The Future of Personal Computing, Part 2

By James Kwak

(This is Part 2 of 2; Part 1 covers the shift in personal computing from the age of the standalone PC to the age of cloud computing.)

We left off with the idea that personal computing was inexorably, though slowly shifting toward a Web-based model in which our computers’ main purpose is to run browsers and we spend most of our time on the Internet. A decade ago when this idea became popular it was not particularly practical, because you simply couldn’t do very interesting things in a browser; it was originally designed, after all, for reading static web pages. But in the past decade, web sites have become much richer and interactive — think about something like Gmail, with its automatic refreshing and keyboard shortcuts, or Google Documents, which allows multiple people to edit a document at the same time — to the point where most of what people do most of the time can be done in a browser.

But then there was Apple.

Apple has a computer business, but there’s nothing revolutionary about it. They make very nice, somewhat expensive computers that are structurally basically the same as Windows machines: they have an OS, people write programs that you install on top of that OS (and still not as many people as the ones who write Windows programs), and people with those computers spend more and more of their time using the browser. The increased importance of the Internet as opposed to local (on-computer) applications has probably helped their market share a little, but not that much.

Then there was the iPod, but while it was revolutionary in many ways, it didn’t mean much for the course of computing. It’s dependent on the existence of a computer running iTunes, which is an ordinary application; the only thing “Internet” about it is that it can access the Internet to buy music.

And then there was the iPhone. The iPhone was a big hit for multiple reasons, like the fact that it was cool, but for our purposes the most important is that it was the first powerful, usable computer in your pocket. Besides email (which it never did as well as a BlackBerry), you can run applications on it that will do virtually anything, since its operating system provides an API that lets developers do pretty much whatever they want.

For most iPhone users, I suspect, what they like about the iPhone is that they can check their email, take photos, and do other things that any smartphone can do. But technology commentators have focused on iPhone’s “apps,” and Apple has used its app library as a selling point against its competitors.

So what is an app? It’s just a plain old application — like the kind we’ve had on our PCs for decades — except someone figured out that if you drop the last three syllables it sounds new and cool. An app is a piece of software that runs directly on the iPhone OS (a variant of OS X, the operating system on Mac computers), and that you download and buy from Apple’s App Store.

If you’ve followed me to this point of the story, you should realize why I find the app craze so perplexing: it seems like a giant step backward, back to a pre-Internet world where we had to install a bunch of separate applications on our computers, and developers had to write different programs for each operating system. It seems worse than that, even, because with Apple the only place you can get software is from the App Store, which means that Apple gets to decide what can run on your iPhone.

The app model is not entirely pre-Internet, of course. The iPhone and iPad can download apps over the Internet, and those apps can use the Internet as well. But the experience is still that you are switching between a bunch of different applications on your device, as opposed to surfing the web using a browser. You have to find and install those applications, and periodically you have to install updates. Sure there are things that require direct operating system (or hardware) access, like graphics-intensive games, but the thing that confuses me is why people would use apps to do things that they can already do perfectly well in a browser.

This is understandable with the iPhone, because its screen is so small; some iPhone apps just take content on the web and reformat it nicely for the smaller screen. But it makes less sense when you move up to the iPad, which basically has a full-size screen. For example, the New York Times has an iPad app. Buttons across the bottom let you switch between sections (business, sports, etc.), and for each section you have a front page that shows you the beginning of each article, and if you click on an article it takes you to the full content. Very pretty. But I can’t think of any reason to prefer it to the Times’ web site, which has much more content, and which displays perfectly well on the iPad’s browser. This is just one example, but it shows how apps provide a crippled version of what is already on the web. There are other examples, like NPR’s app for listening to their radio stories; it’s nice, but why not make their web site just as nice, so everyone can benefit from it?

So why apps? The iPad is Apple’s attempt to change the way we use computers, away from the PC model and toward a tablet model. And the strategy goes beyond just a new form factor; as we start using tablets, Apple wants us to adopt the app model instead of the Internet model. In particular, Apple is aiming at the category of netbooks — small, light computers whose primary purpose is getting to the Internet (hence the name). It’s inevitable that we are going to use smaller computers with touchscreen input; Steve Jobs is right about that. The question is whether we will use them in an Internet-centric way (the way technology was trending over the past decade, and the way Google wants us to use them) or whether we will use them the way Steve Jobs wants us to use them.

Apple prefers the app model for two big reasons. First, it makes their products stickier, since you’re not just buying an iPad, you’re buying Apple’s whole system for delivering stuff onto the iPad. Second, it seems that people are willing to pay for apps while they are unwilling to pay for anything through a browser. So people will pay $1.99 for an app that plays some game when you can already play the same game for free on a web site somewhere. Maybe people think of apps as standalone objects that have some value and that they can buy, while they see web sites just as destinations that they go to and that should be free. But as long as people will pay for apps, that means that Apple can make money by selling them to you — and by preventing developers from selling them to you directly.

I think it’s not too much of a simplification to say that Apple wants to be the new Microsoft. It wants you to buy applications that run locally on your computer iPad, and it sees its competitive advantage as having the most developers and the most applications (hence all those “there’s an app for that” ads). As Microsoft showed, if you can get a lead and become the developers’ platform of choice, you can benefit from network effects.

This is why the dispute with Adobe is important. For those who don’t know, Adobe develops Flash, probably the dominant technology for interactive content on the Internet. The iPhone and iPad don’t support Flash, meaning that if you go to a site that needs Flash, you get a big empty box on your screen. (Like, for example, if you daughter wants to visit the Dinosaur Kids site to play How Big Are You?) This is important because Flash is the most widely used technology to do things on the Internet that otherwise people would buy apps for. You can think of it as a small attempt to cripple the Internet (for people using an iPhone or iPad) to force them toward the App Store (for games) or the iTunes Store (for video).

(Even the iPad’s browser — a version of Safari — has trouble with some rich interactive web sites; for example, I can’t figure out how to edit Google Documents on the iPad. This is probably simply due to the tradeoffs Apple had to live with in order to make the browser work with the iPad’s modest specs, but it has the side effect of slightly crippling the Internet and forcing you toward apps.)

But the Apple-Adobe dispute goes further. In April, Apple changed the terms of the iPhone developer agreement to prevent developers from using cross-compilers to create iPhone apps. A cross-compiler is a tool that allows you to take an application you wrote for one platform, push a button, and repackage the application for another platform (in this case, iPhone OS). The immediate target of this was Adobe, which was developing a tool that would enable developers to take Flash apps, push a button, and make them into iPhone apps. This simplest explanation for this is that Apple, as the market leader, wants to make it harder for people to develop for multiple platforms at the same time. “Write once, run anywhere” — the slogan of Java, but also the essence of developing for the web — is bad for Apple, and they want to make it as hard as possible. (John Gruber makes a different argument that Apple wants control over their platform and doesn’t want cross-compilers between it and the developers, but that interpretation is not inconsistent with mine.) In other words, if you’re number one, then openness just helps the competition, because if developers have to choose just one platform, they’re going to choose yours.

So Apple is competitive; we knew that already. And they don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the 1980s and 1990s; we knew that already, too. But I think the important point is that they are promoting a model of personal computing where most of the developers write for the iPhone OS, and if you want to use their applications you have to buy an Apple hardware product. Yes, Apple makes great hardware, but I think consumers will do better with an open model; if you look at smartphones, it’s already the case that many phones running Android — Google’s open-source operating system — are better than the iPhone at many different things. (The iPhone may still be the best overall, but there are many good reasons why you might pick a particular Android phone over the iPhone.) And Android has already passed the iPhone as the number two smartphone (measured by new sales), behind the BlackBerry.

Conceptually, I still think the best thing for consumers is a model that is open on every level: web-based development, so that content and functionality are available at the same time for anyone using any browser, allowing competition among operating systems and, for a given operating system, between different hardware manufacturers. With personal computers, Microsoft established a monopoly on the OS level, which made Windows the least common denominator of everyone’s computing experience. Now Apple wants to lock people into their hardware and OS and create an ecosystem of developers, applications, and content that you can only get through Apple.

The obvious alternative is Google, which has its own operating systems (Android and Chrome), but doesn’t particularly care if you use them or not — as long as you are using the Internet, where they sell their ads. I’d like to see an Android tablet with a real browser that can handle anything on the Web, and then I simply wouldn’t need most of the apps I have on my iPad (Calendar, Contacts, Notes,  Maps, AccuWeather, Netflix, NPR, Bloomberg, etc.). Now, Google isn’t pursuing an open strategy because it’s nice; they’re doing it because they want everyone to go to the Internet to see their ads. But ultimately I think that’s a better model for consumers, because you avoid lock-in on the development level (developers don’t have to commit to the iPhone OS) and on the hardware level (anyone can build an Android device, which is already providing more innovation and choice when it comes to smartphones).

So while I like Apple products, I have no particular wish to see them win the technology war, at least not with their current strategy.

85 responses to “The Future of Personal Computing, Part 2

  1. Great thoughts here, and Apple is no longer the underdog and I believe you are correct in listing Apple’s motivations. However, people do not gravitate towards apps because Apple is motivated to the model of keeping people in their hardware ecosystem. People like apps (over the Internet in cases) because they do not require a connection to do something (like games) and are often easier…they are one instantiation of an idea or function. Even in the cases for apps that necessarily use the Internet (like weather…why would you use an app instead of weather.com?), you can have default setting adn features in the app that would require too much setup or not be possible on the website, with just a click. Apps are a way for developers to innovate on top of the more raw websites they may use.

    Would apps go away if we had ubiquitous, cheap, and fast Internet connections everywhere? Maybe moreso and then Google would domminate, but they would be substituting their ingenuity “on” the web for the Apple app developers ingenuity interacting “with” the web.

    Just some thoughts on why apps have appeal. Apple still evil (but I have preordered an iPad…my first Apple product ever).

  2. At a time when everyone is hailing Steve Jobs as a great businessman it is not easy to take a shot at him. Still he is being short sighted. I am a developer and have developed applications for iphone, windows and web based.

    Apple has such a tight control over delivery process that sometimes I have to wait for 4 weeks for my iphone app to get an update which is nothing else but a bug fix. Waiting for 4 weeks for a bug fix is like waiting for 2 years to get phone service (which is what my dad did in India 15 years back).

    In the long run open source model of android will have success. Anytime you want to do through open source, it takes time. Dealing with various vendors, consoritiums takes time and often result is not optimal as we are seeing. So it takes longer. It is much easier for Apple to agree to a standard and march along.

    However in the long run , 2 to 4 years, android and chrome ( OS ) will have larger penetration.

    In this mobile war one thing that should be noticed is that Microsoft is not even in the game. In this article probably author did not even mention MS. What does that say about MS. They are getting money because of work done in past. Time to dump MS stock.

  3. Anthony Cooper

    Flash is a cruddy, CPU hogging bit of code. Mix in the wide adoption of HTML 5, and Flash is irrelevant.

  4. I think it’s not too much of a simplification to say that every software company wants to be the new Microsoft.

    Do you really think that Google — in contrast to ever other large company that has ever existed — is not aiming for lock-in of its users?

  5. Mr. Kwak, your superficial knowledge of Apple is really irritating.
    Cross-compiler. Are you kidding me.
    What Apple banned was outside API between your Application and CocoaTouch API (obj-c). Come one gives a break.

    There has not been a Flash version on any phone worth talking
    about. why would Apple allow it to begin with. May be you want to lookup Font War between Adobe and Apple. or DisplayPostscript War. or Creation of Carbon API. etc.

    iPhone is another Platform like Windows and Mac. It has nothing to do whether Apple likes Internet or not. Obviously you have no clue because you would know that Apple did with WebKit, HTML5, H264, WebStreaming, Bonjour, OpenCL, SproutCore, LLVM, etc. All those show that Apple wants open technologies that anyone can adopt. Without WebKit being open there would be no iPhone competitor to talk about.

  6. This was a very odd post that ignores the entire history of the iPhone platform. Remember when it was first released? What made it revolutionary was the first usable *web browser* in your pocket. No third party apps. Steve Jobs told us that since the iPhone ran the web so well that you didn’t need apps! And everybody bitched and moaned that it didn’t have apps, leading to a vibrant jailbreak community. Then they added the apps…and it really took off. This was a real case of market forces at work, and giving consumers (and pundits…how often do they agree?) what they wanted.

    But it remains the fact that apple has the best mobile browser out there. Problems with google docs notwithstanding. (the android browser is based on the same webkit technology). But despite having the best mobile browser, with support for the full web (minus flash…which still, 3 years after people first complained, isn’t released on a mobile platform), people want the apps. Yes, this is better for apple…but it seems to be what people want.

  7. silly things

    There are some huge elephants in the room!

    There are 3 critical shortcomings of web based computing that the author ignored.

    1. Availability – What if you need your apps and data while hiking in the back country?

    2. Cost – What if you don’t want to pay $2000 to ATT for a 2 year data plan?

    3. Privacy – What if you don’t want to entrust your precious data to a faceless corporation?

    People all too often get use to and accept the crap in their live!

    Cloud computing is marketing re-branding for mainframe computing of the 1960s. The basic idea is very powerful. On the other hand, our computing needs are diverse. Cloud computing and local computing are complementary. Neither one will ever supplant the other.

  8. Here is a challenge for you.
    If you think that Internet Platform is all that
    then please ask Google to release Chrome OS.
    That is pure Web OS.
    Palm tried WebOS, they even called it WebOS.
    guess what it was built on WebKit (a Apple Technology).
    They were force to release another API for games.
    Even Google only had Java API to begin with in their Android.

    Why don’t you delete all the applications in your iPad
    and only work with Safari. Let see how long you last.

  9. The biggest problem with everything web based is that it’s a quick path to mediocrity. If you think about a Google’s ideal world, it’s a world where everything is free (as in “ad-based”) – “apps”, hardware, internet access. And no, it’s not that great. Before this kills Microsoft and Apple it will kill TomToms and Operas of this world. And that is because the web is a scale game – you get a handful of players that grab 90% of market cap. Think about it this way – before the iPhone got its Google Maps “app” there had been Google Maps as a web application two similar things, same service, totally different experience. Do you really want the latter over the former? I certainly don’t. And if you still want great experience you want some money behind building it, and that money is possible when there’s a value chain where software as a business still exists.

  10. @nemo, believe it or not, Google really is a different kind of company than Microsoft or Apple, and from what I see they’re not trying to lock their users in to their platform.

    At the Google I/O developers’ conference two weeks ago, almost every session taught open techniques to support competing platforms.

    + At the Android BootCamp session, we learned how to build an app that does web searches with Microsoft’s Bing search engine

    + At the GWT sessions, we learned how to build web apps that work on all browsers (IE, Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera), plus multiple form factors (desktop, iPhone, iPad, TV)

    + In the demo of their new Storage for Developers product, Google released a tool that lets you easily copy data *out* of Google’s cloud and *into* Amazon’s S3 storage platform

    * The App Engine for Business session added new Java integration with SpringSource to allow apps built for Google’s App Engine to run with minimal changes on Amazon’s EC2 or your own server, making lock-in a non-issue

    Google’s not being open for purely altruistic reasons. Being open plays to Google’s economic and competitive advantage.

    And Google’s openness has positive externalities for developers and users. Our collective knowledge and standard of living are higher because of Google’s openness.

    In contrast, the closed and coercive nature of Microsoft and Apple are making us collectively poorer and less knowledgeable.

  11. Just a couple of days ago was at PC World in North London buying a new laptop for my mother – incredibly PC aware at 90!

    Had to kill an hour while the store unloaded all their demo software off the machine, so strolled over to the crowd looking at the iPad that was released in the UK on the 28th, or thereabouts.

    Happened to start chatting to an Apple rep who was assisting and he readily admitted that there were a queue of other manufacturers close to releasing their version of the iPad, including Google, HP and, I think he said, Dell.

    Thus the euphoria over Apple’s release may be short-lived when the masses realise that there will soon be better and cheaper alternatives.

  12. Read “First There Was the Command Line” by Neal Stephenson. The PC versus Apple Model has followed the same theme from the very beginning. MS writes software, Apple makes integrated products. It would appear that the Apple Model has won based upon simplicity of use and reliable design. I don’t miss jerking around with a PC one bit. I want to generate content not hours of tweaking time.

  13. You’ve managed to summarize my frustrations quite well. The next question, of course, is *why* people are so happy to give up their independence. There is pretty much nothing that you can do on an iPhone app that you couldn’t build w/ web-tech (webOS being an example).
    There are probably two reasons
    a) Never underestimate the value of design – half the people I know who got iPhones did it because it was “cool”
    b) People want to be coddled (heck, our reactions after 9/11 say it all)

    Then again, if the better technology could always win, I’d probably have a Pony…

  14. I don’t want every appliance in my house to be “open” and run an open source OS, I appreciate well designed, stable, and reliable tools that do what they do well and fall into the background allowing me to do what I want to do.

    Apple has been on a long path attempting to slowly move personal computing and communicating into the appliance world. Another way to look at what many, including James, think is predatory control, all about making more money on the back end, can also be looked at as fanatical control of user experience so that the entire system: app store, iTunes, devices and computers feel more like appliances than ham radios.

    No doubt there will be opportunities to get under the hood of computers and smaller devices for many years to come to keep tinkerers happy but in fact, not everyone is fretting about losing that capability on Apple’s devices, even old tinkerers like me.

    I don’t look at this as a zero sum game: Apple has made plenty of money and kept their user base quite happy with less than 10% of the personal computer market and I think there will be room for both the iPhone/iPad model and Android-based phones and pads in the near and distant future.

  15. Waldo Potemkin

    The trust we place in (allegedly) free enterprise to chart the course of our future seems terribly naive, if not downright 1950s.

    I believe our future ideally lies with the unfettered, non-class-contingent real-time flow of information.

    Any faction along this front vies only for increased market share–and undoubtedly sans query, “To what end?”

    It’s a shame, really, given the talent, creativity and awareness of so many of the corporals in this corporate war, who are perhaps the best suited to answer that question.

    But again, the goal is market share, and that unfortunately trumps the more expedient applications to effect an ideal future.

    Corporals could figure it out, at least a reasonable balance, but they rarely promote, especially when they can exploit.

  16. This is for any American Veterans or those currently serving in the Armed Forces who gave their lives so we can debate these issues on the internet and express our individual opinions and feelings on issues in a free, democratic society. Even other nations owe some thanks to you. Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai forgot to put the “thank you” note in the mail. Don’t worry, I hear Secretary Geithner will pick it up on his next exchange rate negotiations trip. Those Japanese language lessons in southern China would have been very bothersome.

  17. Well, judging by their steps, I’d say not.
    They’ve open-sourced:
    1) Chromium (Google Chrome minus branding)
    2) Android (Google’s mobile OS)
    3) Chromium OS (Google’s browser-based OS)
    4) VP8 (under WebM, the most powerful alternative to H.264)
    5) EtherPad (simple online word processor)
    6) Wave (powerful e-mail/forum/comment system/… alternative)
    And more (language detection mechanism, fonts, …)

    It even demonstrated the use of Microsoft’s Office web apps with Google Chrome OS.

  18. David Petraitis

    James,

    Capitalism tends towards oligopoly. The intentions of individual firms in trying the create competitive advantage, in fact tend also to lead toward this result. Apple has tried, and succeeded in creating a new networked computing ecosystem. The central feature of which is actually the iStore, not the iPhone, iPad, or iTunes application. This is the “moat” or “choke point” that they have built over the past few years. To try to get into network based media (music, videos, apps) supported with a pay as you go model without playing in Apple’s ecosystem is difficult, as even Google is finding out.

    Google also has a choke point around a differing ecosystem model: free search and media paid for by advertising. To try to get into advertising supported networked based media without using Google is problematic for content producers.

    Each ecosystem is different and each has a dominant firm in it. The interest of the other players within the ecosystems are not innovation per se, but rent seeking behavior, with all the limits to competition that that type of behavior creates. The fact that there are two ecosystems competing is where the innovative things will happen e.g. a new ecosystem will pop up, innovation at the edges.

    Also just a last comment on fast internet. The internet in the USA is also oligopolistically divided with the three or four major firms seeking rents. The US as a country is now lagging in average internet speed. We now rank 25th in the world in average internet speed (information 2010 from Speedtest.net). This shows how “free market” capitalism provides the “best services” because of relentless competition (ironic comment) Here the firms have incentive to keep prices high and costs low, thus do not pay the infrastructure build out costs early and proactively as a competitive strategy. Other countries do better by having the government incentivise internet speed build out. For the record South Korea is first ranked with average download (yes average!) of 34Mbps. The competition for internet build of the early 2000’s, and the subsequent bust, left the US with a small number of large players who have little economic interest in speed as a competitive tool.

    The information technology industry will move under the pressures of internet speed and content development and innovation to the new leaders of IT: overseas.

  19. Well stated. However, if you need you apps and data while hiking in the back country you may have your priorities in life screwed up. Take a risk once in awhile – it gives life flavor.

  20. If it kills terms like “value chain” it is worth it’s weight in gold.

  21. All great examples of “open source in theory vs. open source in the real world”.

    I will refer you to one article about Android from a Linux kernel developer and leave the rest as an exercise for the reader.

    If you do not understand how Google is trying to dominate the marketplace with anti-competitive practices — again, just like every other large company that has ever existed — then you do not understand their strategy.

    People are so easily deceived.

  22. Although I love my iPOD, I hate being locked in. I’ll be gettin’ my tablet with Chrome or it’s progeny.

  23. I already commented (and ranted) on this in Part I since I could guess where James was going with this “article”. Unfortunately I think James is being a bit too cynical this time. Often he’s right on the mark, especially when it comes to Apple’s marketing of their “App Store” (make it sound new and cool and you have a strategy to make millions).

    Admittedly, I skimmed this article once I saw I was correct and would like to correct James on a few points:
    1) As Anthony Cooper said, “Flash is a cruddy, CPU hogging bit of code” so it’s not just that Apple is trying to push you towards their App Store
    2) Java is not something you can just run anywhere. You need to install the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and need to have a C++ compiler installed (because Java is built on top of C++)
    3) Most programming languages (assuming you have their compilers installed) will run anywhere unless you are including specific libraries (like in C) that are meant for one operating system over another (i.e. imlib or some other linux libraries for designing a window manager).
    4) Android development is FREE! iPhone/iPad development requires a license which only Apple can sell to you
    5) An iPhone/iPad developer can give away their Apps for free
    6) The iPhone is not a smartphone in the same way as a BlackBerry. With the exception of Apple’s actual computers, everything else is designed to be for your entertainment.. not for work. This is why people who use their iPhone’s for work and then get screwed get scolded by Apple and end up buying something else at the same time.

  24. James, thanks for this post. I got an iPod Touch b/c I needed something small, light, pocket-portable to discreetly check email while at work (which blocks all email, Twitter, FB, etc.). Almost all the apps I have are free. Some sites, the experience of using the app is better than the website or device (HuffPost (no annoying banner or animated ads and great formatting) (Kindle app, also free and nicely backlit with good-sized text, so no need to buy actual Kindle). Not pleased w/ Apple ban on Flashplayer, and suspect you are absolutely right about the developer cross-platform ban.
    The iPad seems like a rip-off to me, so I just bought a netbook (HP mini), which has an excellent keyboard. My wifi access for both the netbook and the iTouch is the MiFi w/ Sprint service. (Great device, weighs nothing, very happy with it.) At home, Dell laptop w/ broadband cable-modem access (replacement for desktop and DVD player in one).
    BTW, read 13 Bankers (on my Kindle app – iTouch), congrats on the book; just wish it had more ‘color,’ such as vivid stories of the type of reporting we’ve heard on Planet Money – TAL.
    Enjoy your summer, but those cases will presumably be very tough to litigate and also to work on. Cheers, CLN

  25. Kwak, I liked your post. You see below surface appearances. I wrote the following blog entry linked to your post.

    http://www.3sigma.com/apple-istuf-in-a-post-bp-world/

    I wrote a blog entry about the much-hyped Apple IPad release back in early April, before the BP disaster (BBP), titled “IPod, IPhone, and IPad: Tied Down and Locked In”. My main idea was that although information age technologies have the potential to liberate people, in the hands of profiteering con artists, they tend to become powerful instruments of enslavement.

    In his Baseline Scenario posts, “The Future of Personal Computing, Part I and Part 2, James Kwak has captured my meaning quite well. Read Part 2 if you want to cut to the chase. He wrote:

    …[W]hy I find the app craze so perplexing: it seems like a giant step backward, back to a pre-Internet world where we had to install a bunch of separate applications on our computers, and developers had to write different programs for each operating system. It seems worse than that, even, because with Apple the only place you can get software is from the App Store, which means that Apple gets to decide what can run on your iPhone.

    The comments following Kwak’s article are of particular interest to me. Quite a few of the commentators have clearly drunk Steve Jobs’ Apple Kool Aide, a brew that has raised him to the status of a techno-guru in the eyes of American consumers and business pundits. His methods remind of nothing more than how U. S. auto makers created brand loyalty and bilked million so people in the 50’s and early 60’s, when chrome grills and big fins defined value in a car. Style without substance is a powerful drug and as the infamous P. T. Barnum observed, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

    There’s a big difference between Jobs and his like, and P. T. Selling expensive, gas-guzzling transportation machines that are designed to fail, entombs bodies inside garish steel-mobiles, but information technology can entrain minds through gadgets that can be used to control not just what people think, but how they think!

    In his article, Kwak compares Google with Apple. He suggests that Google’s path is toward openness and Apple’s is toward closed-ness. He makes a good point, though I tend to think that Google is not entirely altruistic in their road to openness, I do think that they have become captives of their own origins.

    Today, when someone Google’s the Internet, it really doesn’t matter which search engine they use. To “Google” means to search the Internet — just like Xeroxing a document meant to make a photocopy no matter what the brand of machine. But when it comes to Apple, it’s got to be “Apple” and nothing else will do — just like parking a ’59 Caddie with 15-inch fins in your driveway could not be confused with a ’59 Chevy at the curb.

    I understand that we should not begrudge either P. T. Barnum or Steve Jobs for exploiting suckers for a buck. What bothers me is the potential of Apple’s model for enslaving people’s minds just when we need free minds most.

    In a Post-BP world (PBP), people do not need to be diddling with Apple toys and running Apple-approved Apps. They need to be Googling information, sifting through ideas, and adopting informed opinions about how to make a better world. We need to embrace substance over style and openness over closed-ness, and anything that reverses these priorities — that distracts people’s minds from the things that matter — does a disservice to human beings. Profits be damned!

    Here’s how Kwak wrapped it up:

    Conceptually, I still think the best thing for consumers is a model that is open on every level: web-based development, so that content and functionality are available at the same time for anyone using any browser, allowing competition among operating systems and, for a given operating system, between different hardware manufacturers. … Now Apple wants to lock people into their hardware and OS and create an ecosystem of developers, applications, and content that you can only get through Apple.

  26. James raises some good points, but I think too soon declares the future of computing SOLELY open. As Silly Things has noted, the customer’s desire for control of their intellectual property will ultimately determine the question. At this time, the convenience the Internet offers attracts many who would have in an earlier age considered much more carefully the privacy implications of that convenience. Businesses will always set up firewalled platform based applications for their most important intellectual property; it would be foolish not do do so. The very openness and accessibility of the web is also its greatest danger.

    We see the intense backlash against Facebook’s privacy technology (today is Quit Facebook Day, by the way); it only points out that the only way to pay for web-based applications is to monetize the user through either incessant and distracting ads or the distribution of their personal information.

    Platform based apps like Office cost money because they can’t insert ads or sell personal data and hope to keep their customer base. As well, these applications cost money because their users want an efficent tool that concentrates on the task at hand. For example, I would not install a CAD tool on my computer that forced me to watch a start-up ad every time I launched the tool; I would also not want the open access to the web that that functionality would require.

    The future of computing is both Apple/Microsoft and Google. Casual content consumption, what most consumer computing is, requires a different approach than enterprise computing.

    Perhaps Jobs’ greatest vision is that he’s created a closed content delivery system that can monetize personal information as well as the equipment and programs the system runs on. Thus, Apple can adjust the amount of perceived privacy and distraction to maximize their customer’s desire for control.

  27. silly things

    What if you need a gps and map app while hiking?

    What if you want to log your hike?

    If the hiking use case still doesn’t do it for you, how about traveling aboard on a trip (business or otherwise)! Well, I won’t belabor the point since it is just to easy too come up with a dozen more use cases without even trying.

  28. Whatever happens to the term I don’t care, that’s not the point anyway.

  29. I think your analysis is too hard on Apple, for a couple of reasons.

    The biggest selling point of the iPhone is not the App Store, but Safari. For the first time you could have the true web in your pocket. Just like I spend more time in Firefox than in all my other desktop apps combined, so too I spend more time in Safari than in all my other iPhone apps combined. Steve Jobs is very much a proponent of the open web and the shift to the cloud. Of course they want their taste (see MobileMe and Flash) but in sum they are pro web.

    With that in mind, the App Store can play a useful role not as replacement for but complement to the open web. There are some things you just can’t do on the (mobile) web yet. Media is one – too bandwidth intensive. So I still need my iPod app. (Streaming is coming via LaLa but is not viable stand alone yet.) Paid content is another – people aren’t ready to pony up online yet. (You make the point that Apple makes money off this trend, which is true, but developers / content producers make much more money, which in the end is a good thing for the software / media business, and therefore good for society. Don’t hate on newspapers having apps, it’s a great development for their business model crisis.)

    The big question isn’t “Does the smartphone model of no-compromise mobile browser + app store work?” It does. The big question should be “What’s the better app store model, Apple’s closed model or Android’s open model?” There are several Nash equilibria here, including Apple wins, Android wins, and various forms of coexistence. Apple model brings more “active freedom” (freedom from porn, from scam, from bugs, etc.) while Android obviously brings more variety and competition. I’m not sure which scenario will happen, or which would benefit consumers most, but my money is on Apple. Once they get on Verizon and iPad 2.0 comes out the iPhone OS is going to blow up, even compared to current baseline trends. At the end of the day they have the first mover advantage with developers and show zero sign of letting their foot off the gas pedal. Android can certainly carve out a sizable chunk in the market which, at the end of the day, is all they really want – a seat at the table to keep standards open so Google can keep selling ads as content shifts to the web. And I think a robust competition between iPhone and a strong number 2 in Android will keep all parties honest and be great for consumers.

  30. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Apple makes integrated products, and more power to them. Not only do they make the products, they support them well (which IMVHO is even harder than making them in the first place).

    I wish Adobe well, but frankly the hours of life that I have wasted with cross-platform issues are too many to count. For that reason alone, I admire Apple and view their ‘our platform only’ as a model of sanity.

    The point about an app is that once you have it mapped out, although it would be nice to make it in Flash and simply push a button to compile an Apple/iPad version, in my experience things are never that simple.

    It would be nice if they were.
    But I’ve never had that novel experience, so if Apple has to err on the side of caution and take heat for looking monopolistic, so be it. Performance and user experience are not worth the sacrifice of allowing anyone’s almost-tested-but-not-quite-perfect stuff onto a system that you’ve spent years perfecting.

    In addition, once you’ve mapped out an app, whether you write it in Flash’s ActionScript, does not prevent you from rewriting an Objective-C version. So the claim that Apple is somehow ‘restricting access’ or shutting people out doesn’t hold water for me.

    My concerns are more related to users:
    — In general, I find that people at blogs like this don’t tend to think much about the vast number of marginally literate adults in the world, even here in the USA. Those people need something like iPhone or iPad that will enable them to obtain and grasp information in visual formats. Arguable, Apple may understand ‘visual’ even more than Adobe — which is really sticking my neck out. But that’s how many people need to be reached.

    — I think that this post fails to think ‘multimediacally enough’ (a new term that I just invented). The publishing business has had years of heartburn, and frankly if anyone wants to talk about monopolistic bullying then they should look at the way Amazon removed ALL the ‘buy buttons’ on ALL the MacMillan books within 3 days of the announcement of the iPad.

    — Amazon’s Kindle is … well, it is what it is. It’s sure NOT an iPad! And it also does not run Flash.
    But Amazon has basically held publishers in a near death-grip over the price of eBooks; they stuck to $9.99, despite the fact that was putting publishers in the position of laying people off, cutting contracts, and generally wreaking havoc so that Amazon could control the eBooks sales.

    — This post argues that Apple is somehow ‘locking out’ others, or acting in a controlling fashion. Talk to a book agent, or a book publisher! Apple offers those folks a ray of hope, from what I can gather. Whereas Amazon basically held them hostage at prices that strangled the publishers and authors, along came Apple and said, “Sure, we’ll let you set your own prices, and oh, by the way, we have this incredibly awesome high resolution screen that is phenomenally more beautiful than the Kindle.”

    — For the reasons above, I wish Apple and Jobs all the luck in the world. From where I sit, and what I’ve seen they’ve been forces of liberation from the strangehold of Amazon’s culture of Global Dominance. And that’s no small thing.

    — For book publishers, the iPad may be the first real chance to deliver writing with well-integrated video, diagrams, dragAndDrop functionality… in short, iPad may be the first really fine learning tool, because it can deliver iBooks with well integrated media.

    — I think this post is seriously missing the multimedia promise of iPad and iBooks. Nothing else that I’ve seen even comes close. Imagine a version of 13Bankers that includes text links to video clips of interviews, or of diagrams, or links to public documents, or to magazine or news sources (or HuffPo). For many potential readers, that’s what they need; they won’t just read the text, but they might read some of it if they had ‘assistance’ or tutorials or a spreadsheet with an audio clip to walk them through how a derivative is sold by Bank A to Bank B, etc, etc, etc.

    — I think that this post is viewing Apple’s motives as **purely** economic. Of course Apple has economic motives, but given its emphasis on quality there are other key factors that really need to be considered. If keeping Flash off the iPad means fewer performance issues, and more happy users, then they made the right call simply on technical criteria.

  31. 1) Flash may not be perfect, but it does work fine on most computers and devices not made by Apple. Anthony Cooper is clearly bias in favour of Apple (i.e. fanboy), and by backing up his one line statement you lend yourself no credibility. I must agree with the author of this article, if Adobe weren’t a threat, Apple would’t be making such a fuss.

    2) While it is true that you do need to install the JVM to run Java apps, the JVM is already pre-installed on many platforms (as is flash), and therefore the “write once, run anywhere” slogan is not entirely wrong either. Your assertion that you need a C++ compiler installed however is completely incorrect since the JVM is already compiled, no more than you would need an iPhone OS compiler installed in order to run your iPhone apps.

    3) Incorrect. Most languages will not run on multiple platforms, not because it isn’t in theory possible, but because most of the companies that produce those languages either don’t bother, or actively discourage the porting of those specific libraries you talk about to other platforms. Apple is one of those companies.

    6) So why did Apple just port their “iWork” apps to the iPad? Don’t be fooled, if they can grab a share of the business market they will. So far they haven’t tried hard enough, and are still out classed in many areas there. That is not to say that some day they won’t make a stronger play in that direction.

  32. Well if I were into hiking I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t bet my life on the iPhone GPS and map app. I’d have a dedicated “proper” GPS tool.

    Same goes for business, and while I’ll admit that the iPhone would be entertaining, I would be relying on my Blackberry.

    I do agree that the current state of play is that apps and online computing are required, it isn’t a big stretch to see the day when apps effectively are part of the browser and allow both on and offline work. For instance, Google docs offline is an example today, and you can already save websites from your browser to read offline if you so choose.

  33. LOL, probably not very long since Apple have banned Flash, Sliverlight and Java, and since Safari doesn’t play well with Google apps. Get the point?

    And while Webkit is sort of an “Apple technology” as you call it, it was serived from open source and continues to be developed by a whole host of companies, not just Apple. Probably why they couldn’t make it proprietary like they would have wished. Here is a quote from wikipedia:

    “WebKit was originally derived by Apple Inc. from the Konqueror browser’s KHTML software library for use as the engine of Mac OS X’s Safari web browser and has now been further developed by individuals from the KDE project, Apple Inc., Nokia, Google, Bitstream, Torch Mobile and others”

  34. Absolutely. Case in point. I still use Microsoft Money 3.0 to track my finances. It was new in 1994. I paid $10 for it, if I remember right. But it can run on any computer in my house, including the old Toshiba laptop we never fire up anymore. I can carry it around on a thumb-drive and use it on any machine I like. For the past 16 years, it has worked great, better than the occasional systems I’ve tested to replace it, and it hasn’t cost me another dime. And I don’t have to worry about some website getting hacked or doing something with my personal information. I’ve had my credit card stolen a half-dozen times online, but never through my “app”.

    Not all of us make so much money that an IPhone makes any sense whatsoever. Data plans are even worse. So I have internet access at home and at work, and just about nowhere else. There are a lot of people out there who can’t justify paying for expensive internet service, but can use the apps that came with their computer.

  35. Have you actually read the commentary around this?

    To put you straight:

    1) HTML 5 != Video, this is just one element of the standard.

    2) HTML 5 is just a standard (i.e. a design). Funnily enough, the actual implementation of this standard (for the video parts) that Apple and Microsoft back is patent encumbered by them, i.e. you will have to pay Apple and Microsoft to use their version of the standard.

    3) HTML 5 doesn’t address the fact that Flash, Sliverlight, Java, etc. can deliver more than video. They can deliver apps too, which is why Apple has banned these technologies.

    4) You mean “future” wide spread adoption don’t you? You may be right that future wide spread adoption of HTML 5 and the video codecs that go with it will make Flash “less” relevant in the future. But given that Flash has wide spread adoption today, does that make Apple irrelevant today?

  36. Domination of the market doesn’t neccessarily mean lock-in of users.

    Yes, I agree that if Google are allowed to expand unchecked then eventually it will lead to lock-in.

    However Google already dominate the market, and yet I can still use Google for mail and MSN messenger for IM.

  37. Your article is out of date. According to recent discussion on LWN, Android is going to be merged back into the mainline kernel. And besides, although android was previously removed from mainline the entire source was still available via git/kernel.org.

    Branching != proprietary evil software.

  38. “I don’t want every appliance in my house to be “open” and run an open source OS”

    I don’t think you understand what that word means. There is a reason that apple has been compromised at every pwn to own while chrome and linux have escaped unscathed and secure:

    http://www.engadget.com/2008/03/27/pwn-2-own-over-macbook-air-gets-seized-in-2-minutes-flat/

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/security/pwn2own-2009-safarimacbook-falls-in-seconds/2917

    Apple is inferior in every way to open source when it comes to security.

  39. I do agree with many of your points including the relevence of an App store and Web browser today.

    I would have to disagree with your “active freedom” assertion though. I would say this comes from more control, not more freedom. Yes, you enjoy the benefits of that control, such as less scams, porn, etc. But you also suffer from the restrictions that this control places on your freedoms, such as which technologies you are allowed to use, and which apps you are allowed to install. It doesn’t take a big leap to consider what would happen if that control extended to which websites you were allowed to visit, what news you were allowed to read, and what you were allowed to post.

    That said, there must be some control for there to be order, which benefits everyone, which is why we have governments, etc. The comments on Android being fragmented are valid, which is why the best Android phones are from those companies that extend some control to Android such as HTC with their Sense interface.

    However, companies like Apple have the balance wrong in my opinion. They try to control far too much, and take away too many freedoms, whilst saying that it is for the benefit of their users, without ever asking them.

    So I’ll ask the question. Would we allow our governments to restrict or remove our freedoms, without asking questions? So why should we allow Apple to do the same?

  40. A shovel is a fine tool for digging holes, but a shovel that can only dig holes where the guy who sells it to you says you can dig holes…. Well I’m thinking maybe he just wants me to pay him to dig his holes.”

  41. NancyinStLouis

    Us old timers managed hiking and backpacking w/o a GPS quite nicely. We used USGS contour maps and a compass. It’s fun/challenging to match the landscape to the map’s contours and figure out where you are. (We obviously didn’t get lost in the wilderness, since I’m typing this.)

    We never “logged” a hike/backpack, but may have taken a notebook and a pencil or two. We also took film cameras, like my 35 mm Nikon Ftn.

    Sounds like navigation skills are going the way that calculation skills went when calculators became commonplace.

  42. NancyinStLouis

    Amen! We had a Sony MP3 player that I loaded digitized version of all our CDs. But the format was proprietary. Luckily, when we got an iPod, Sony had given up on its format and provided a tool to convert to MP3. I refuse to import any songs into iTunes format. I convert everything into MP3, including our LP collection.

    I’d love to have an e-reader for the family trip to Alaska, rather than carrying enough paperbacks to entertain myself on the plane ride up and back. But Kindle and others are using different, proprietary formats. I’ll wait until it all shakes out.

    Shades of VHS vs. Beta formats for video tapes…

  43. I would have to disagree. Apples motives are purely economic, and quality and the other consideration are what Apple sells it’s products on, so of course it pays attention to them.

    Keeping Flash off the iPad/iPhone has nothing to do with happy users, and in fact makes for many unhappy users, even those that love Apple products. If Apple really wanted to it could help make Flash more performant or even do something simple like include Flash but allow you to disable it.

    Flash, Silverlight, and Java are not allowed for one reason, because they allow web based apps to compete with App store apps.

  44. That’s why competition from Android is so important. The best position for me as a consumer is as an iPhone owner with a strong Android threat that keeps Apple from abusing its power. I get Apple’s control with Android stimulating innovation. That’s why open markets where you opt in to contracts are good while tyrannical governments are bad.

    Re active freedom… check out this:

    http://gawker.com/5539717/steve-jobs-offers-world-freedom-from-porn

  45. Try a sony e-reader…:) Weird as it sounds, they support all the open standards ebook formats. I have one and love it. Some things come full circle.

  46. Just yesterday I was driving in the Hollywood Hills. Certainly not the “backcountry”, but a hilly neighborhood, and with twisty confusing roads. At one point, my iPhone could not help me navigate because it could not connect to the Internet.

    Obviously I was not “hiking,” nor was I “betting my life” on the iPhone. I was in a major metropolitan area where AT&T coverage is generally considered pretty good. Nevertheless, the iPhone would have been more useful to me yesterday if it did more local caching and local processing and was less reliant on the Internet.

  47. LOL, nice link and conversation.

    I’m with you, I do think Apple execute their products exceedingly well, and I wish you the best using them.

    However, it is a slippery slope, and the more people who agree tacitly to Apple’s control, defend and make excuses for them, the more people who will further be persuaded and cede to Apple’s control.

    Your idea only works if people like me take a stance and pick the alternative, say an Android phone. As I have said, I do like Apple products, and could easily see myself enjoying them, but it is on principle that I choose not to use them. Not everyone will be willing to stand on principle, or to be fair even realise there is a principle involved when picking Apple products.

    Your idea only works if Apple never “win”, but keep trying. I hope you’re right, otherwise we’ll all be computing in a walled garden one day.

  48. Alas, Alexander, Flash works today on exactly ZERO smartphones. In the last week, Adobe released its first beta versions for one model of Android. It fully supports the assertion that Flash is NOT ready for prime time: buggy, slows down the phones, and burn through batteries fearfully fast.

    Basically, Flash works fine on desktop Windows and decently-to-badly on some linux and Mac desktops. (See earlier comments about burning thru a large fraction of a desktop’s available compute power; the more favorable Windows numbers don’t count the graphics processors.)

    But smartphones are computers with 10% of the computing power of a desktop, a small fraction of the working memory (3% for my phone vs my laptop), and an even more restricted power setup: my iPhone battery wouldn’t power my laptop’s *graphic* processor for five minutes, which burns twice the wattage of the Intel inside it.

    Adobe has announced they won’t even try to port Flash to something like 95% of all the smartphones now in use. And, of course, there are zero other Flash implementors in the wild because Flash is often distributed with secret features that Adobe does not document. (Never mind that the Flash spec is lousy with “(C) Adobe Systems.”

    How anybody confuses this (Eh, James???) with “open” utterly astonishes me. Apple has the bad manners to call Adobe on its BS but otherwise hasn’t really restricted Adobe at all — they are doing it to themselves.

  49. Good summary. It will be a great battle between Google and Apple. Eric Schmidt got his butt kicked at WordPerfect by Bill Gates so I think he knows how to attack Apple’s iPhone closed world. I like the iPhone and iPad with the app model for a few reasons: apps are cheaper than PC software, and easy to install and use, apps are stable on iPhone platform. As well, Apple customer experience is unmatched at the retail level. I’m almost happy to spend money there. Finally, Apple products fit into my life, I don’t have to adjust to poor design like so many other non-Apple products.

  50. “Apples [sic] motives are purely economic…”
    What?!? I’m shocked, SHOCKED!!! How come they don’t copy Google, which is the world’s largest charity?

    “Keeping Flash off the iPad/iPhone has nothing to do with happy users…”
    I beg to differ. Yes, of course I would like to be able to view my favorite restaurants’ web pages, see the WSJ and NYT news articles or slideshows, etc.

    But even though I believe it would have been technologically impossible on either the first or second generation iPhones, and iffy on the current iPhone, the iPad and the soon-to-be-announced iPhone seem to have the power. Except that Adobe, caught as flat-footed by the iPhone revolution as Ballmer, has only buggy, battery-eating beta versions out there.

    This type of crapware totally destroys a computer’s reputation; heck, even the simple kerfuffle over music synchronization pretty much stole the thunder from Palm, despite their being THE smartphone pioneer and despite having created a nice user experience and decent hardware. Just like Doonesbury killed the first iPad (aka, Newton), a remarkably powerful ultra-personal computer. Just like the HP FrankenSlate destroyed the HP-Microsoft relationship.

    Some companies can get away with throwing crap at the wall and hope that by version three, people will put up with its faults. But those companies aren’t the ones that invent the future. Remarkable that people take potshots at Apple’s technology and business decisions when it has been spectacularly successful for exactly those reasons.

  51. Amen, David.

    Please add “mobile phones” to your list of American oligopolies. And please include special note of how the FCC auctions, which help the oligopolies lock up huge chunks of spectrum, intentionally help wall out would-be competitors.

  52. silly things

    Yeah, before the fancy USGS contour maps and the compass, people navigated by the stars in the sky!

    To be honest, civilization regularly discards obsoleted skills as technology evolve. When was the last time you made a fire by rubbing sticks together? I think it is a good thing! Life is too short. Better spend it learning something useful.

  53. This has a familiar echo:

    “Now, Google isn’t pursuing an open strategy because it’s nice; they’re doing it because they want everyone to go to the Internet to see their ads.”

    A couple of thoughts that I didn’t see represented above:

    a) This could very well continue on as a class issue. If you can afford the integrated Apple world, you have a much less frustrating overall experience, and are able to do everything you need or want to do (except get easy porn) without twisting yourself in knots trying to decide what to buy or how to make it work with something else.

    b) If people have important information, what percent of them trust that they will have access to it at critical moments if it’s out on the cloud? Internet and power outages occur less and less, but they still occur enough to give one large pause. Many trust the cloud enough to backup their data there, but I doubt many trust enough to maintain their apps online exclusively, and if they do, that seems foolhardy.

  54. I think you have moved beyond your area of expertise.

  55. “It’s inevitable that we are going to use smaller computers with touchscreen input”

    I disagree. The ergonomics of small devices suck now for the same reason the ergonomics of small devices will always suck: small devices are small. They have small screens that aren’t much fun to watch a movie on; small keyboards that are a pain to type on; and if they use the screen as the keyboard then they have even less screen space to show things to the user.

    Small devices will continue to improve, but I don’t think they will ever take over the computing world because it’s too much of a hassle for humans to interface with them for long periods of time.

    Pocket computers can no more replace full-size computers than motorcycles can replace cars.

    (On the other hand, TVs may be headed for extinction or merging with the full-size computer.)

  56. You don’t have to be an idealist to pick Android. There are practical benefits – more Apps. As long as enough people are willing to pick diversity over control (and vice versa) the competition between Google and Apple will remain strong and we’ll all benefit.

  57. John Smith

    James, you raise some interesting points but neglected to point out the obvious reason that computers will never be entirely web-based. Control. Not everyone has access to the web at all times in all places. If you’re going on vacation in the mountains and you’ve got a critical report to finish, you’re going to be damned sure the application is on your computer and the only thing you need to finish the report is an electrical outlet to power your laptop. And that goes for every aspect of productive computing, as opposed to web-based consuming computing.

    That being said, Apple’s strength and its weakness has always been their “our way or the highway” approach to business. Even when CEOs during the sans Jobs years tried to change this they couldn’t make it work because Microsoft already owned the market. So Apple just embraced the iconoclast approach.

    Further to the point, Jobs has always been a control freak. It’s a double-edged sword among some visionaries…they want to change the world, but in a way that conforms to how they see it should be. That has served Apple well because they make very good products and have always been at the vanguard of the personal computing industry. But their stubbornness has proven their stumbling block over and over again, and it likely will with their latest attempt at “our way or highway” computing. Companies like Google and such will come in and fill the void that Apple’s paranoid mentality leave vacant.

    All that being said, I’ve always used Apple computers (I don’t own a smart phone; don’t see the need for one), simply because they work better. But if someone comes along with a better product and a better approach, who knows? But web-based computing isn’t it as far as I’m concerned.

  58. I agree, and loved MS money in it’s early versions and I never hear anyone else talk about owning programs vs possibly having to pay monthly which I think will come in time. I see it like the TV antenna vs cable, cheap at first and now costly. Corporations want just one thing, everything!

  59. steve jobs will fail in this sneaky attempt to build a “gardened wall” around ipad/iphone…he’s still ticked off that bill gates beat him to the punch, so to speak, by embracing the “open licensing” concept for windows in the early ’80s which ushered the modern era of personal computing as we know it today and created a tsunami of computer related hardware/ software industry around the world…think india, china, malaysia, philippines, ireland, silicon valley, boston’s route 128, austin, texas just to name a few…good luck trying to convince a billion or so users of the (free) internet that they’ll have to switch to a new “revolutionary” concept called ipad alternate universe and by the way you’ll have to start paying for everything in this new ipad universe where you used to get things for free…oh i forgot to mention most of this billion internet users are in what we call “third world/developing” countries where people live on less than $5 a day…that should buy you 2 apps in steve jobs “new world”…too little too late for apple to fight this battle…this war’s already been won…and the (regular) people of the world won

  60. Chris Baker

    Yes, the first iPhone didn’t have 3rd party apps, everything was web-based.
    The problem with web-apps is that a person needs to be connected to the web to use them. Once I leave my house, my iPod Touch is no longer connected to the internet. I don’t necessarily want to pay data rates to use web-apps on an iPhone or iPad. And in theory, aren’t web apps, just apps that you have to download every time you use them, rather than storing them on your computer/iPhone? I have an app that stores my passwords, credit card numbers, etc. That is definitely something I wouldn’t trust to be hosted by a web app. I believe native apps can also provide a lot more features than a web app, due to limitations of working within a browser v. the whole OS.

  61. I enjoyed reading the abridged summary of recent personal computing, but there are two points to make.

    Openess – the Internet and the web are all predicated on open standards. The problem with Flash is that it is not an open standard. Just because it may be ubiquitous does not make it an open standard.

    Connectivity – Internet-based computing may be a desirable model for some, but it only works with pervasive connectivity. I live in Silicon Valley, and even here, there are many dead 3G zones. Why would I depend on being connected to the Internet to be able to do any form of computing, content creation, or content consumption, when I find myself in so many different locations where there is no Internet connectivity? Apps provide the choice to thrive in world where global Internet connectivity in every nook and cranny is still a generation away.

  62. Don’t forget bandwidth.

    As memory/disks/CPUs get faster exponentially faster on either end of the Internet connection, the performance price for sending data over that connection gets larger and larger.

    Unless you see ISPs cranking up connection speeds (not likely where I live, in America), the more my app does locally, the better off I am.

    There is the battery life issue, but I have more faith in battery technology improving than in connection speeds quickening. The latter is in the hands of corporate America, the former in the hands, potentially, of scientists and startups.

  63. b.nimble wrote:

    “steve jobs will fail in this sneaky attempt to build a “gardened wall” around ipad/iphone…he’s still ticked off that bill gates beat him to the punch…”

    I think Mr. Job’s ever worried about failing or had a fear of flying.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs

  64. I don’t think I mentioned anywhere in my post about Android working on smartphones or otherwise.

    That said, alas Walt, you are 100% wrong. I have been using a HTC Hero smartphone for the last 9 months which uses Android 1.5, and it SHIPPED with Flash support (note, it is not even the latest version 2.2). You are welcome to check this out on the HTC website.

    Now, I rarely use the Flash support, as I don’t play games or watch movies on my phone, however the few times I have wanted to play a video clip, or run a Flash app, I have been able to, i.e. I have had the choice!

    Now your “open” comment comes directly from the Steve Jobs propaganda play book, and I guess I’m not surprised to hear you repeating it, but it is getting tired. I wish people would think for themselves.

    I have worked in software for the last 20 years, so think I have a fair idea of what “open” is and what it is not. Apple is definately NOT open. It limits and locks it’s software and hardware, and when that doesn’t work it restricts what you can do by altering it’s licence agreements and using it’s patent portfolio. I’m not sure what your idea of “open” is, but does that sound even close?

    And please don’t repeat that BS from Steve Jobs about “open standards”. As I have already mentioned in another post, while the H.264 standard may be open, the implementation of that standard that Apple support is patent encumbered by them, so of course Apple want you to use the “open” standard, since you will be paying them lots of money to do so. If you really want to use an open implementation of H.264, then go with the version Google just open sourced.

    I’m not saying Adobe are any more “open”, however I’m not worried by a company that controls a single non-critical technology that has competition anyhow. I am worried by a company like Apple that has a large share of the market which is increasing, and is being investigated by the FTC, the DOJ, and the European commission for monopolistic practices, alleged price fixing and anti-trust violations.

  65. Oh, I have no problem with a company making money. It is how it does it that matters. Did you see the recent articles on suicides in Apple sweatshops in China? Or are you about to justify this as well?

    And it is rubbish that even the first generation iPhone couldn’t have run Flash. My HTC Hero can run Flash and the processor is 528 MHz. The original iPhone had a 620 MHz processor. Are you telling me the “Jesus” phone is less capable than an underpowered Android smartphone?

    Version 3? You mean the 3 versions it took Apple to get the iPhone right, i.e. iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPhone 3Gs? Most of my friends who use the iPhone are of the opinion it was only semi-usable as a phone until the 3rd version due to battery life and disconnection issues.

  66. Not to argue with myself, but for those who care, the HTC Hero shipped with “support for Flash.” What it did NOT include, was production-quality Flash.

    Gizmodo’s review of the Hero, for example, includes, “Flash support is more miss than hit—don’t expect to play Hulu videos (crash), or YouTube videos (they just won’t play, no matter how many times you mash the giant play button). Looks like we’ll have to wait for that more official implementation this fall, for a real solution.”

    I checked maybe a half dozen Google hits for “HTC Hero Adobe Flash Review” and all said YouTube didn’t work. Many also cited Hulu.

    Now my “open” comment was merely meant to respond to James’s comment, “the best thing for consumers is a model that is open on every level” and to say that Flash was anything but. I often watch Apple’s successes with interest, but my point here is pro-Apple only insofar as it is pro-Palm, pro-Blackberry, pro-WindowsMobile (well, a stretch) and pro-Nokia. Every one of those manufacturers has “refused” to put full Flash on their devices because it is Adobe that has not implemented it.

    Once again: Flash does NOT “work fine on … devices not made by Apple.” It works at least OK on most desktop- and laptop-class machines, but it’s unusably buggy or totally absent for the mobile devices that are the subject of James’s musings.

    And this IS important, even relevant to those who wish for the argument to turn back to economic ideas. Others say that capitalism tends towards oligarchy or monopoly, and today, Adobe is the exclusive provider of Flash readers, choosing by their profit motivation where they develop them and where not. Unlike Apple’s, Google’s, RIM’s or others’ devices, Adobe faces zero competition for their Flash standard. It’s a bit of a stretch to say that Adobe’s tying their Creative Suite to their Flash monopoly (which would be a recognized case for anti-trust action), but indeed, the overwhelming majority of their income come from the only tools for creating Flash. Many designers are almost compelled to use Adobe tools because those tools are the only practical way to develop Flash materials.

  67. You are somewhat correct Walt with regards to Flash on the HTC Hero. As I said, Flash is not perfect, but then what software is? And this version only supports up to Flash version 9 and therefore some sites don’t work. In addition, it is running on what most reviews indicate to be an under powered Android phone. But is does “work” for the sites it supports, and as such it gives a user choice, which to the point of this article is more “open”.

    You can see Flash working om the HTC Hero here:

    Now if a year old smartphone is capable of this, then what are smartphones of today capable of? The Nexus One is twice as fast as the HTC Hero, and this is what is possible:

    So, again, I assert, Flash works fine on “devices” not made by Apple, not because Apple devices aren’t capable of running Flash, but because Apple dictates what is allowed on their platform and what is not. This behaviour is more “closed”, in every sense.

    So, if we turn back to econmic ideas as you put it, then this closed behaviour that Apple insists on is bad for innovation and competition in general. If a smaller company like Adobe can be pushed out of the market by a big player like Apple, just because Apple doesn’t like their product, or more over that Apple feels that product threatens them, then what company is safe?

    What would have happened if Microsoft had been allowed to deny other browsers on Windows, on spurious performance grounds? You would have a web today that only worked with IE, and IE 6 at that, with no Safari, Firefox or Chrome.

    And I must say, I don’t know where you get your information that Flash has no competition? Microsoft Sliverlight and Java compete directly in that space and can provide exactly the same functionality, and actually before Flash became the leader, Java had much of the market. That is not to mention the much touted HTML 5/H.264 for video.

    Also Blackberry, Nokia and Google/Android have already announced they will have full Flash support, and in fact it will be built into Android 2.2., so it pretty much seems Apple is one of the few companies denying it’s users choice.

    The problem for Apple is, that while they are ahead of the curve, users will accept the limits and control, for a better user experience. However, we are reaching a tipping point where Apple innovation has slowed, and the competition has caught up, and in some cases already surpassed Apple.

    You only need to take a look at the HTC Desire versus the iPhone to see that whilst Apple has stayed static, Android, which didn’t even exist when Apple first launched the iPhone, has breezed past.

    That is the power of “open” versus “closed” systems and architectures. By trying to extert absolute control, you strangle innovation with it.

  68. Transferring data continuously doesn’t help battery life at all.

  69. release Chrome? It didn’t need to be released, it escaped. You want a copy? Go to the google site, find it, download, and install it.

    As I have onto a virtual machine running on a Kubuntu host. I’m not that impressed by it. The concept of HAVING to run apps from within a browser seems something of a PITA to me.

    That said, it might make a lot more sense for smartphone form-factors.

    A netbook or tablet screen is big enough that a more conventional desktop metaphor with minor mods may make more sense. I’m running a netbook right now with my far more powerful desktop box running in a remote control session in background right now.

    It’s a regular Kubuntu desktop, not one of the “netbook” configurations. Main difference? I tend to run one major app per desktop and switch desktops to change the app I’m working on. This is practically instantaneous, unlike switching apps on my Blackberry.

  70. If “the only thing ‘Internet’ about [the iPod] is that it can access the Internet to buy music,” how am I lying in bed reading your blog on my iPod, just after checking my e-mail and the weather and reading NPR and New York Times posts? I love my iPod more than my microwave.

  71. I think the sea change that the App model represents is business model. The stark contrast between the app store business model and the model of the web-based comparables is profoundly changing the relationship between developers and consumers. Lots of people play games on their PC from the myriad flash game sites, MSN game zone, etc. Many download shareware widgets from download.com or other sites. The primary revenue model of these sites is (like most of the web) selling ad space. Secondarily, they sometimes sell subscriptions to the full-versions too.

    In contrast to these other paradigms, the iTunes/Iphone/Ipad app phenomenon is powerful because of the simplicity in the payment model and marketplace, which created a means for programmers to get paid for their work in a scalable manner and be found by consumers.

    While I don’t enjoy how closed the Apple app model is in implementation, I agree with Apple that lightweight apps for .99, 1.99, 2.99 etc. are a breakthrough for both consumers and developers. On the web, I have to type in a boatload of payment info and worry about security (or use paypal or the like, which have complexity as well in practice). You also have plug ins, browser/OS compatibility and spyware/crapware threatening you at nearly every turn. The Internet is like a bazaar, but one where you can easily stagger into a peep show, get your pocket picked or search shop after shop without finding what you are looking for. Apple understands how to solve that, but the downside of their gated community is suppressed creativity and monopolistic control of what gets in the marketplace that serves their customers. If given a choice to connect your iphone to Apple’s app store or a third party app store, I think 90% or more would think with the walled garden. the 10% which includes slashdot and boingboing’s readership and editorial teams would connect to the opensource equivalent and trade off Steve Job’s aesthetics in order to get the incremental value (self satisfaction?) of being able to run Adobe Flash or whatever is banned from the gated community that week.

    Lastly, about the still nascent cloud-based everything world. Apple builds devices that embrace the reality of todays connectedness – its still sporadic. Caching your content and apps is still required, and will be for sometime. Airplane wifi penetration is probably still single digits. I tried using pandora in my car instead of my iPod cache of MP3s. I abandoned it after a week due to splotchy cell reception.

    When it comes to the media content and apps, Ipod, iPhone and iPod do well to view the Internet as a way to reload rather than experience/stream.

  72. Loved both parts of this! Also enjoyed the synopsis of programming languages – my co-workers and I had a side-splitting good time.

    Just a quick observation on “developer love.” Everybody HATED Microsoft – slow products, bad API’s, terrible tools, and Apple was the shiny glittering “new thing.” Slick hardware, slick software, great tools. It seems like developer love is definitely shifting back away from Apple though (Google iphone developer horror stories).

    On your last point, I have no desire to see anyone win this technology war; as long as they’re still competing, prices will keep coming down :).

  73. You have made some astute observations, but I think misinterpreted them.

    1) Why are apps popular?

    The internet was designed for a keyboard and mouse interface. Apps became popular because Apple gave developers fantastic tools and a huge market base, to easily develop touch based applications (remember your argument for why MS became successful?).

    2) Why no Adobe flash?

    The reason is NOT because it provides an alternative to Apple’s App Store. The reason is because it provides a proprietary alternative to Apple’s app store. Don’t forget that developers can write apps in HTML5, which Apple provides probably the best mobile implementation for. Btw, Flash is a terrible piece of software. Ignoring the fact that it is still not on any mobile platform (will be on Android when 2.2 is released, a whole 3 years after the iPhone), just consider something basic like accessibility, which Flash has none of.

    3) Mac software has been called apps for many years. In fact, like Windows has .exe to denote applications, Macs have had .app

    I think the App eco-system will win out, because the application is designed for the device it is running on. The internet will serve as a conduit for syncing your apps on different machines, each of which will run a version of the app designed for that machine.

    The Web App craze is similar to Java. Everyone heralded it as write once, run everywhere and it became immensely popular. However, devs figured it should actually have been “write once, debug everywhere”. In today’s day and age, its even worse, since not only are there development issues, but also design issues, since applications are being accessed by a host of machines with different screen sizes and different input mechanisms.

    Another reason is that successful Web Apps cost a ton of money to run, since the processing is being done on the developer’s dime, leaving the immense computing in the hands of consumers idle.

  74. @addicted, a quibble re: “Ignoring the fact that [Flash] is still not on any mobile platform (will be on Android when 2.2 is released, a whole 3 years after the iPhone)…” This still seems too optimistic.

    Google has announced only “support” for Flash, *NOT* Flash, which it doesn’t control. The current Flash beta is unstable, power-hungry and plays poorly with other apps.

    Note that the HTC Hero ALSO has offered “support” for Flash for many months, but the version on the Hero doesn’t work on the most common web sites using Flash, such as YouTube and Hulu.

    As you say, this is the status quo about a year after Adobe specifically targeted Android as its poster child, 3 years after the iPhone, 8 years after the first smart phone. I wonder what tricks Adobe can pull off in 30 days, the target release window, that they haven’t done in 3 years.

    Further, if Android actually offers Flash anywhere close to its current state, Google risks making the platform, otherwise rather spiffy, look unreliable and low-quality. So the first thing that users will demand from Android is a way to turn off Flash, making it a Pyrrhic victory for Adobe and its developers who sell ads based on Flash.

  75. Great article. Do not quite agree with all the points however. It is obvious that APP is all about the ecosysytem. They have smartly created a situation where ppl who own anything created by them have to operate within the ecosystem and the continue to grow this ecosystem.

  76. All software applications have been called “apps” since at least the mid nineties. Remember the term “killer app”? Not a phrase coined by anyone at Apple.

  77. Since a hot topic of discussion seems to be around the term “open”, I would like to bring up the one single thing that really gets under my skin about Apple.

    First of all, Apple has always been about a completely closed environment. It’s what nearly killed them.

    However, Apple’s new lease on life is owed entirely to open software. OS X is based on BSD. It’s why you hear some people say that OS X is Unix.

    That Apple is attempting to create lock-in is nothing new for them. That they’re doing it knowing full well that if they were not able to take BSD and create OS X out of it, they would not be in business today irks me, considering their totally proprietary approach.

  78. Nostradoofus

    Good post, and generally right. As the developer of two top-5 PalmOS applications back in the day (Fireviewer and Tiger Woods Golf), I can add some color as to why apps make design sense on mobile devices, but make no business sense to their developers.

    There are three defining design constraints on handhelds: small screen, short battery life and lack of full size keyboard. These constraints become painful when trying to interact with the general Web, which is designed for PCs that do not have those constraints. Users are conditioned by their PCs to expect a certain level of performance, which cannot be delivered on a handheld.

    As a general design principle, performance problems are often solved by optimization, which is a design tradeoff that gives up flexibility in return for gaining speed. You can think of apps as such an optimization. Each app throws away much of the general-purpose code and user interface of a browser, in return for gaining speed and ease of use at a specific, narrow effort. So this does make design sense on the iPhone and iTouch, but perhaps less sense on the iPad, which is more like a PC.

    What makes still less sense is why anyone would develop an app for the App Store, as nearly all are negative NPV. Monopoly distribution is a recipe for app developer pain. This is why I ran in the other direction from app development, despite prior success on Palm, and my fanboy reverence for Apple products. Business is business.

  79. Agreed. Now, taking an open source product and making money from it in and of itself is not a bad thing, but given how much Apple have gained from the community, they have given very little back.

    It is also often said that Apple care about their users which is clearly rubbish. They do create products that work well for their users, but that is not the same as caring about their customers. At every turn they scorn and ignore their customers requests and ideas, they sue the Apple fan magazines for daring to predict or report on product rumours, and they brainwash their customers that they don’t need features like cut and paste, multitasking, tethering and Flash.

    I hear the latest missing feature (that Apple say you don’t need) is that you can’t even sync your iPhone with your iPad, they both need to sync with a Mac, so Steve Jobs assertion that the PC/Mac is obsolete is a little difficult to take seriously since an iPhone/iPad is pretty useless without one.

    At the end of the day, Apple is a selfish arrogant company. Pride comes before fall, it’s only a matter of time.

  80. Actually, Google have built Flash *natively* into both the next version of the Chrome web browser, and Android 2.2. This means that Flash will be a core part of the browser or OS.

    So Flash “support” funnily enough means support for Flash, and natively.

    http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/chrome_gets_native_flash_support_more_in_beta_rele.php

  81. Oh, great, James. You’re advocating an advertising-funded world here. This is my big gripe w/ the internet—and TV, and… and…. You can’t escape the ads.

  82. randy riggs

    James:

    You recommend a completely open model. While that sounds good, it doesn’t work in the real world. In the real world, there has to be rules that govern how things work. The open model has proven to be a failure which is the windows model. Anyone can develop an application …..yes it has be under windows …. but that’s the only rule…….what do we have?……….driver issues……OS lockups…….OEMs and software companies pointing the finger at each other of who is at fault. This is a failure.

    Apple is trying to keep a disciplined approach toward it’s computing environments because it doesn’t want the same chaos in the OS X arena that windows has.

    I switched to mac 2 years ago after running windows from the start. Hell, windows runs better on my iMac than it ever did on any other PC I’ve ever owned!

    Does apple benefit from this? Yes, they do. Good for them. For any company today to stay ahead, you must innovate, innovate, innovate and be willing to stick to your guns in the face of opposition.

    Look at what the iPhone has done to the smartphone market. They are a plethora of competing products….some pretty good…trying to do the same thing….before the iPhone….innovation had stagnated.

    Apple is doing it right in my opinion.

  83. Foxconn to give Chinese workers another pay raise after suicides

    6h 40m ago – USA Today

    TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Foxconn workers in China will get another pay raise in coming months, on top of an increase that just took effect in response to recent worker suicides, the company said Sunday.

    Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group said salaries would be raised in October to $293 for workers at its plant in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Workers elsewhere in China will get raises in July adjusted for local conditions, the statement said.”

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/2010-06-07-foxconn-pay_N.htm