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Is Apple the new Microsoft?


So claimeth Mike Elgan of Computerworld in his article on PC World: "It's Official: Apple is the New Microsoft." Well, I'm certainly glad that is settled! On to the iPhone news... Wait a moment, on what grounds does Mike base his comparison? I'll break down the points and test their coherence.

Mike's first assertion is a familiar one: the iPod + iTunes ecosystem is the worst kind of monopoly, where you must use iTunes with an iPod. He says, "Not fair, you might say. Any hardware device that syncs data with a PC as part of its core functionality has software to facilitate that syncing. True enough. But operating systems have browsers as part of core functionality, too. Doesn't Mac OS X come with Safari? Doesn't the iPhone?"

First of all, his argument is akin to saying ATI has a monopoly because you have to install drivers to make their video cards work. Secondly, his parallel to browsers is nonsensical. What does a browser, a completely different app unwed to any external hardware device, have to do with iTunes or an iPod? I'm not really smart enough to tell which logical fallacy this is, but I know BS when I smell it. Buy CD's, they don't come from the iTunes Store.

Moving on to his one-line critique of iTunes: "ITunes is the slowest, clunkiest, most nonintuitive application on my system. But I need it because I love my iPods." iTunes is clunky and unintuitive, huh? Ever try SonicStage? PC World even called IE 6 one of the worst products ever. Of course, MMC plug-ins are models of intuitive design. Let's move on, shall we?

Here's a chestnut: "Can I reformat my iPod and install something else?" Yep, try a Google search for "iPod Linux" and in .21 seconds you will have the answer. It is yes. Also, let me know how often you install "something else" on a Zune.

Poor old dad is trotted out next, in a call for sympathy I suppose. You see, dad likes to go to the gym, and at this gym they broadcast the TV stations over the FM waves. Oh, but there is no FM tuner on the iPod! Well, yeah, although this argument is pretty darn old and for the 50 or so people who still care, Apple sells a FM tuner that happens to double as a remote control for the iPod. Sounds pretty perfect for your dad on the treadmill there. Maybe you should give the old man some credit. And trying to tie this in to vendor lock-in again? Maybe Mat Lu, our resident logic expert can tell me which fallacy you've invoked this time. I'm losing count.

Now, on to the ever-popular $.99 ringtones issue. Look, I hear ya buddy. But while you're at it, why not complain about the $2.99 ringtones out there? Are you just now figuring out that the cell phone industry has been ganking our gold for ages? Hm, so much for that handy "Ringtones: The Missing Manual" book you've been shopping around town.

Now here's a cute argument that really goes nowhere: "Imagine if another company were allowed to compete in the OS X media player market. These players would all drop to below $300. Don't hold your breath, though; it'll never happen. Apple has the power to exclude all others from software than runs on its media players. Microsoft could only dream of such power." Yeah, MS did dream, they called it a Zune, and it wet the bed. When MS licenses whatever ZuneOS they've got, wake me from my Tangerine Dream.

Having clearly decimated the iPod/iTunes ecosystem, comparing it to, uh, something I'm not sure of, Mike goes on to trash the iPhone. Watch and learn!

After explaining how Apple clearly ripped off the whole "touchscreen" thing from the backs of poor lab techs (which, by the way, reminds me of a story about Xerox I'll tell some day), he says, "Microsoft will ship its tabletop UI, called Microsoft Surface, in November, and Apple will likely enter this space with a 3G UI months or years after Microsoft does." Uh, first off, Apple has already shipped a product like Surface: it's called the "iPhone." Oh, it doesn't read RFID tags, but it also doesn't weigh over 100 pounds or cost 10 large, so there's that. In Soviet Russia, gadgets innovate you! Anyway, don't think Apple will be late to the party on expanding the multi-touch interface to other products. In fact, go buy Apple stock yesterday.

On to one of the biggest parallels in history: "If it was fair to slam Microsoft over Windows, it's fair to slam Apple over the iPhone and iPod Touch." He's referring to how Microsoft was called out over copying the Macintosh OS GUI with Windows, lo those many years ago, and how it's fair to call out Apple when they (clearly) copied multi-touch from... uh, labs? I still find it amazing how people so easily equate touchscreen with multi-touch. They couldn't be less similar. Also, let's keep in mind that the experience is what Apple is good at. Windows was a horrific experience in the early days, especially compared to MacOS. iPhone is a fantastic experience compared to everything else out there. Does anyone disagree? Okay, moving on.

"Jobs rules like Bill Gates never did. If you want to succeed in the digital music or downloadable TV business, you'll do things his way." Well, not exactly. Lest we forget, only EMI has dared put DRM-free music on iTMS. Apple isn't a content company. As such, they are actually beholden to the rules of the media companies. Sure, NBC/Universal is swinging a certain appendage around, and they may regret it, but if one more company were to cut from iTMS Steve is going to have little beads of sweat on his forehead.

In the end Mike says he's really an Apple supporter. I dig his attempt to critique the company. And I agree that they are quite closed. But that's like saying I should be allowed to hack my toaster. I mean, I can-- but the average consumer doesn't WANT to. Apple is now in the business of making consumer appliances. And yes, a computer is now an appliance. They aren't a monopoly by any means. If they were, there would be no Engadget or Download Squad, only TUAW. How sad would that be?

I think you're going to see Apple open up slightly in the future, but probably after Steve is gone. WebKit is a tenuous and arguably lame start, but "open" has many meanings and I'm not going to debate semantics. I think they tread the line pretty well between leaving hackers be and making a great experience. Frankly, the other options, for me, aren't appealing. But then, I'm an Apple fanboy, so whaddya gonna do? I guess you could write an article full of logical fallacies, huh?

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