Calacanis's case against Apple: TUAW responds

Jason Calacanis, the co-founder of Weblogs, Inc. (and the 'godfather' of TUAW), sent out the provocatively titled missive "The Case Against Apple in Five Parts" to his 16,000-member email list on Saturday, and subsequently posted the essay in its entirety to his website. The resulting commotion sparked thoughtful responses from Marco Arment and MG Siegler, among many others.

Rather than respond to Jason's case point-by-point (for that, we recommend Marco's take), we thought we would address the questions Jason asks at the end of his e-mail/blog post. Steve Sande responded to these questions directly to Jason over our mailing list, and he and I both responded to Jason's follow-up questions.

1. Do you think Apple would be more, or less, successful if they adopted a more open strategy (i.e. allowing other MP3 players in iTunes)?

2. Do you think Apple should face serious antitrust action?

3. Do you think Apple's dexterity and competence forgive their bad behavior?

You can read our responses below.

1. Do you think Apple would be more, or less, successful if they adopted a more open strategy (i.e. allowing other MP3 players in iTunes)?

Steve: I'm not sure about other MP3 players, mainly because I don't even own an iPod anymore (I use my iPhone as an MP3 player), but I'm pretty sure that you can do music syncing with just about any MP3-capable phone on the market, either directly through Sync Services or using a third-party application such as Missing Sync. How much more open do they need to be?

I'm not sure that Apple would be more successful if they adopted a more open strategy. Why should they open their kimono to the rest of the world? They've become successful through their secretive and closed strategy; what imperative do they have to become more open? Are you suggesting that they should give away their trade secrets to competitors, all in the name of "openness?"

Christina: Although I think it is generally fruitless to speculate on alternate-universe sorts of situations, I do think that in the case of the iPod and iTunes, Apple has absolutely been more successful because of how the two components tie into one another. Even without the iTunes Store, the iPod would have been successful. The iPod has never been about being the most feature-rich player, it has simply been the best player. I bought my first iPod before iTunes was even available for Windows and a good 18 months before the iTunes Music Store opened to Windows users, simply because it had the best interface and was the best way to manage my music.

If Apple had decided to make iTunes and the iTunes Store (back when it was DRM-based) compatible with third-party players after the iPod's introduction, I do think that marketshare would have suffered. An advantage of buying an iPod (in addition to getting the best portable audio player around) is that with it, you also get perfect synchronicity with the iTunes Store. Before DRM was ousted, another advantage was that you could transfer those purchases to your portable player. I'm not going to fault Apple for having a successful product that also tied in with a successful digital music service.

2. Do you think Apple should face serious antitrust action?

Steve: Hell, no. Look at the dictionary definition of antitrust -- "of or relating to legislation preventing or controlling trusts or other monopolies, with the intention of promoting competition in business." Apple is not a monopoly; there are many other suppliers of consumer electronics. And I'm not sure that you can even call Apple / AT&T a "trust." Their agreement can probably be terminated at any minute for any reason at all. For Apple, the reason the company went with AT&T was because AT&T was willing to make the necessary changes to allow the innovation called Visual Voicemail [and possibly because other cell carriers were wary of Apple –Ed.].

If you want to look at antitrust legislation at the present time, why not point it at the executive branch of our government? They seem to be forming an automobile manufacturing trust on their very own...

Christina: You can't be serious...

3. Do you think Apple's dexterity and competence forgive their bad behavior?

Steve: WHAT bad behavior? Sure, we'd all like Apple to quit being so inconsistent in the App Store approval process. Fine, we'd love to have a choice of carriers for our iPhones. But is this "bad behavior", or behavior that should result in legal, or even worse, legislative action? Hell, no.

Apple, Microsoft, HP, Sony, and the thousands of other consumer electronics companies out there are not in business for noble purposes. They are in business to make money, provide value to shareholders, and employ creative, productive people. The way they become successful is by continuously creating products that are different from what other companies produce, and charging what the market will bear.

They don't need forgiveness. They're not doing anything "bad." They're just trying to make good products and sell them at a price that produces value for their shareholders through a high stock price (yes, I am aware that they don't pay dividends, but shareholders CAN sell their stock at any time to make a profit).

LET THE MARKET WORK. If people get so upset with Apple that they stop buying their products, then the company will be forced to change. But they don't need bloggers starting to get legislators or regulators riled up to the point that they decide to throw in a pile of laws to put the company out of business.

Christina: If by bad behavior, you mean the inconsistencies and legitimate problems for developers in the App Store, then yes, I'd have to say that at least right now, the quality of the product and the selection of available software on both the Mac and the iPhone counteracts the foolish and inane App Store practices. However, I can only speak for myself. Some individuals that I respect -- like Steven Frank -- are willing to personally forego the iPhone experience because of these practices and in the name of principle. I understand that position. I just haven't been affected by the policies to really forego using a device I like.

Follow-up Questions

Jason posed some follow-up questions to Steve's initial response.

"Wouldn't you want a more open iPhone, iTunes, etc. [supporting other devices]? You wouldn't want Firefox and Opera on your iPhone? Or Google Voice?"

Christina: I'm not sure if it is fair for Apple to support Sansa or Sony or whoever makes MP3 players (not to mention those awesome off-market Asian players) with their software. It already takes important QA time to dedicate to having a perfect iTunes/iPod experience; anything less than that on a competing player will be blamed on Apple and its software. Do you really expect Apple to pay to support competing products? That's insane.

You can interact with the XML library from iTunes with ease. BlackBerry does it, Nokia does it. Windows Mobile doesn't without Missing Sync because Microsoft won't provide drivers. They also make you use a Zune with Windows. So fair is fair. Make everyone be open to everything (right) or don't cherry-pick terms just for Apple and no one else.

Additionally, is Fennec even usable right now? No. It isn't. And Opera Mobile might be a good alternative on Symbian or on WinMo, but it is no Safari Mobile. I hate Opera Mini on the BlackBerry and certainly wouldn't want to be hampered with it on the iPhone (and the iPhone app was going to be Opera Mini, not a full-blown Opera-based native browser), just so Opera can continue to cling to life. Opera Mobile/Mini has advantages over subpar browsers on other platforms. It doesn't offer any advantages over Mobile Safari and I really can't force myself to get upset about its absence on the iPhone.

As for Google Voice? I agree, it was a petty move. But attack AT&T as well, as it appears they requested the move. It turns out you can use the web app to do everything. Isn't that just like the Palm Pre? I thought web apps were the new native apps? Oh, you want real native apps? Then please stop calling the Pre something revolutionary.

A more consistent App Store policy is needed but I'd venture to say the only reason Apple is the only target here and not other mobile platforms is because no one cares about their nascent app stores.

Apple could be more open and as Gruber said, certainly less paranoid -- but something tells me no other company would get this much grief. Apple gets a lot of passes for being Apple, but they get a lot of over-criticism too.


For more pundits who had a visceral reaction to Jason's rant, check out Techmeme.

One particularly pointed section of the response from Tumblr's Marco Arment:

This, unfortunately, is the fate of Calacanis' piece: he has some good points, but they're buried in so much off-base ranting and misplaced frustration that it's difficult to take any of it seriously.

Jason responded on his own Tumblr, without actually responding. I'm just going to cite this passage because I think it highlights a fundamental disconnect many of us have with Jason's position:

The funny/sad part of the debate so far has been the technology folks who are actually arguing for less choice in the name of ease of use/customer support. The fact is, allowing certain folks to easily/officially/legally jailbreak/unlock their phones is something Apple could do easily. Same with opening up iTunes or the App Store. Apple could easily make users flip a warning or two-like folks do on routers-when users opt-in to doing something a little more "hacky."

Apple is a company that uses its ease of use and customer support as primary drivers for people to purchase its products. It's the basis of the "Get a Mac" campaign. To suggest that Apple should (or would even consider) become less finely-tuned to the customer experience in the name of potentially being more "open" is to fundamentally not recognize the company's strengths. Apple has already warned iPhone users that jailbreaking risks screwing up their phones; it's nonsensical to suggest that the solution for App Store worries is for Apple to support an 'unofficial apps' switch, and it's doesn't seem likely that App Store developers would voluntarily place their apps in a "here there be dragons" section of the store.