Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Logic Behind Control Freaky iPhones

I have sympathy for the argument that Apple has a history of being something of a control freak with its hardware, and that its tendency to want to control what users do is manifest in its iOS devices, the iPhone and iPad. If you're the sort who likes to customize your experience within the OS, you have very few options. If you're the sort who likes to dig deeper into the device to change appearance or function, Apple works hard to prevent that. If your intentions are good, than can be frustrating.

That's not to say that it's not frustrating, also, when your intentions are bad. Although some people jailbreak their iOS devices in order to use them on a network that does not yet support the iPhone, or because they enjoy hacking the device, let's be honest: Most people looking to jailbreak an iPhone or iPod, or complaining bitterly about how Apple restricts their freedom as compared to Android, are primarily interested in installing bootleg apps or making "free" in-app purchases.

As it stands, iOS looks its age. There are pro's and con's to that, the most obvious pro's being that it's easy to use and remains compatible with most older iOS devices. On the other hand... it's somewhat inefficient, the constraints on file organization make it somewhat clumsy, it screams out for new features, some of its functionality is clumsy (adding an event to the calendar, for example), and its quaint adherence to skeuomorphs (e.g., making a calendar look like an old, on-paper desktop calendar) needs to go. (Rumor is that skeuomorphs are on their way out in the next iOS update.)

When you look at the latest version of Android, or when you look at Android's present market share, the question I heard a while back, "Why do developers still tend to develop an iOS app first, instead of starting with Androd," seems fair. I think the answer is this: Because Apple is enough of a control freak to ensure that a majority of iOS device holders will buy their apps, instead of installing "free" bootleg versions. That's an issue I expect to only become more pronounced as Android starts to saturate the market for lower-cost smartphones.

Although I'm not sure that they expected it to happen so quickly, Apple has known for many years (really, all along) that it's only a matter of time before any computer technology becomes commoditized. You can create a premium product and sell it at a premium price, but if the run-of-the-mill product is almost as good as yours that is likely to result in your rapid loss of market share. People seem to forget that while Apple is competing with Samsung (and, indirectly, Google) for the lion's share of the smartphone market, it's competing with Amazon (and Google) to be a dominant vendor of electronic books and media. Google doesn't give away Android in order to give its competitors an advantage in the marketplace - it does so to give its own software product an advantage, and to better position itself to compete in the mobile space for ads, apps and media.

To the extent that Apple can make itself the device maker that is most likely to provide royalties to developers and content owners, and Android doesn't find a way to rein in bootlegging, that aspect of Apple's control freaky nature is likely going to provide it with a significant advantage when negotiating with content providers.

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