Apple Wants To Own You
Welcome to our velvet prison, say the boys and girls from Cupertino.
In puncturing the iPad illusion, Cory Doctorow applies a tinkerer's and an intellectual's passion: It's a dumbed-down, sealed-shut device designed to make its owners into passive consumers. The cheers for the iPad's alleged simplicity, he declares, remind him of the way some people talked admiringly about AOL in its salad days. They said AOL's simplicity and wholesomeness would trump the chaos and perversity of the Web, a prediction that flopped, he notes.
There's nothing unkosher with Apple wanting to profit from every app running on the iPhone-inspired gizmos in its stable or with using its success to win better terms for itself at your expense (and the expense of its competitors and collaborators). But just because Apple's desire to make more money isn't unkosher doesn't mean you have to like the fact that it wants to own and control bigger pieces of the distribution chain.
Apple's avarice may not even be in its own self-interest. As Zittrain discusses in his book, the less locked-down a device or system is, the more ripe it is for innovation, and the more innovation lavished on a device or a system, the more valuable the device or system becomes to its users. Apple loves to point to the number of apps available at its store and the billions of downloads as evidence of the great creativity the iPhone has stimulated. But a Zittrainian response to those boasts would be this: You have no idea what sort of creativity and usefulness a device or network can inspire until you unshackle it.
Zittrain peppers his book with examples of "killer" applications that nobody could have imagined emerging from uncredentialed developers. A hobbyist in Tasmania wrote Trumpet Winsock, which allowed Windows PCs to access the Internet. A pair of students wrote the first graphical PC Internet browser in three months. He continues:
Ideas like free Web-based e-mail, hosting services for personal Web pages, instant messenger software, social networking sites, and well-designed search engines emerged more from individuals or small groups of people wanting to solve their own problems or try something neat than from firms realizing there were profits to be gleaned.
By walling off his newest devices from the unsupervised experimentation that improves a gadget, Steve Jobs is committing a kind of parental abuse: He's preventing the iPad from becoming the insanely great thing that it really wants to be.
Fanboys! I await your denunciations and praise in the comments section below. But be forewarned: I will destroy all the i-devices in my home if you make it too personal. Prefer one-on-one to the innovation of the public sphere? Then send e-mail to my walled garden: email@example.com. Use your iPads to follow my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in Slate's readers' forums; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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