By now, almost everyone is familiar with the fact that Apple “allows” us certain privileges with the iPhone OS. Be warned: this is an editorial piece that will most likely anger some and affirm others.
Apple has become drunk with power… so drunk, in fact, that they honestly believe their users will put up with anything they do. What will it take for all of the Apple fanboys to get pissed off, or are we forever pathetically committed to a company that thinks it can control our every move? I’m surprised that we haven’t hit the point of revolution already.
Take for example this past week’s removal of boob apps from the App Store: the totals for app removal are well over 5,000 at this point. Anything that references boobs, or has any sort of “sexual” content within the app has been removed from the store. Apple essentially decided to remove anything that could possibly turn us on. How can they really determine what turns us on? Even after this removal, we can still find applications with half naked men washing cars — this definitely doesn’t turn us on but could still be considered offensive material in some circles. They supposedly received so many complaints about the content in the store that they commenced operation “App Store Boob War.” In this war, we’ve run into a lot of civilian casualties, but somehow we’ve missed the all-important, ever-offending targets. Someone explain why an innocent clothing company’s app can be removed for showing swimsuit apparel but the Playboy and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit apps still remain in the store unscathed by the barrage of policy changes?
Phil Schiller, exercising his usual damage control, tried to explain that “well-established” applications have remained in the App Store because… they’re well established. This tells us it’s okay for big brother Apple to approve applications with tremendous capital and political pull but the small guys get screwed. Anyone else see issues with that? That doesn’t show us the freedom we’ve come to expect from a capitalist country where the small guy can make it big. No, that’s a dictatorship. We might as well be living in China where the government thinks it’s okay to filter our ability to access online content. Isn’t that what Apple has done here?
Let’s go back a few months: Apple has consistently denied companies access to the App Store because of possible conflicts with their current or future offerings. To name just a few, Google Voice and other applications of the sort were denied access because Apple believed it would cause customer confusion. VoIP applications were initially barred from using AT&T’s 3G network. Sure, one could argue that the 3G restriction had more to do with AT&T than Apple, but Apple is the one who’s ultimately doing the banning. Back even further, Podcaster was an application that wanted to give us better control over our podcasts: it was denied access for duplicating a functionality that didn’t even exist in the iPhone OS at that point. Apple wanted to offer a service like it in the future, so they killed it and all of the effort the developer put into the application. What’s to prevent them from claiming duplication of our great ideas if there’s never been any previous documentation? They have the last say; we have nothing.
What about the Jailbreak community? The general argument for Jailbreak is this: people want to get more out of their devices so they Jailbreak it in order to do with it as they please. Shouldn’t we be able to do that without modifying the stock software? Shouldn’t we be able to use the hardware we purchase on any carrier by default? Even if we spend the extra money to buy an iPhone out-right, we still have to unlock it for use with T-Mobile in the U.S… other countries have it a little easier. The unlock process is never an easy task: we’re always playing cat and mouse to keep our devices running the latest software and remain unlocked.
Apple also tries to stupid-proof all of their devices. By doing so, they lock down features and innovation that could easily result in the next big advancement of the iPhone OS. Themes are a pretty big request among the Jailbreak community as well as tethering (for AT&T customers), stronger parental controls and easier access to information with apps like IntelliScreen. IntelliScreen and better parental controls could easily make their way into the next version of iPhone software, but theming is probably another stupid-proof restriction that Apple hasn’t implemented because they don’t know how. That’s what we ran into with copy and paste; they spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make it work with an “Apple” interface. Even now, we find ourselves trying to copy things that won’t copy: partially developer issues but there’s definitely not a global copy and paste interface for the iPhone quite yet.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg… we could seriously go on for another 1,000 words re-hashing the idiosyncrasies of the iPhone OS, but we’ll stop and move on to some possible solutions.
Apple cannot and should not restrict iPhone content. Period. They need to loosen the developer handcuffs a bit and realize that there will eventually be porn on the iPhone whether they like it or not. They just need to figure out a way to implement it without causing problems for the conservative audience. We’ve already suggested that they create a separate adult store for those applications, but it seems like we’ve just been spitting in the wind. We can have R-rated boob movies in the iTunes Store but we can’t use the word “boob” in an application. We can download explicit tracks that call women hoes and bitches (I mean no offense) in the music store but if someone curses in your social app, you could be banned. We can watch sex on TV with our iPhones but we can’t show women in bikinis. Whatever happened to checks and balances. Our government has to have them, what about companies that take dictatorship a little too far?
We realize that AT&T and Apple are undergoing investigations with the FCC due to the interesting drama surrounding Google Voice… but they can only do so much. They won’t ban carrier exclusivity, they won’t force Apple to be more accepting with apps and they definitely won’t get porn on the iPhone. So what’s the point? It seems like we keep getting back to porn, but that’s not our main point: we want the iPhone OS to be an open platform. A platform that fosters innovation instead of hindering it.
Part of that hindrance is the lack of structure within the App Store approval process. Developers are afraid to be innovative because they never know what will happen when they press the submit button after completing their application. Even if they’ve read the SDK with a militant eye, their app could be denied for any reason… it’s usually followed with a vague description for repair and resubmittal. The next reviewer could claim more faults that were never expressed in the first review and their app could be stuck in limbo for weeks if not months. Why would any self-respecting developer put themselves through that kind of shame? Because Apple is extremely popular and, in many aspects, worth the risk if you have something that will sell. It’s that attitude that has made Apple into this dictator, and it’s the haphazardness that has turned many developers away from the platform. There needs to be a pre-approval process for developers: it wouldn’t be too difficult to implement and it may prove to bring more developers to the platform who are willing to be innovative.
Control isn’t everything; Apple seems to be bending over for AT&T. After what is almost a year, we still don’t have access to tethering in the U.S. with AT&T’s 3G network. We finally have some breakthroughs with the introduction of video streaming and VoIP over 3G, but that’s not enough and has not always been the case. Strong-arm Apple needs to get off the ground and go to bat for its customers against AT&T. They’re obviously not living up to the agreement that Apple theoretically put in place before signing contracts… or maybe Apple was too desperate to get a partner (at the time) that they didn’t include specific articles like tethering in the contract. We can’t really comment on the 3G data here — we’re firm believers that any network would have issues handling the iPhone traffic, even Verizon. Either way, carrier exclusivity is NOT the way to go if you want to keep your customers happy.
Okay, step off the soap box… We also have to realize that Apple is only in its third revision of the OS. Realistically, there weren’t that many changes from 2.0 to 3.0 either. Other mobile operating systems like Windows Mobile, Palm OS and Blackberry OS have had years to perfect their devices and figure out all of the issues that Apple encountered within the last couple years. Does that mean Apple should deny us the customer experience we’re looking for? No, but you could attribute the lack of “awesome” to their inexperience and tremendously quick growth.
When the iPhone came out almost 3 years ago, it appeared to be the best phone on the market and forced many other developers to improve their operating systems… and they did. They’ve answered Apple’s challenge and have come up with better user interfaces, some that put Apple’s non-multitasking, page-sliding OS to shame. All the while, Apple’s user interface has remained largely unchanged since its initial launch back in 2007. Yes, we have native applications; yes, there’s a search function; yes, there are countless other features that improved the user experience, but those “new features” have been available on other devices for years. So when does Apple stop playing catch up with the other devices? When does the real innovation start? When will the current restrictions be removed?
Right now, it’s looking like hell will freeze over and pigs will fly before Apple’s dictatorship is overthrown.