iPad iSolationism

Apple seems to be formulating its current business strategy based on the guiding philosophy of the most isolationist nation in the world.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Apple, a company that is the most envied of the consumer electronics industry for its brand loyalty, seems to be formulating its current business strategy based on the guiding philosophy of the most isolationist nation in the world.

Kim Il-Sung, the late leader of North Korea called it Juche (pronounced Ju-Che). In English, the term is loosely translated as "spirit of self-Reliance".

Since its beginnings in the 1950s, Juche Sasang (The Juche Idea) is the foundation that has provided the base ideology and tenets by which the rogue and isolationist nation has behaved, conducted itself on the international stage and controlled its own people in a never to be questioned iron grip dominated by a culture of leader worship that has continued to this very day.

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Kim Il-Sung, "The Great Leader" and founder of Juche Sasang may have died in 1994, but he is still revered as a god and considered the de-facto "Eternal President" of that country, even though his son, "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-Il is now the current head of state.

There is virtually nowhere in the populated parts of North Korea where you can go and not be surrounded by Kimilsungismand Juche Sasang, which is widely depicted in propaganda and giant monuments erected to eternally memorialize their Great Leader and his guiding philosophy.

For those of you not familiar with Juche Sasang I'll summarize the core philosophy here.

  1. The people must have independence in thought and politics, economic self-sufficiency and self-reliance in defense.
  2. Policy must reflect the will and aspirations of the masses and employ them fully in revolution and construction.
  3. Methods of revolution and construction must be suitable to the situation of the country.
  4. The most important work of revolution and construction is molding people ideologically as communists and mobilizing them to constructive action.

The more I think about how Apple and Steve Jobs have been guiding the company in recent days, the more I  believe that many of the components of Juche Sasang are starting to influence their actions, whether it was intended or not. The result? iJuche.

Clearly, Apple is one of the most if not the most successful consumer electronics company in the world, and represents the epitome of the capitalist ideal. Let's not forget for one moment that Apple must live within the capitalist system, and as a corporation its sole purpose is to make money.

However, as a company or a pseudo-nation state within our capitalist system, what Apple is doing is downright isolationist. If Kim Il-Sung were alive today, I have no doubt he would be very proud of what Apple and Steve Jobs -- a known practitioner of Zen and one who has frequently embraced Eastern philosophies in his personal life -- have achieved according to Juche Sasang.

Lets get to the first and most important tenet -- Independence in thought and politics"Think Different" has always been part of the Apple philosophy, but it was eventually put down into words during a well-publicized advertising campaign in 1997.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Since 1984 this Thinking Different/Macintoshism has morphed itself into independence from the mores of the personal computing industry -- the IBM-Intel PC/Microsoft Windows ecosystem of business and productivity software --- and becoming the primary tool of creative content types which built its own ecosystem with little or no participation from the rest of the industry key players.

Case in point, the iPhone, which has its own self-enclosed isolationist App Store which has its own bizarre and often contradictory set of rules which governs acceptance of applications into that system.

[Update: Apple's App Store isolationism and exclusionary practices appears to have prompted two dozen large wireless carriers to unite and form the Wholesale Applications Community, their own Open Applications Platform at Mobile World Congress 2010]

Any perceived duplication of functionality is summarily rejected, and no other programmatic model besides iPhone OS's Objective C or iPhone Web Applications on that device and in that App Store is permitted, hence the lack of Adobe Flash/Adobe Air as well as Adobe Digital Editions on the iPhone and now the iPad. Java? Forget about it.

Adobe Systems, which was once the primary supplier of creative content "Killer Apps" for Macintosh, and historically the banner bearer and poster child of iJuche, is now being shunned away from Apple's independent iEcosystem for its "laziness". Conform to our rules, or be exiled and punished.

[Update: Adobe has now demonstrated Adobe Flash Player and Adobe Air on Google's Android OS, with apps forthcoming in late Q1/early Q2 2010.]

Adobe is not the only company Apple is isolating itself from. While some might say Apple had no choice in the matter once Google launched its own competing Android OS, it no longer permits "Native" Google applications on the iPhone and the iPad.

One could certainly argue that Google may be trying to standardize a HTML5 web-based application model for all mobile devices, but the bottom line is Android has much better Google services functionality than the iPhone and iPad does today because interaction with the Google application cloud is limited to what the Safari browser is capable of on those devices.

While the same HTML5 web apps can run on Android as they do on iPhone, Google's services on Android also have the benefit of having native applications for GMail, Google Maps/Buzz, Google Voice and Google Chat, whereas on iPhone they are strictly web apps. This is by Apple's design and desire.

There is also the issue that Microsoft is also glaringly absent from the iPhone and iPad equation. Microsoft, which has provided the key productivity suite for Macintosh since its very inception, has only released two iPhone applications, Tag and Seadragon.

Notably absent from the iPad during launch was a native Microsoft Office port for the new device. Instead, Apple has gone the "Self-Reliance" route of iJuche and released its own office suite in the form of Keynote (presentation), Pages (document processing) and Numbers (spreadsheet), a port of the iWork applications from Macintosh.

Based on the exclusionary self-reliance that we have seen with iPhone and the App Store, It is unclear whether Microsoft's future offerings or even the Open Source community's offerings such as an OpenOffice.org port -- arguably the best free productivity suite for Macintosh today -- will even be allowed into this new iPhone/iPad ecosystem.

Opera, arguably one of the best mobile web browsers on the market, was recently ported to iPhone and submitted to the App Store. Whether Apple will accept it or invoke its "Duplication of functionality" clause remains to be seen.

The second and third tenets of Juche Sasang are also apparent in Apple's core ethos. Apple has always been perceived as giving customers what they want, but in reality Apple only does what is good for Apple. It knows what its customers want, and what is good for Apple is good and is best for its users. Why else would it abandon the leading independent trade show dedicated to their products?

Finally, there is the fourth tenet -- molding people ideologically as communists and mobilizing them to constructive action. While I would never accuse anyone who subscribes to the Apple ideology as a communist, they certainly have been effectively mobilized and suit the whims of iJuche.

All challengers to the "system" are to be thwarted and discredited. There is no room for rational discourse when Apple's decisions or philosophy is challenged, as far as the iJuche faithful are concerned.

[Update: Apple has now banned developers who have discovered iPhone security exploits from its App Store.]

North Korea had its "Great Leader", and his philosophy didn't take them very far. Apple and Steve Jobs has Insane Greatness and now iJuche. Whether Apple's embrace of increased isolationism will pan out for the best for the company remains to be seen.

Can Apple's current philosophy be easily compartmentalized into "iJuche Sasang" or have I been drinking too much Soju? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Disclaimer: The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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