Sharks and Technokings

Apparently I’m turning into the Macalope

Above is a video from Marques Brownlee comparing the relationship between Apple and third-party developers to that of sharks and remoras, and then comparing that to the Tile app and for some reason, lingering bitterness over Watson.

I mean, I’ve acknowledged several times over that I’m an Apple apologist, so I’ll go ahead and spoil this post and say that I think this video is bullshit mistaken and oddly conspiratorial.1“Bullshit” was way too harsh, now that I’m re-reading. I don’t even care about the topic that much. He goes out of his way to make business sound sinister and non-competitive, and right out of the gate he’s got a spurious argument.

As Brownlee points out, Apple set up for the launch of Airtags by making the Find My network available to third party developers. (For the record: I was completely unaware that they’d done this, so I’m even more surprised to see people calling foul). He then claims that this is just an illusion of choice, because whether or not Tile chooses to make Find My-compatible devices, Apple still “wins” because each Tile device now improves the Find My network, instead of Tile’s own network.

The first, most obvious problem with that: saying that a “win” for Apple is a “loss” for everyone else. By that metric, there’s no middle ground between “corporate altruism” and “unfair monopoly.” Brownlee makes it sound like the most valuable asset Tile has is its proprietary network, and not the devices themselves. But he’d already described how there are many, many more Apple devices out there on the Find My network than there are Tiles, but orders of magnitude. If Tile were competing on the network alone, then they’d already lost that before the Airtag was even released. And Apple’s only non-villainous option would’ve been to stay out of the business completely. Make its own network open to third parties and not introduce its own separate tracking device.

The other problem I have with it is illustrated in Brownlee’s thumbnail, and in the video as he holds Tile devices up to the camera. The Tile devices all have holes drilled in the tile itself, making them useful without buying an extra case or strap. And there’s a variety of sizes, including credit card-sized ones that will fit in a wallet, unlike the Airtags. So Tile has already differentiated itself in a marketable way. Taking advantage of the Find My network seems like a no-brainer.

What strikes me as especially weird is that Brownlee has been an advocate of Tesla for a long time, and a few months ago he made a video essentially describing how and why Tesla was so far ahead of the game in the EV market. To be fair, he did mention some criticisms of Tesla, and he said the whole reason for his video was a desire for there to be more competition in the EV market. But he listed Tesla’s battery range and extensive supercharger network as the two main reasons the company was at least a few years ahead of every other EV manufacturer.

Whenever people are praising the supercharger network, they never seem to have an issue with the fact that it’s proprietary, for Teslas only. On the rare occasion they do mention it, it’s always described as being the fault of other manufacturers, for not following Tesla’s lead. Because as we know, establishing a tech standard means proposing your own and telling every other manufacturer to do it your way, or suck it. Somehow, this is described as groundbreaking innovation, and never as colossal arrogance or anti-competitive business.

Obviously, a company as huge as Apple doesn’t need some jerk with a blog defending it. But its size doesn’t automatically make it the bad guy, either. Starting a business dependent on another company’s product — whether it’s software development or hardware accessories — is always going to be risky. It’s usually in both companies’ best interest to make sure the other succeeds.

The amount of money Apple’s going to make off Airtags is likely going to be on the level of a rounding error compared to their other businesses. It’s probably best to think of the Airtags as similar to reference graphics cards made by the chipset manufacturer: an Apple-designed example of how devices can use the Find My Network. That’s the kind of symbiosis that Brownlee describes, so I’m not sure why he’s so eager to make it sound sinister.