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.

About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched 6 companies, of which 2 (internet.com and Earthweb) went public and two were sold (Net Quotient and MoveableMedia). My latest, Keepskor provides tools allowing anyone to develop mobile and connected TV games without writing a line of code. This is my personal site and all opinions here are mine.

  • http://www.paulcampy.com Paul Campy

    I think you’re absolutely right to draw the distinction of consumption from creation; the iPad is a consumer device to consume content, whether it be the web, books or music and video. Despite the apps that will flock to the platform, it truly is a new type of device, not a replacement for a net or notebook.

    While I may be a fully paid-up Apple fanboy (in the interest of full disclosure!), I could understand the closed platform justification on the iPhone platform. It protected the core *consumer* experience and function of owning a mobile, i.e. that of making calls without some rogue app breaking such functionality or unduly impacting the network (AT&T and O2 have enough trouble of their own making). The iPad though could have gone either way – a stripped down ‘desktop’ OS X or a bulked up iPhone Mac OS X – and, not being a phone device, could have been afforded a tad more platform freedom.

    Apple may, in my opinion, make the finest computer equipment in the world; it’s clear though that the iPhone and iPad lines are not extensions of that computer heritage, only leverage it; this is Apple the consumer electronics company.

  • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

    Paul: Apple as the consumer electronic company. you really encapsulated the approach brilliantly. And that’s part of my worry. Because Apple is such thought leader in our industry, will it lead the industry AWAY from openness and user control towards a land where we will choose between Apple devices connected to an Apple store or Microsoft devices connected to a Microsoft store or Google devices connected to a Google store.

    Where does that leave the independents and where does that leave innovation that doesn’t fit the “store” mold?

  • http://www.paulcampy.com Paul Campy

    Alas, I think it leaves independent innovation in the hands of Android, provided it doesn’t become a purely Google channel. And I say ‘alas’, as I think it’s to the detriment of the Apple platform and to innovation in general.

  • Noibs

    I think you totally nailed it. I’ve been an Apple fanboy since the ’84 Mac; however, it’s only a matter of time until I go in the direction of Ubuntu or Mint Linux. The reasons are the ones you outlined in your excellent piece.

  • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

    My main concern about this is because Apple designs beautiful product and has, when it was an underdog, largely been a force for good in our industry. Now that it turns, who will replace them? Google (with Android and Chrome OS)? If so, we will end up with products that are a little more boring looking as Google is not really that focused on the design (in the sense of making things look really slick) as Apple is. They’re apps are utilitarian but nobody would ever accuse them of being beautiful.

    Microsoft may actually be our next best hope if the Xbox/series 7 team gets to move its DNA across the rest of the organization.

    I wish the Unix crowd would find some friends in the UX crowd and we might get something open source but I’m not holding my breath.

    So, from the consumer end, I suspect that, sadly, Apple will be the lead and that it may end up moving our whole world to be a little more closed and a little more difficult for creators. I wish that weren’t the case but I fear it might be.

  • Eugene

    My God this is nonsense. The iPad is designed as a device for consumptions mainly ( although iWork is not consumption). It does however, connect to the Mac where you can program for the device. Similarly the X-Box ( or Wii) or most other consumer devices are for consumption and you create content elsewhere.

    Since the Mac, nor Windows, nor Linux are going away the hysteria is ridiculous.The iPad is a parallel computing device, primarily geared at consumers and not at all geared for programmers to program on it ( rather- for it)

    This meme – independents are getting screwed – is not just wrong it is the exact opposite of the truth. Of the more than 150K applications written for the iPhone since it’s inception most have been written by independents ( including myself) and many by people who never coded Objective C before. The iPhone created a whole new market for independents, not all of whom are making money, but most of whom are enjoying the experience ( and as the Market consolidates we will be employable as iPad or iPhone devs for larger organisations).

    In fact, no developer worth his salt cares about the “control” that Apple has over the app store. Spending two minutes on an application which shows a slide show of models in bikinis does not impress me as a great technical challenge, and what those of us who actually program decent software for the device actually feel ( and I make my living from this) – is that the Apple store should be more controlling, not less. That is what all the developer forums say. The other meme – the angry ” I wrote ten lines of code and added girls with big boobs” developer – well he gets all the news but on actual developer forums, we rejoice. Kick more of them out. Kick out the iFart apps, too. ( Here is hoping the iPad has better control).

    None of gate-keeping is new, and Google control the Android store as well.

    About Android: nobody cares. Indies dont make money from the “free as in beer” crowd. Android has no monetizable base. It is slightly catching up on the iPhone in the US because Apple have not released a new model iPhone, and have reached their capacity with AT&T. However it’s applications sales are clearly abysmal ( quick: name a independent developer who has gotten rich – there were tens of such stories within a few months of the release of the iPhone SDK)

    In a few months when Apple moves to the 4G and expands to other carriers the game is over for that platform.

    Not that we care anyway. i work on and contribute to a games engine ported to the iPhone 2 years ago. There is nobody who cares about porting it to Android, because there is no money to be made.

    The only people who care about this pseduo-openness are the “power-users”, not the real geeks. We geeks will jail break anyway, if we need to, or download a terminal app and use the iPad like a Unix device. Which it is.

    Most people will, however, use it as a consumer device, we can produce for it elsewhere, the Mac is set up to do exactly that. Thats what xCode is for. The rest is hand waving.

  • http://BlueWorldStudios.com E.J.

    The fundamental problem nobody likes to address is that without a filter, the garbage overwhelms the valuable. It happens anywhere that anybody can participate regardless of qualification or skill. Without it, Indie anything, music, lit, art, blogs, comments, or apps, become so voluminous and overwhelming that finding the good isn’t worth weeding through the garbage.

    Any app store, for any platform, needs some level of filtration or it will collapse under the weight of it’s own crap. In order for Android’s app store to be successful in the long run, it’s going to need a filter of some kind. It will be interesting to see the complaints once it’s put in place.

  • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

    Eugene,

    Did you actually read the post? I fully agree with you that the iPad is designed as a device for consumption (in fact, it’s even highlighted in my post) and that is the trend that worries me. Apple is a thought leader in the computing industry and, as such, is in a fairly unique position to influence what others might do. To move to a space where they get more and more restrictive and work to be the only funnel, while at the same time taking away tools of creation, seems that they have decided that creation by the masses is not something they want to encourage, therefore reversing the trends established long ago in the early days of the personal computer.

    If you want computers to be more like your television or more like a radio, that’s fine. My concern is that, for many years, computers have been tools to encourage creative involvement, not passive involvement and, as such, I’m concerned with the direction Apple is trying to take our industry in.

    My second point (and the one you call bullshit) is that independent are getting squeezed. As you rightfully say, not all are making money but they might have a chance getting employed by large firms in the future. If that’s the case, it’s even sadder to me: having worked both as a startup entrepreneur (2 IPOs, 2 sales, 1 failure) and for large corporations, I can tell you that it is easier to innovate in a startup environment than it is in a large organization one. If the future of most independent iphone programmers is to go work for large firms, then innovation on the iphone will wither.

    On Apple being more controlling, are you actually saying that most developers believe that Apple should have a more restrictive SDK? Is it OK, in your view (and that of the developers you talk to), that Apple can dictate if your app should use a 3G network or Wifi (example: Skype, Sling Player)? Is it OK, in your view (and that of the developers you talk to) for Apple to decide that, if your product reproduces functionality that is too close to what they offerthe product shouldn’t exist (example: podcaster) ? Is it OK, in your view (and that of the developers you talk to), that Apple can dictate how your app uses network resources (for example, netshare or wifi stumbler) ? To me, it’s not and that’s why I have a jailbroken (and unlocked) iphone but I question whether it should be fine for most consumers. Most consumers don’t want to void their warranty and, by jailbreaking your phone, you actually do so.

    Last but not least, on Android. If nobody cares, why is Android quickly becoming the second largest mobile OS for smart phones? Why is it about to overtake the iphone in terms of number of units in circulation? If nobody cares, why are companies like facebook developing apps for it? Do not confuse coolness factor with revenue potential.

  • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

    E.J.

    The filter problem is an interesting one but how did you get to this site? You had to pick this post out of hundreds or thousands of blog posts. Did you go through an “approved internet sites” list?

    I’d warrant you haven’t.

    As far as app stores collapsing under a weight of crap, is that what happened to the software industry (and software for windows or mac (or even linux) or hasn’t it been more of a case of the good stuff actually rising to the top, to be used by most?

  • Eugene

    We seem to be arguing past each other.

    1) The iPad is a consumer device for consuming “stuff”. If it were more restrictive ( i.e. books only) nobody would care that you could not produce content ( i.e. a book) on it. Nobody cares with the Kindle. Because you can do more on the iPad, it is seen as a computer, but it isn’t. No more than a Kindle is. No more than an X-Box is. Or a toaster with a chip. About which, few complaints. The Mac is still around. Go wild. ( And where are the articles on the restrictiveness of the X-Box?)

    2) The independent community is consolidating not because of the APp Store restrictive policies but because there is so little control than people cannot make enough money, or to compete on marketing with the bigger players. This always happens when industries mature. What happened in the last 2 years was like the first 2-5 years of the PC revolution – run by hobbyists – and it always happens. Apps stores restrictive practices are not relevant. But let me re-iterate, what happened here was a huge increase in indie access to mobile software, not the opposite.

    3) i dont care about any of the restrictions you mention, most of which have to do with network providers – what is happening here is what will happen on any mobile, and which has happened on all mobile platforms. Network resources are finite and a mobile device has to be careful about how it uses or abuses the network – this is unlike the internet which cannot be brought down. Not only was this common to all mobile devices prior to the iPhone ( and again no angry articles about censorship), it was true after the iPhone release until Android came along – since when it has become an issue; and even there Goggle have pulled apps they have seen as compromising the network. The only thing to see here is anti-Apple posturing.

    4) “Last but not least, on Android. If nobody cares, why is Android quickly becoming the second largest mobile OS for smart phones? ”

    Is it? anything increasing from a small base will seem to be accelerating. You cannot extrapoloate from recent Android growth to anything else. The Android market has increased at a time when Apple – and I have said this – have not released anything recently, and after the release of the Droid and Nexus. That’s what happens. For example: have a 1st gen iPhone, but intend to upgrade this year, but will only do so when the 4G comes out. Also what is curtailing the iPhone’s growth in the US is AT&T. That too will pass. The pent up demand is huge. Android will appeal to geeks – possibly 10% of the smartphone market ( maybe 1-4% of the entire market), and will peak and plateau or fall.

    And lets remember that most of these geeks poo-pooed the whole touch screen, multi-touch idea at the start, hugging their blackberries (with it’s controlled market) – now they are converted to Anything-But-Apple, based on whatever spurious reason they want. Good for them, I dont care.

    But I was talking about the market for developers. What can we sell to the free as in beer crowd. Nothing. I can make a living on the iPhone, and the iPad and I have no interest in giving away work for free to the angry open source community who like open stuff. Open is often synonymous with free. Free as in cheap. Free( often) as in theft.

  • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

    Eugene,

    Some very interesting points in your rebuttal so thanks for keeping the dialogue going.

    1) My concern is more along the lines of where Apple is headed. With the success of the iPod and iPhone (and I would assume, pending success of the iPad), Apple’s focus seems to increasingly be on closed consumer electronics system. Most of the current Mac lines, as they stands, are actually overdue for a refresh. Note also that, along the way, the macbook lines have started adopting more ipod/iphone-like features like non-removable batteries. My concern is that Apple is now more interested in being a consumer electronics company than a computer one and I could see a future (5-10 years out) where the company might declare that they are discontinuing the mac line altogether. Remember that, in his presentation, Jobs was clear that he was looking for the iPad to be an eventual replacement for most computers and that’s where my first beef is: if Apple sees the iPad (and its successors) as the logical line of demarcation, we will see computers like the relatively cheap macbook being discontinued and products like the macbook moving up in price as they become “professional” tools.

    And because Apple is really the counter-weight to Microsoft, the lack of competition will eventually mean that the computer industry could move in the direction of seeing itself as a tool for a market of professional, not a mass market.

    2) It is true that consolidation has happened in previous cycles but it’s always been augmented with new players entering the market (and no single player has managed to establish domination for more than a decade). So increased consolidation in the hand of a few incumbents is actually part of my concern. Remember that if the current situation around iPhones/iPads were to involve Microsoft instead of Apple, people would scream about monopolies. Just because the new monopoly is being built by Apple does not, in my view, make it right. In fact, I would venture that, from the 2010 vantage point, I’d rather have that kind of consolidation happen in Microsoft’s hands because of its past experience at being branded monopolist.

    I’ll grant you that the app store has been a boon to some independent developers but I worry that Apple will slowly strangle that market.

    3) Just because the market was closed before Apple entered it does not make closing up the market again justifiable. It is true that Apple did manage to wrestle away control of the mobile deck from the telco carriers and we all have to be thankful for that. My concern here is that, having opened up the market and profited from that effort, Apple is now looking to close it up again when it doesn’t benefit Apple. Once again, on a trendline, this could mean that the time of openness presented here is just a blip and we could end up with a market that’s as closed as it used to be, except we now have to ask Apple for permission to put things on the deck instead of the telcos. That, in my view, does not fit the definition of progress :)

    The strawman of network resources being finite is nothing more than that. Remember that network resource, whether mobile or not, are always finite. It is as true of the internet as it is of any network and, in the 1990s, the argument by the telcos was that the internet would crash if more restrictions were not being put in place in terms of network shaping. A strong fight ensued and today, we still enjoy a relatively restriction free internet which, for some odd reason, hasn’t collapsed even though network traffic as increased manyfold. The arguments being made about mobile network bandwidth being finite are similar today. Remember that a lot of phone traffic is packetized and so the difference between wireless and landline based networks is decreasing quickly. The big difference that exist today is similar to what happened about a decade ago as more consumers started to use broadband internet lines. The thing is that, back then, unlike now, the telcos and cable companies overbuilt their networks, which allowed them to cope with the demand. Today, in the mobile space, the telcos overpromised and underdelivered. So putting restrictions on apps, in my view, is not justifiable.

    Once again, here, my concern is more on a trendline standpoint. Restrictive SDKs tend to move in the direction of being more restrictive, not more open. So I worry about what the next set of restrictions could be and the fact that we are giving tremendous power to a single company without having any balance (unless Android or WinMo 7 become that balance).

    4) Android is making significant gains in a number of arenas (see here and here for examples). It’s not just geeky techy (in fact, I’ve been surprised by the number of non-techies I’ve seen with Android phones lately). I suspect the gains are first due to the fact that android devices are available from more carriers so Verizon users, T-Mobile users, and Sprint users (in the US) are moving in that direction since they can’t get iPhones from their carrier. The dynamics will be very interesting if Apple does indeed start offering a CDMA phone.

    The other thing that has been surprising to me is actually the level of interest among developers in the android platform. Remember that, for a lot of people, it’s not an either/or but a develop the app for iphone and if it works, port to android. From that standpoint, it’s becoming an interesting trend worth watching. I don’t know if you’re correct in your assumption that the android and open source crowd are one and the same (I suspect too much of the open source crowd still look to LiMo as their savior and considers Google evil in the same way some may consider Apple evil) but I suspect that, over the next year or so, you’re going to see more of the development community move to Android as an alternative or complement to Apple’s platform.