Indies: Apple Hates You

This weekend, much ink and many bytes will be devoted to breathless review of Apple’s new wonder machine, the iPad. But, to the type of people that read sites like TNL.net, the iPad is the beginning of a different world: one where the tools of creation are now being slowly separated from the tools of consumption.

It’s an evolution in the world of computers and I would argue that it’s an evolution largely due to the fact that Apple particularly despises content creators. A long time ago, the company saw itself as the protector of the content creating class but when Adobe started to hedge it out of the professional tools marketplace, Apple decided that it would focus on protecting large scale publishers and other intermediaries that focused on distribution of content rather than creation.

First Base: The iTunes store and Music

It all started with the iTunes store. Heralded as the creator of a whole new industry and the savior of the music industry, the iTunes store focused on selling music to the masses as long as:

  • The masses were using an iPod (or a computer using iTunes)
  • The music came from one of the big five labels
  • The purchaser agreed that they would use the purchased music only on Apple-provided devices
  • The purchaser agreed that they would not use the purchased music on more than 5 approved devices.

True, over time, a few smaller labels were allowed access but we are yet to see any many artists selling their music directly, bypassing the labels altogether, through the iTunes store. Apple has decided that artists had to go through established distributors, therefore ensuring that the music business model remains as it has existed instead of leveraging the power of the internet to enable a new creator-powered marketplace.

New companies, like Tunecore, have risen to fill the distribution gap but this shows that Apple wants to deal with a few select large companies and not a multitude of creators.

Amazon saw the indie marketplace and the limitation on # of devices as an unexploited market and opened the MP3 store, which provided music in the MP3 format, allowing that music to be played on most music devices. Notice that I didn’t say they provided DRM-free music as they do encrypt an ID in the music to track it, thus ensuring that illegal copies could be tracked.

Interestingly, Apple decided to ignore the creative class but, now that Amazon is making good headways as the result of its effort, Apple is going on the offensive, against Amazon.

Second Base: Movies & TV shows

Following the same model as it did for music, Apple then introduced a model that allowed for TV shows and movies to be purchased through the iTunes store. Because of the stranglehold the company has gotten on the music industry and the amount of power the company now has in dictating its own terms to that industry, executives in the TV and movie industry have been more careful in releasing their content to Apple and the company’s offerings are still relatively limited.

Its rental business is an even smaller subset of offering and, once again, is limited to Apple devices: You can watch it using an iPod, iPhone, an AppleTV, or a computer using iTunes (and now iPad). In each case, this means using an Apple approved device. I can’t watch a movie I purchased from Apple on my network-connected DVD player because Apple won’t license access to its store. But that’s just consumption and one could say that it’s OK for them to only serve content on their own platform.

Except once again, the content is limited. Once again, Apple has decided that large established distributors are the only important players and thus has provided few solutions for indie film makers. This creates an opportunity for the likes of Netflix, Vudu (now part of Walmart), Amazon, or even Google (through YouTube) to create a marketplace for indie rentals.

Once again, Apple decided to give the cold shoulder to creators and focus on the largest distributors. There’s nothing wrong with this but it seems to be showing that the message of Apple as a supporter of the creating class is not in line with reality.

Third Base: the iPhone App Store

When the iPhone first came out, Apple claimed that the device didn’t need a software development kit because the web was the development platform. This caused some level of consternation among the pundit class. It also showed Apple’s disregard for the independent creators. Here was a new device that, by most measure, could be seen as pretty revolutionary and Apple basically told software developers that it would limit access to it.

Of course, Apple eventually relented and allowed software developers access to the device, as long as they were willing to register with Apple and pay $99 a year. This allowed software creators to create their own programs and then submit them to the Cupertino giant for approval.

Because, you seen, nothing goes onto an iPhone or iPad, without Apple express approval. The only way to get an application on there is through the iTunes store and the only way to get into the iTunes store is by going through an approval process that is, at best, obscure, and hope that you will be given the keys to the promised land.

One could take the purist approach and say that developers have a choice to not develop for the iPhone. But, in today’s mobile market, that may be equivalent to claiming that you can run a great software company in the 1990s without having software that runs on Windows. When a platform becomes as dominant a player as the iPhone is in the mobile market, ignoring the platform can have some potential negative impact.

Home Run: The iPad

Having gotten some level of control over the mobile application development space, Apple is now going for the whole software space, in an attempt to centralized all software distribution in its own hands.

The iPad works to that effect on two fronts: first, like the iPhone, applications that are loaded on the iPad have to go through Apple’s approval process before being made available. In other words, it is the position of “Apple knows best what is good for iPad customers” and application that do not meet the Apple seal of approval will not be available. How does one get that seal of approval? Well, that’s unclear. Apple’s policy appears to be able to change quickly, as was the case with “sexy apps” on the iPhone recently. But interestingly, while apps by small developers were banned, apps by larger providers with similar type of content were not, prompting John Gruber to remark:

I don’t see how it’s anything other than hypocrisy to say that Time Warner can have an app showing swimsuit models and others cannot. I totally understand Apple’s desire to keep the App Store free of flat-out or even borderline pornography. I do not think it’s wise to remove/ban R-rated content, though — isn’t that exactly what the 17+ rating is for?

But to allow Sports Illustrated and Playboy to publish it and others not? That’s bullshit.

Once again, though, this shows Apple’s disrespect for the independent creators and I suspect that the situation will not improve with the iPad.

More worrisome, however, is what the iPad represents to the future of independent creation.

Since the advent of the personal computer revolution, the tools of creation have been available on most computers. In the very early days (70s and 80s), this meant that computers even came with basic programming languages accessible to all computer users. As computers grew more complex but easier to use (moving away from the command line to windows and mouse driven interfaces), those programming languages became optional installs. However, along the way, computers gained some functionality around first writing tools (both the early versions of the mac operating system and windows included very basic word editors) and then later around photo, sound and video editing.

True, the tools were basic and somewhat limited but, to a large extent, they were good enough for most users to get some basic content creation and editing completed. Today, Apple still bundles the iLife product suite with every mac, allowing for picture, video, sound, and web editing.

On the web side, another convention was established in the early 1990s, when the first web browsers included “View Source”, allowing anyone to see how a web page was written, learn from it in the process, and either adapt or evolve the code.

The iPad breaks with that trend.

The iPad is a consumption tool.

Sure, you can buy iWork from the iTunes store (and it looks nice) but there is no iLife tools available (either bundled or as an available extra purchase). Why?

I would suspect the main reason is that Apple sees content created as the masses as mostly “dirty”, sullying the beautiful hardware they have made. And so it now is trying to push a new revolution that will put creation back in the hands of the professional creators and push the masses to that Safari browser icon and the Internet. To Apple, only the bright and the beautiful should be allowed on its hardware and, in the approval process to get things on there, along with the iTunes store (and iBooks store) as the only way to get content on there, it now has the level of control it wants to ensure that the masses are relegated to the internet.

To Apple, Google can have the Internet. Apple’s devices will have browsers on them because they need to from a competitive standpoint but, if it were up to Steve Jobs, I’m sure that would be the first app to go.

Update: Cory Doctorow chimes in.

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