Why I (now) hate Apple

In the past, I merely favored non-Apple platforms. With Apple's recent decision to sue HTC over patent violations, mere preference for other products has turned into an active dislike of a company with a clear flair for hardware design.
Written by John Carroll, Contributor

I can't say that I have always hated Apple. Granted, I haven't been a huge fan of their products, but to my mind, Apple was just the vendor of a product that I used infrequently, if at all. They weren't something to get worked up about. I have appreciated the physical beauty of their products, at least from a hardware standpoint, and have said as much in my blog. Recent events, however, have led me down the path of outright dislike of Apple as a company.

I do own a Mac computer, though that is because of my wife, who was a Mac fan (now somewhat lapsed). The hardware is, as noted, quite beautiful, a creative ability that forms the core of Apple's competitive differentiation. Some aspects of the Mac OS X I like. The toolbar at the bottom is a nice use of 3D and animation, though I find that you quickly end up with a string of microscopic icons if you are a heavy user of applications (yes, you can prune them...I can also clean up my Windows desktop). I've NEVER liked the notion that each application takes over the menu bar, or the fact that menus are a dominant and necessary interface concept in the Mac system due to a stubborn insistence that one mouse button is all that anyone should need.

I'm also fairly brand insensitive when it comes to items of personal expression, such as clothing. That's not the target demographic of a Mac. Clearly, the Mac is designed to display, in glowing white logo form, the essential "Macness" of your choice of alternative operating system. That backlit Mac logo serves the same purpose as the big Gucci label on the side of an expensive pair of sunglasses. That's why Jobs and company were extremely smart not to drop the price of the Mac during the recent recession. Nobody buys a Mac because it is a bargain. Most buy them for the same reason people buy an expensive name-brand pair of sunglasses. Low price would undermine the Macs luxury good status, as would high market share. But who cares about market share when you make the kind of profit margins that a Mac does.

But, all that merely constitutes mild displeasure. The Mac just isn't my bag, and I have little problem letting it be someone else's.  I say To-may-to, you say to-mah-to.

Recent products, however, have pushed me further from Apple's universe.

Take the iPhone. Yes, it is a beautiful product that (finally) dispensed with a keypad, using that valuable real estate to make a full-length screen which provides sufficient room for interesting applications (and media). I'd wondered aloud why Microsoft didn't do that with its first smartphone back in 2002 (which I experienced while at Orange in Switzerland, though truth be told, a large screen would have been hideously expensive in 2002). Apple was smart to design the iPhone the way it did as much as its major competitors were blinded by old ways of doing things.

The iPhone, however, has some rather pernicious aspects. Take the battery, which cannot be replaced by users. Granted, users can send their iPhone off to have the battery replaced, and if under warranty, the replacement battery will be free. If out of warranty (which lasts 1 year from purchase, unless you buy an extended warranty), you pay some rather high prices when compared to the cost of batteries for other phones. Why on Earth would Apple do that? It's fairly obvious: by artificially raising the cost of a replacement battery, you make the user that much more likely to buy a new device rather than go through the expense of merely replacing the battery. Apple is, at core, a hardware company, and though playing the expensive battery game is fairly Machiavellian, never let it be said that Apple isn't good at making a profit.

iPhones are locked so that you can only install applications from iTunes. In most cases, the iPhone is also locked to one of Apple's "favored" networks, an arrangement that generates for Apple more profit. Granted, it is technically possible to "jailbreak" your phone, but Apple also endeavors to make updates that will break systems that have chosen to break free of Apple shackles. Kill the escapees, as it were.

As a software developer, I find Apple's opaque application approval process for its App Store particularly grating. Developers must design, build and test their application BEFORE they find out whether Apple will even accept it on their digital store shelves. The rules for acceptance are fairly arbitrary. Apple has a stated policy that it will not accept products that already exist on the platform (which can be somewhat loose, and certainly means that, for example, Opera has little chance of finding its way onto the iPhone), but there are also hints they will reject applications that will, at some point, compete with products they plan to release. Adding to the uncertainty, even applications previously accepted into the Apple store have no long term guarantee of acceptability, as Apple might change their mind with little or no warning. That's what happened a few weeks ago to vendors of "sexually-oriented" iPhone products (all of which seemed fairly mild, not that I would look into such horrible horrible things).

Some will argue that strict application controls prevent viruses from getting onto the device. It certainly restricts the presence of adult-oriented applications on the iPhone (nobody, apparently, would use a browser to surf for naughty pictures on the Internet). I find such rationalization, however, simply a whitewash of what is, at core, rather unfriendly behavior on Apple's part.

Apple has ported this closed model to larger form factors with the iPad. Apple makes the hardware, the operating system, and will control what you are allowed to install by forcing you to get all your applications from its App Store. Imagine, for a moment, the hue and cry if Microsoft did such a thing.

It's not a good time to be Adobe, maker of Flash, now that Apple has started a jihad against the popular framework for making dynamic web applications. The absence of Flash on the iPhone could be dismissed as born of simple necessity - portable devices don't support everything a desktop machine supports. With the iPad, however, the mask has been thrown to the ground as Steve Jobs, face painted camouflage, throws mud in Adobe's direction. Flash, according to Jobs, is buggy and crash-prone, and hence, not worthy of inclusion on the iPad. Hey, I'm not a big fan of Flash, either, but it does make some nice user interfaces, is an alternative to the headache of HTML / CSS / Javascript, and comes from Adobe, who is probably one of the vendors that historically has been most loyal to Apple and the Mac.

Steve Jobs, it seems, is not the sentimental sort.

All those things, however, I would still categorize as mere rumbles of discontent, albeit stronger than the mere preference for Windows over the Mac I experienced in the past. Truth be told, few would mistake me for a Mac fanatic. I worked at Microsoft for three years, and have written about my strong preference for Microsoft technology for over 10 years now. As noted, I'm unlikely to be strongly swayed by the Apple approach to computing products. As many are sure to note, if I don't like Apple products, I don't have to buy them.

That all changed, however, with Apple's recent decision to sue Chinese handset manufacturer HTC over a series of patents it supposedly owns of relevance to smartphones user interfaces and platforms.

I've long written about my strong dislike of patents in the software industry. They run counter to the way software is developed and written. Software is an incremental process wherein new ideas are built, block by block, from previous ones. The user interface concepts found in old XEROX PARC machines from the 1970s have evolved over time, and are found, in much improved form, on machines produced in 2010.

Should people be able to OWN those ideas? Not unless you want to stop progress in critical areas of software design for the 20 year duration of a patent.

Think Apple's patents are really that innovative? Take Patent #5,455,599, "Object-oriented graphic system," which, by my reading, every user interface developed anywhere in the past 15 years infringes. Or, consider Patent #6,424,354, "Object-Oriented Event Notification System With Listener Registration Of Both Interests And Methods", where Apple essentially claims to own the Listener design pattern as it pertains to automatic display of user interface objects. Take a peek at this enlightening Engadget post to get a full taste of the silliness.

The sheer chutzpah of it all is shocking, to say the least. I can't think that Apple's executive team look at themselves in the mirror and actually believe their own BS. They CANNOT honestly believe they really own what they claim to own.

But other companies own big stacks of patents, right? Yes, they do, at least if they are BIG, which is another problem with patents. It is a game best played by large and well-capitalized corporations, as patents are expensive to get in the first place, slow to be awarded, and very costly to defend. It serves the interests of large companies to have a generous patent system, as it is a tremendous way to clear the deck in a competitive fight with smaller companies with much smaller (or non-existent) patent arsenals.

But, think about it. When was the last time a Google (the real target of the HTC lawsuit) or Microsoft used patents as a way to actively SHUT DOWN a competitor? I hate the patent system, but I do understand why large companies would own copious amounts of them in today's patent environment. If someone sues you over patents, it's a sure bet that you will be able to countersue using patents that, if you have enough of them, your competitor is almost certain to have infringed. In full vindictive candor, I sincerely hope that Google or Microsoft eventually gets involved in this battle and has cause to sue Apple over its violations. I am 100% certain that Apple infringes on STACKS of both companies "intellectual property" (quotes included to indicate sarcasm). Apple makes a very poor patent troll, as they actually MAKE products that might be shut down by countersuits.

Defenders of Apple will often point out that Apple is not a monopoly, and shouldn't be subject to the kind of oversight that, say, a Microsoft must endure. Fair enough, to a point (though iTunes is close to crossing that line). But, truth be told, Apple IS an unabashed monopolist, at least insofar as they are owners of a patent that they are using to beat back competition. Patents are nothing if not state-sanctioned grants of monopoly power over an IDEA. They are every bit as monopolistic as the power granted to the East India Company by Queen Elizabeth in 1600...and in my opinion, just as anachronistic.

What Apple is trying to do is prevent companies from building phones with multi-touch user interfaces. They want to freeze innovation in the space so that they are the only ones to have the features people want. That's wrong, plain and simple.

So, congratulations Apple. You have managed in the past three years to turn what was simply a preference for other products into an active dislike of yours. But hey, at least I work in the telecommunications industry. I can make a choice about what products (and phones) I favor first. I can all but guarantee that Apple products will be last on our list.

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