Apple as Big Brother


by Tony Kontzer

Apple has supplanted Microsoft as the technology world's biggest bully. When a company finds itself on the wrong end of an advertising campaign like the one launched last week by Adobe Systems, it's time to acknowledge that it's no longer your father's Apple.

That Apple, the one of the 1980s and early 1990s, was a force for change. Apple's products represented a challenge to the status quo, symbolized the growing desire to break the shackles of the IBM-dominated PC market. Alas, instead of embracing Apple's products en masse, the market instead transitioned into an era of Microsoft domination, while Apple was relegated to becoming the computing choice for the education, publishing and design markets.

I can only imagine the satisfaction Steve Jobs has felt these past several years as he's gotten revenge by out-Microsofting Microsoft (and everyone else) to become the world's most influential maker of mobile technology. Somewhere along the line, though, Apple's "Change the World" philosophy seemed to morph into "Change the World into Apple's Playground." That's the only way to explain a strategy built around a complete lack of choice (AT&T or bust for iPhone users), absolutely no sense of humor (see its decision to round up law enforcement when someone finds one of its top-secret prototypes), and no patience for platforms that hinder the user experience with its technology (Adobe's buggy Flash technology).

Which brings us to the ad campaign in question, one in which Adobe cleverly uses a message of love and brotherhood (backed by a Web site and an open letter from founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock) to cast Apple as the villain trying to control the development of the mobile Internet.

You'd think Apple had evolved into the villainous, anti-freedom technology monolith it targeted with its groundbreaking 1984 Macintosh ad.

But this overstates the case. While Apple has accumulated enviably dominant positions in the mobile phone and music markets, and now appears poised to duplicate that success in the emerging tablet market, it is not an oppressive regime deserving of a violent uprising. In fact, ZDNet's Ed Bott argues that Apple's decision to not allow Flash-enabled applications to run on iPhones has been validated by what he says is a buggy technology at best.

That still doesn't make the approach right, though. What Apple's stance on Flash tells us is that the company's in dire need of a reminder of its roots--roots that implied a belief in choice, and in free-market principles in general, rather than a desire to protect consumers from themselves (as it's doing with Flash).

What's not clear is how much of Apple's current strategy can be traced to a) a desire, as the company claims, to keep its products as problem-free as possible for users; or b) Steve Jobs' motivation to squash the competition in whatever form it takes.

If it's the former, than perhaps Adobe's campaign won't fall upon deaf ears, and Apple will start to walk as it once talked. However, if the second option proves to be the truth, and Apple ignores calls for fair play, then it's official, and Apple really is the new Microsoft.

Previously: Apple's walled garden versus the generative net.


7 Comments for "Apple as Big Brother"

  • Tony Kontzer June 21, 2010 10:06 pm

    Appreciate the comments everyone. Doug: Perhaps you're right, and I am naive, but Apple's products are generally not very well-kept secrets anyway, and what did they have to lose by having someone write about the iPhone 4? If anything, it appears the controversy only heated up demand for the new device when it came out. How does that justify extreme paranoia and aggressive litigiousness? Geoffster: In my defense, I just want to point out that these are blog posts, and thus bias is hardly a bad word in that context. They should be looked upon as columns, which often are colored by the writer's viewpoint. That said, if I were to spend 3,000 words on the topic, as Stephen Shankland did, you'd see a much more detailed and balanced piece of reporting. I do not write 3,000 word blog posts. If CIO Insight opts to have me write a full-blown feature on the topic, then I'd probably meet your standards. But my personal message to Apple would still be unchanged: Lighten up, enjoy the ride, and drop the bullying tactics. Methinks the company would sell just as many devices, if not more, and Steve Jobs would be just as rich, and even more admired.

  • Michael June 07, 2010 12:11 pm

    Vizor that is half true. If you are a cynic you would say it is because they want to have control. Maybe that is the truth but Apples position is it is such a popular product they don't want people buying quantity to resale. They don't require it of Laptops, IPods or IPhones. Also there was an easy way around it. Pay cash for a gift card and then buy the IPad.

  • Geoffster May 19, 2010 5:33 pm

    Isn't Adobe whining because it does not have access to Apple's new cash cows? You fail to convince me that you opinion is anything but biased. Following is a link to an article that discusses both sides a much more even weighted view discussing the business cases not just slamming one side or the other: http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-20003196-264.html?tag=newsLeadStoriesArea.1

  • Vizor May 19, 2010 11:55 am

    Heard that Apple wouldn't sell iPads for cash in their stores. Only credit or debit cards. They do need to have a full knowledge and control of who's getting their pricess devices.

  • Doug May 19, 2010 9:32 am

    Why should Apple have a sense of humor about the theft of its prototype, and the illegal sale of same to a technology website? They should have laughed that off? You're naive.

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