one company: Apple.
And no, I don't buy the argument that "Apple is just playing by the rules of the patent regime." I went to law school. I passed the bar. I understand the "rules" of patent law. But Silicon Valley went decades without the aggressive litigiousness crippling it the way patent suits are now hobbling the mobile industry. This is the place that thrived in the absence of non-competes and other restrictions on competition and innovation. It has been a very competitive industry, but not one prone to patent lawsuits, including for significant examples of copying, like when Apple ripped off Xerox Parc.
Apple could have chosen to continue this somewhat collegial approach. It hasn't. And in its attempts to protect itself from being "Microsofted" again - that is, to protect its business model against innovation under the guise of protecting its products - Apple has set off an atmosphere of litigation that will embroil technology for years.
Which I hate.
And yet... and yet... I can't stop buying into the Apple experience. Not everything (I use Google to sync because Apple's sync is terrible), but enough that I feel conflicted. The problem is that while Apple is great for consumers like me, it is terrible for the industry as a whole. One side of my brain loves Apple, while the other despises it.
Perhaps Arpit Mathur, software engineer at Comcast, is right when he told me, referring to Apple: "Basically if you do enough right, you can get away with a lot of wrong." He may be right.
Apple, after all, does a phenomenal amount of good for its customers, myself included. Whatever I may feel about its business practices, it's hard to resist the allure of the exceptional customer experience it fosters, from device to store to software and everything in between. End to end. I love it. And hate it. Is this how a drug addict feels? ®
Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analysing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.
I'll make no secret of it that I despise Apple for the vile techniques they use in their desperate attempt to gain a monopoly on handheld computing. Their plan to have devices that do everything not quite as well as the specialist devices has failed now that other manufacturers are capable of producing devices that do everything just as well, and being unable to keep up in innovation they have resorted to stopping their rivals joining the race at all.
Unlike you, Matt, I have not bought into Apple. I have considered an iPad, I won't deny, but ultimately Apple's business practices are too revolting for me to stomach. They have enough money to behave the way they do; they do not, therefore, need mine. Should they start playing nice, I might change my mind. But they won't.
"innovation that isn't Apple's, that is"
Please enlighten us as to what exactley are Apples innovations?
They looked at what had already been produced and refined it. What exactley was new or hadn't been seen before?
And remember, I don't believe the hype!
They bring existing tech together in a decent package.
It may not be tech innovation, but it probably is an innovation in consumer electronics.
Their problem is that little of what they do is technically new (worthy of a patent) so they probably feel the need to litigate or what they do will be instantly copied. Welcome to globalisation.
What we need is a wider discussion in society as to what constitutes "innovation" and what we want to protect. The bad feeling comes from the fact that the definition is being fought out without public input (a jury doesn't really count) by highly paid lawyers using mostly spurious arguments, using a legal basis for technical innovation which being twisted to protect things it was never designed to protect.
Plus it stops us getting cheap cool things we want. It undoes all the benefits of globalisation for the consumer. As a society we need to decide how protectionist we want to be.
An opposing viewpoint!
I have an iPhone 4, had it 20 months and the home button got gradually less and less responsive. I know LOTS of other people with this same problem and the forums are full of complaints, so this is not my mis-treatment of a device (as opposed to dropping it and cracking screens, flushing it down the toilet, etc etc...)
I went to the Apple Store and they told me, sure they'd fix it, £139 for a replacement refurbished phone! :-o Excuse me, I'm within my 2 year contract, Goods in the UK should last a REASONABLE amount of time, please fix your shoddy manufacturing fault. No sir, we can't do that.
O2 volunteered to fix it for free, but they'd have to send the handset away. At least they know their legal responsibilities. So I ended up with a kid down the road who runs a repair business fixing it for £17 quid while I waited.
Oh and my (coincidentally) 20 month old 27" iMac with 1TB Seagate driver started showing signs of drive failure with messages in the log on regular intervals. Apple have a recall for this exact same drive in the 6 month newer model. My one? No. They want me to cart a huge iMac back to the Apple Store, then estimate £200+ to replace the hard drive, and are unable to tell me how long they need it, whether they have a replacement in stock or any of that malarky until I've physically lugged the most unportable machine imaginable on a 10 mile journey. What double-galls me is I could replace it myself if they hadn't changed the pesky drive firmware for their own temperature monitoring (What? Is SMART not enough of a standard for you guys to follow?).
Apple Customer Service? I don't think so.
I came to Apple 6 years ago after many years of Windows ownership. I find their attitude to customers appalling and if it wasn't for MS shooting themselves in the face with Windows 8, I'd be outta here.
Just another perspective, YMMV as they say.
Re: An opposing viewpoint!
You mean Apple charges you for something you should het anyway and you see this as good service.
If a phone is on a two year contract it should last two years.