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.