Think different, jackass

Look, sir! Choads!
The iPhone may not have a GPS, a camera flash, an audible speaker, or a mail app that doesn’t annoy, but I’ve been really impressed with one undocumented feature: it’s a flawless choad detector. The thing’s only been out about three months, and it’s already revealed more dicks than a frat house hazing ceremony.

I already talked at great length about the counter-complaints surrounding the $200 price drop, so I won’t say anything more about that. Except to say that it sucked, and anybody who disagrees with me is wrong. But whatever, maybe it was the notion that anybody who was an early adopter of the phone was overly trend-conscious or over-privileged, or maybe it was just your basic garden-variety schadenfreude.

But what I don’t get, on any level, is the fallout from Apple’s version 1.1.1 firmware release for the iPhone, which bricked phones that had been hacked to work with non-AT&T carriers, invalidated custom ringtones not created with iTunes, and made all third-party apps inoperable.

For a reasoned and temperate response to the closed nature of the update, there’s an editorial from Rob Griffiths of MacWorld. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he hits on the key problem with the company’s positioning of the phone and their relationship with their customers. For a drooling, half-witted twat’s response, there’s this load of crap on bynkii.com.

And that, unfortunately, is the attitude that is becoming more and more prevalent whenever anybody on the internets starts talking about Apple. Any attempt to point out, “Hey, you know, this kind of sucks,” is immediately countered with 100 name-calling accusations of “WHINERS!” It’s gone past typical Apple-cultish annoying and crossed over to being downright creepy. How did people get so beaten down that they believe “That’s the way it is because that’s the way it is,” is an intelligent response at all, much less that it’s in any way keepin’ it real? That doesn’t even qualify as cynical; it’s naive in its blind defeatism.

Set aside Apple’s decades of aggressive branding, that have tried and mostly succeeded at painting the company as the plucky-yet-arrogant underdog fighting against corporate drones; anybody with a lick of sense can recognize that as simple (but effective) marketing. But even without that, the fact remains: the company has built its reputation and cult-like levels of brand loyalty by cutting through convention. By making products that are like a direct line of communication between the corporation and the consumer.

The only thing that all of Apple’s successes have in common — from the Apple II to the original Mac to the iPod — is that they’ve started by looking at what people want to do with technology, and building something around that. Not just by looking at how things are currently done, and making that smaller, slicker, flashier, or more expensive.

I say that that is exactly why the iPhone is so remarkable, and why idiots were willing to pay over $500 for it the day of its release. It’s gotten criticism for being an under-powered smartphone, and it’s gotten criticism for being an over-priced consumer phone. (And I don’t have any sympathy for Apple on that front, since in his initial announcement Jobs put up a slide basically describing it as a smartphone and an iPod duct-taped together, in a lame attempt to justify the price). But the beauty of it is that it’s got most of the features of a smartphone that the typical consumer would have use for, all presented in a simple and easy-to-use format that should be the way consumer phones are designed.

Dismiss all the hype as much as you want, one thing is clearly true: at some point in the iPhone’s gestation, the intent was to cut through the way things are typically done, and present something that would be useful to the average person. (And it should go without saying, but somebody invariably brings it up: make Apple a ton of money in the process).

And yet whenever anybody says that they’re on board with the concept and they want to see the thing developed to its fullest potential, the response is always: “You bought the phone, you knew what you were getting into! I say, let ’em crash!”

The funny thing is that I’m usually moderate-to-fascist when it comes to open technology. Most of the money currently resting in my bank account comes from (and typically goes back towards) evil giant corporations. I had to stop reading BoingBoing because of their constant anti-DRM propaganda. Whenever I hear or read someone go on about open source or copyright law or say “Information Wants to Be Free!!!” I immediately zone out and hear everything else they say as if it were coming from Beaky Buzzard.

So when people claim it’s their “right” to unlock the phone to use with a different carrier other than AT&T, I’m right there with everybody else asking them to kindly shut the hell up. Like it or not, AT&T provides a service, and they’ve got an agreement with Apple and an agreement with the user as soon as you buy the phone.

And the whole ringtone situation is just a blatant example of crappy business practices on Apple’s part. Charging customers a dollar a pop to copy part of a song from one folder to another is just simply no way to build a good relationship with them. But I see that as a case where if you’re dumb enough to pay for it, then you deserve what you get. Especially if you’re dumb enough to pay $15 for an opportunistic hack to copy the files for you, since there were free utilities that worked just as well. (Neither of those work with the new firmware release). And still, like it or not, Apple has provided the “service,” such as it is, so they’re entitled to clamp down on attempts at competition. Stupid to do so, but entitled.

What makes no sense at all, though, is to clamp down on third-party development altogether. And it makes even less than no sense to accuse those of campaigning for third-party development, of being “whiners.” In the short time since the phone was released, we saw dozens of apps, many of which were as slick and polished as anything that came installed. It’s been proven that people can develop useful apps for the thing that won’t break the phone or bring down the cellular network. And more importantly, that there are plenty of people who recognize the true potential of a device like this, and how it’s so much more than a clumsy mail reader and Apple’s insulting web-development non-SDK.

I’ll bet you anything that Apple will never release a text adventure interpreter. I’m skeptical we’ll ever see a first-party eBook reader. We still don’t have a To-Do list. This is all stuff that even if Apple wanted to do, they shouldn’t be doing, because their resources are better spent elsewhere. Even if they insist on clamping down the software market for cheap third-party knock-off games like they have for the iPod, they’ll never be able to duplicate the amount or variety of software that hackers can come up with. It’s simply not competition.

Maybe Apple does have an open SDK for the iPhone in the works, who knows? At this point, I’m a lot more skeptical that we’ll eventually see one, than I was when I bought the damn thing. Because it’s clear that Apple only needs to put one out only if it wants to be purely altruistic, and that’s not really what they’re about. As it stands now, anybody who comments, “It’d be kind of cool to play Zork on an airplane” or “I just want a simple damn To-Do list I didn’t have to visit a web page to access” will hear the response, “Shut the hell up, whiner! The thing’s just fine as it is. DAMN I cannot get over how much this thing lets me check my e-mail!”

2 thoughts on “Think different, jackass”

  1. I’m still shocked at how much I use this damned thing — overpriced or no, damn if I don’t get my money’s worth out of it. It’s fantastic, and the usability has everything to do with that. But every time I pull up the maps utility, I can’t help but think to myself that it would be *so* awesome if I had that 3rd party faux-GPS app installed. And that frustration is stupid. It’s not bad hacking — it’s not about trying to steal someone else’s intellectual property, or trying to run some idiotic strawman-argument about security holes — it’s just about making something useful. The best I can figure is that Apple gets a headache at the thought of having to ramp up their customer support to handle all the variables presented by having software out of their control running on their handsets but jeebus — they should be big boys, pull up their britches and just figure it out already.

  2. I can totally understand their not wanting to add even more tech support issues. I can’t understand why they don’t just say that, if that’s the case — instead they make up some stupid excuse about how dangerous it is to have hackers messing around with a cellular device, and how the web interface is “awesome.”

    Besides, it’s not as if they’re so fantastic with their customer support anyway. They’ve had absolutely no problem telling me, over and over again, that I can’t get support for my Mac unless I pay more for AppleCare. They should be able to do the same thing if anybody tries to get support for a third-party app.

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