Hate What Apple's Become? Blame Microsoft. And Sony. And RIM. And...

At any point over the last year, you could be forgiven for momentarily thinking the sheen had come off Apple. A slew of criticisms arose, of the kind that would have severely damaged most companies.

Among them: the App Store has been widely critiqued for its closed nature and arbitrary approval process. Apple has been slammed by Adobe and others for refusing to incorporate Flash, and instead trying to kill it in the process. To make matters worse, many have spoken out against Apple’s obsession with secrecy, blase approach to workers’ rights in China or their notoriously uncommunicative nature.

All of which is to make no mention of the fact that Apple isn’t a populist company in the least – as Anil Dash likes to say, “though Apple is a reasonably progressive company, they explicitly don’t give a shit about poor people”. Apple should, by any reasonable measure, be undergoing a bit of an image revamp – or at least a drop in popularity.

And yet, Apple is still the topic of conversation in the tech world. As today’s information about the iPhone 4G proves, if the tech world is an engine then Apple is its fuel. Every last bit of news is dissected, every announcement pored over obsessively, every last bit of information repeatedly endlessly.

If Apple has, as many have suggested, ‘become evil’, we certainly don’t seem to care very much.

So the company seem to continue to do what they want, with only the slightest acknowledgment of their customers and critics, acting for all intents and purposes more like a totalitarian government than a company that depends on the public, pretending that the entire movements of Web 2.0 and openness just never happened.

And you know what? You know whose fault that is? Microsoft’s. And Sony’s. And RIM’s. And Samsung’s. And every other technology and software company out there.

Yes, I’m serious.

Why? Simple: their inability and unwillingness to compete and innovate has allowed Apple to become the default leader in the world of technology. Apple’s competitors are so frequently bereft of ideas and so often lack a kind of comprehensive vision that Apple seem to exist in the future while everyone else lags in the past. The gang at Cupertino can continue to act with impunity because customers will line up to get the things Apple makes because they just can’t get them elsewhere.

Internet fanboys like to argue this point on principle: Android is more open than the iPhone OS; a netbook is more functional than an iPad; a Cowon MP3 player supports more audio formats; Windows boxes are cheaper. All of which misses one basic point: if you can afford to pay for a better, more integrated experience, you will pay for it because it’s better.

It’s as simple as that. As long as Apple continues to offer superior stuff, people will overlook its flaws because it’s experiences that people care about. It’s not hardware or software or design alone – it’s how all three integrate to form the experience of using something that ‘just works’. And that’s what no-one else has been able to match.

So how can you blame consumers for flocking to Apple? Let’s look at other companies’ offerings.

Blackberry’s response to the iPhone was the abysmal Storm, which offered neither the benefit of a good touchscreen nor the practicality of a Blacberry keyboard. Microsoft’s Phone 7 looks promising, but the best you can say is that it may be on par with the current iPhone, not what’s coming this summer. Motorola’s Droid, which runs Android 2.1, suffers from the same problem – it may have now caught up, but that’s just the problem: nobody is innovating. They are merely playing catch up.

The Android Market cannot compare to the breadth and range of offerings on the App Store. Amazon’s Kindle may have a better selection of books, but its eInk screen appeals to a niche market, at over 50% the cost of a device that not can not only be used to read books, but surf the net, play music, video and do a thousand other things through Apps.

More examples? When quizzed about tablets, a Sony exec claimed “that is a market we are also very interested in. We are confident we have the skills to create a product”. Not exactly inspiring, especially given Sony’s abysmal track record with software and interface. And while Sony’s PSN is okay, it isn’t even available on PCs yet, and iTunes has become the default store for both music and film and TV,  not simply because Apple ‘got there first’ but that they had the foresight and vision to create rather than follow.

Apple certainly doesn’t dominate every field it exists in. The AppleTV may be doing okay, but it certainly hasn’t lit any fires. Windows is still the dominant OS, and with Windows 7, Microsoft can have a legitimate claim that it’s the best one. Yet at the same time, Apple’s competitors have taken to simply playing catch-up to the company rather than creating something of their own. The best thing you can say about any new release is that it’s as good as its Apple counterpart. That is a sign of an industry in a serious and pathetic rut of innovation and inventiveness.

And this isn’t about the genius of Jobs, either. No one who has ever used an iPhone should have produced the Blackberry Storm, and no-one who has watched an 8 or 80 year-old use an iPad should ever think about computing the same way. Yet, companies continue to lumber along aimlessly: Sony are unable to create a decent MP3 player; Microsoft with all its expertise is yet to compete with iPhone OS; Samsung and similar companies produce a slew of subpar offerings; RIM relies on its corporate base, but that advantage will evaporate soon.

No, this is about a failure of imagination, a failure of vision and a failure to understand that it is experiences and not devices that people want. While Apple create unified, integrated ecosystems of services, software and hardware, its competitors try their best to copy only fragments of this holistic approach – and obviously fail.

As long as they do, the arrogance of Apple will simply be the behavior of a company on top of its game and aware that no-one can compete.

And you can put the blame at the feet of Sony, Microsoft, RIM and others, who stumble along blindly, content to follow rather than lead, underserving their customers, apparently unable to see the forest for the trees.

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang

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  • Good job Nav – agree 100%, and was reminded of this post by Steven Frank (of Panic fame) where he quits iPhone, then reluctantly returns shortly afterward. I’m extremely unhappy with a number of recent Apple decisions and policies, but what are the other options? All the way to open source, or utter mediocrity in the form of Windows?

  • Alex

    I could only agree maybe 50%. I agree 100% that part of why Apple is able to ‘get away’ with so much is that none of them really innovate. However, i don’t believe that Apple has any responsibility to leak, or tell us what’s coming. It’s part of how they keep people interested, and keep the grey area from forming as to who actually created it. Everyone knows that Apple created these innovations because nobody else has time to make a cheep copy before release. As for the closed nature of the devices, and the app store. Duh! of course it’s that way, it has to be, you listed yourself that Apple has a firm grasp on the experience normal people are looking for. And those two things help ensure that user experience. Part of why Apple uses those tools isn’t to piss off whiny developers, or tech-heads, it IS what actually makes that experience possible. The reason MS, RIM, and others fail is because they give in, and do those very things that people bad mouth Apple for not doing. Capitalism has never been a democracy, and the companies that do make it that way usually fail to innovate. Apple’s goals aren’t just to make the best computer, or OS, or mobile device, it is the provide the best technology experience as a whole to the majority of consumers, not just whiny nerds.

  • yohan yacobs

    Microsoft leads, apple attempts to compete with scammer tactics, their products dont do any more than free linux can, their products are not better, this article sux

  • Zak

    Microsoft is playing catch-up with Linux too. What is your point?

    You also made some assertions there but no facts to back them up, if you think the article is so incorrect why didn’t you point out where it went wrong.

  • yoddha

    The reason Apple is “soo good, and everything works”, is ‘cuz they do their software on “one” hardware set. And they control EVERYTHING!

    What do you think would happen if MS suddenly said, “yeah from now on only HP will do are computers, HTC our phones, The rest of you can fuck off!” Yes, Windows would propably work flawless, with no problems (no more than apples). But that would never work… People would lynch them, they would get so much bad publicity and whine that, I can’t even imagine the situation.

    That said, I’d like to see them do that. Or something in that direction (*cough cough* WinPhone 7). Hardware specs or strict, and they should be as strict for Windows. But what happens is, people start whining. Take Win7 or Vista which might be an even better example. It came out, MS said, you need to have this & this hardware. A took what, days? and people started complaining that they can’t use their 5year old shitty box to run it. People are stupid, MS “needs” to cater to too many. They can’t make it work as good as Apple. Apple is smart it that way don’t get me wrong, but it’s not fair to judge Windows side by side with OSX in that sense.
    As a note, I’ve never hade a major (barely minor) issues in Windows, on my own computers, when I’ve been in control (no I’m not a techinal dude, who hacks my Win – it’s the one outta of the box). On the flipside, when I ran Mac for a few weeks, a couple of years back, it crashed at least once a day, at least!

    All cred to Apple for what they they have done and propably will do in the future, BUT, there is a huge “it’s popular/cool” to have a Mac/Apple-thingy factor to it too….

  • I agree and the sad part is, this dominance is turning Apple into the Microsoft of the 90’s. Arrogant, uncaring, and unresponsive. In addition, they have taken the approach that they really still own your device and its contents and are free to alter, delete, or otherwise control your use of whay is rightfully yours.

    It’s certain that someone else will arrive on the scene and become the Apple of the next 20 years or so.

  • I agree with a lot of this article, I’ll be honest I was hooked up until the Microsoft bashing started, and the RIM and Sony bashing… but Apple has a lot of issues that no one really wants to talk about because they release such “cool” products… for one, when I purchase music from Wmart or Best Buy, that music now belongs to me, I can share it in any fashion I choose, give it away, make as many copies as I want, put it on any mp3 software that I like, with no issues. Yet, for some reason, when i spend .99 cents on a song from Apple, that music somehow still belongs to them, it’s in their format, it’s then taken another step by being locked from any other software using it. The whole idea of the iTunes Store seemed appealing at first up until I tried to share my music with someone, which happens to be gospel, and they said they were not allowed to listen to the music because it was password protected. Granted, this is old hat, it’s been this way from day one with the iPod, but it’s just one fine example of Steve Jobs dictating every last detail that comes from Cupertino and the products you buy from them. Now, with the Zune, I have enjoyed a much more open music experience, with the ability to add music to my HD from any computer I connect with, take it off at any time, and the greatest part is when my family and friends want to share, I can say simply yes, I can add this to your hard drive and there it is. It makes a big difference. I have more to add, but I think I have said enough already, thanks.