September 30, 2007
I just wrote this piece in Japanese – but I thought I should summarize in English because it was a bit difficult for me to express some of this.
First off – The opinions and ideas below are entirely mine and not do not represent Forrester Research in any way. I expect that some Forrester analysts who watch Apple and the Telecom industry will put out a well considered piece of research on this, which will serve as Forrester's official opinion.
I was really struck by a comment in the NYTimes article today on Apple's decision to prevent people from unlocking their iPhones or adding third party applications. The comment was "This is uncharacteristically evil of Apple." And I guess lots of people are shaking their heads in regret that their phones have been rendered unusable – and by the fact that they never expected Apple of all companies to do this to them.
I find it quite ironic that Apple's founders actually got their first taste of business by selling Blue Boxes around the Berkeley University campus, which people could use to defraud AT&T and other carriers by making free calls. If you're interested to know more about the adventures that Wozniak and Jobs had in those days, check out "The History Of Hacking" documentary by the Discovery Channel. (I found it on YouTube). But 36 years later, Apple finds itself on the same team as AT&T, shutting down the hackers. That's quite a transformation.
Further, I think Apple is going against a trend these days of more open platforms and more open communities innovating new capabilities. I think the Facebook Platform, which allows any third party developer to create applications and widgets and share them with the facebook community is a great example of this. By opening up the platform, a wealth of valuable applications get developed for Facebook users that Facebook could never have developed with only its own resources. Companies like amazon and Travelocity have created applications that promote their companies at the same time as delivering value to Facebook users.
Umberto Eco wrote an amusing article in which he compared the Mac and PC worlds. I believe he said that the Mac was like the Catholic church and DOS like the Protestants. (I guess it was about 20 years ago). His perception (if I recall correctly) was that the Catholic church put things in simple terms for its followers, didn't demand original thought, but promised salvation to anyone who had faith. At the same time, however, the Catholic church didn't want laypeople meddling in the secret and arcane stuff that went on beneath the surface. They didn't need to know about how to rearrange the guts of the applications. (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain). By contrast, his impression of the PC world was that it was like protestantism in the sense that people were freer to adapt and play with it – but there was a greater responsibility on the individual. (Goodness, I've probably mangled his argument completely – I suppose I should look it up and quote it properly). I didn't think of this before, but it struck me today that Apple is a lot like the Catholic church in its intolerance of heterodoxy. If you hold a heterodox idea, you'd better be prepared to be ex-communicated. And ex-communication is pretty much what happened to the iPhone customers who find themselves holding an inert brick today.
Well, I'm sure that I'm not the first person to blog with these ironic thoughts. I'm looking forward to reading what the experts and other bloggers say. I just wanted to get my raw thoughts out now before looking at too many other articles. I hope that my frivolous thoughts won't be shown up as too shallow… What do you think of Apple's approach to the iPhone hackers? Is it "Evil" or Heavy handed but justified?
By the way – The idea that a company should not do anything "evil" was Google's – not Apple's. But somehow, Apple fans have the feeling that Apple also plays (played?) by this rule.