Home > Topical > The Perils of Vendor Lock-In

The Perils of Vendor Lock-In

“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”
-The Maker’s Bill of Rights

It seems to me that the iPad is a Demonstrably Bad™ product, and probably not for the reasons that you think it is.

The iPad has managed to generate a lot of hype. Deservedly so. It is a device quite unlike anything else that’s been produced to date. A slate tablet with a multi-touch interface and accelerometers. It might even be killing netbook sales at this point. While more evolutionary than revolutionary, it certainly is an interesting piece of technology.

Having played with a store demo model, I found myself impressed with the quality of the screen and the considerable heft that such a seemingly thin device had. It felt pretty solid, but I’d still invest in a case if I were to purchase one because the aluminum back feels awfully slippery and early reports on the web seem to indicate that it’s not quite as robust as the iPhone and iPod touch have proven to be. However, I will be setting aside all criticisms of the device itself. While I have used the device and found it to be well constructed, it was too heavy and awkward for me to use in the manner that I felt made most sense for a device of that nature. I can see its appeal, but it’s definitely not for me.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure I want to make the following fully known:

  • I am currently typing this on a Mac
  • I have been a Mac user since the ’80s and an OS X user since Jaguar
  • Most of the computers I own are Macs
  • I have an iPhone that I really like

With that said, I have a serious problem with the kinds of things that the iPad portends and the general direction of Apple, Inc. with regards to the Mac product line. Especially since it would seem that OS X and Macs are now taking a backseat to iGadgets. Let’s revisit that first quote, because it bears repeating:

“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”

I’ve always regarded the consumer line of Macs to be sort of technician hostile. If you’ve ever attempted to disassemble an iBook or 12″ G4 Powerbook, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Apple’s M.O. has never been ease of access except for a few notable exceptions in the desktop arena (e.g. the G4 tower case). Be that as it may, you’ve always been able to get into the case of their computers.

IPods are another story entirely. Without the use of spudgers and special tools, it’s impossible to get in there. Definitely a case of “no user serviceable parts inside.” The iPad continues this proud tradition, but the opening I’m talking about isn’t about opening the case, which, as has already been proven by several tech sites, isn’t remotely impossible. This is about the software. Apple is building a “Walled Garden” of software that they have approved. Furthermore, they retain the right to rescind that approval at any moment and they have done that several times already.

None of this is to say that Apple isn’t well within their rights to do as they please with the iEcosystem. It’s their product and their ancillary service so they can do as they please within the framework of the law and no laws are being broken. Vertical monopolies (like Carnegie Steel, Apple, and McDonald’s) are much less troublesome than horizontal monopolies (such as Standard Oil, Ma Bell, and Microsoft). Controlling all aspects of a given supply chain is good business sense. However, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for abuse.

Apple’s first well publicized purging of apps went after “sexy” applications — bikini girl apps, jiggle simulators and the like. While, I disagree with this move, I can understand what Apple was attempting to accomplish in order to maintain its family-friendly image. Nonetheless, this shows that Apple’s first concern is its bottom line. Corporations can always be trusted to do what is in the best interest of profit.

So what does this mean to you?

By buying an iPad you are supporting an authoritarian paradigm for computing. I realize that this seems like harsh language, but the reality of the situation shouldn’t be sugarcoated. Apple is setting precedents with the App Store that I don’t really like. First, they limit access to the store. You have to develop on a Mac with XCode. There’s a fee to list your app. There’s no guarantee that your app will be accepted and the criteria that Apple is using to judge prospective apps are nebulous at best. Want to install apps without using the app store? Then be prepared to “jailbreak” your device and potentially void your warranty. Then there’s the matter of the dreaded “kill switch.” It’s bad for developers who can have their apps pulled without explanation or remuneration. It’s bad for consumers because the apps they paid for can pulled without explanation or remuneration.

Is this a step forward? I’d say that it isn’t. If this sort of model takes off, the computing public could easily consider itself set back at least 30 years. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that only Apple could pull off something like this. Steve Jobs has his patented “reality distortion field” and no one else can sell this kind of ecosystem as a good thing without the tech media as a whole taking him to task for it. Style can, and unfortunately often does, triumph over substance. Apple’s business plan appears to be based on exactly that.

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Categories: Topical
  1. Jeff VanDrimmelen
    7 May 2010 at 10:48 pm

    I already said this to you in person when we were talking about this topic, but it bears repeating here. Yes, I agree… I hate the walled garden… I love my new Droid (for which I gave up my iPhone)…

    but…

    As long as Apple keeps innovating like they have done, people will keep going along with this. Once again they are ahead of the curve on this one. I LOVE my new iPad. The screen is like 8 times as big as the iphone… I would say that makes it 8 times as good… and I too like my iPhone. Developers are just beginning to harness the power of touch computing and apple has made it possible first and opened the doors. Apps like Evernote are becoming a couple of times a day app where before it was too much trouble. And multimedia is AWESOME!

    As you know I was not an Apple fan boy when I met you… but as the Texas like to say, I got here as fast as I can.

    Keep up the good writing an thoughts! 🙂

  2. 10 May 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I’m not saying that the iPad isn’t potentially a very useful device. Once developers really start to catch up there are going to be some really interesting programs. I think you hit the nail on the head: Apple can get away with this because they are creating devices that people want. That’s what feels off to me. People will put up with this from Apple who’s on the bleeding edge, but Microsoft and Google will probably not be able to get away with similar things on their devices. That’s not to say that I’m not wary of what’s coming, as my entry above clearly indicates. Perhaps though, it’s a ways off. In any event, it’s unnerving to me when a corporation is able to pull this kind of thing off.

    As always, great to hear your thoughts, Jeff.

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