With so many people out there in possession of an Apple-made device – iPhones of various generations and now iPads – it would behoove us to examine just what it is that makes Apple tick. Millions of people have iPhones, and tens of millions want them. Why?
In a recent US poll I read, 20 percent of people surveyed who said they were planning to upgrade their phones said they were planning to buy an iPhone. The numbers for the iPad, although it is much younger, are just as impressive. Why? Did Steve Jobs slip us Mickey when we weren’t watching, the better to convince us that we cannot live without Apple products?
In my opinion, the popularity of all Apple devices is due to a
philosophical decision the company made a long time ago and has stuck
to. Apple, from Day 1, has built its products with the intent of
offering a “full package” to users: hardware, operating system and
content. Of course, Apple ultimately decides what content you get, but
losing that “freedom to compute” doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Just the
opposite, in fact.
I’ve been with the “Apple family” since its
now numerous progeny were in diapers. I started out with the infant Mac
XL (if anyone remembers those) way back in the 1980s, moved on to the
teenager-ish Mac SE, Mac CX and early iMacs, and eventually on to the
current configuration of the family.
In fact, I’m
transgenerational in my Apple affiliation: I have a “big guy” (an iMac),
a couple of “young bucks” (Mac Minis and Macbooks), “junior” (the iPad)
and, of course, “baby” (the iPhone). So I guess that makes me as
familiar as anyone with how the family is run.
It’s a well-run
and tightly organized family: to the extent that some would call it
dysfunctional, in some respects. One thing about iPhones and iPads that
irks many people is the closed universe that Apple has built to manage
the devices. The only place you can get official applications for iPads
and iPhones is from the Apple App Store; all applications used on these
devices must be approved by Apple, the better to ensure the proper
“customer experience,” says the company.
And that, it seems, is
what distinguishes the Apple line from its competition.
truth, Apple has been zealous in guarding its “user experience” from the
time it came out with its first Macs. The “closed environment,” which
protects users from the “outside world” and is managed by the policy
makers at Apple, was already greatly in evidence in the earliest
versions of the Macintosh operating system.
The Mac OS was (and
is) even more closed than Windows, making it harder for programmers to
“hook” into the operating system.
Compare that system to Windows,
with its wide-open registry, where programmers were able to routinely
integrate their applications – whether well-written or not – into the
As a result of those differences, and that philosophy,
Windows and Mac users had significantly different user experiences over
the years. One of the biggest complaints Mac users had back in the ’80s
and ’90s, for example, was the lack of freeware and shareware for their
computers, compared to the reams of freebies available to Windows users.
a dedicated Mac user back then, I remember combing the depths of
download sites looking for free applications that did – whatever! It
didn’t matter what they did, as long as they were free. And those finds
were few and far between. It was like you were keeping “kosher” – you
couldn’t load up the cheap stuff on your computer, and the applications
that had “supervision” (i.e., that were able to integrate into the Mac
OS) cost more.
Even with the programs you had to pay for, the Mac
versions were usually released much later and were far more expensive.
But there was another side of the equation: By making it harder to break
through the gates, Apple ensured that Macs were relatively free of bad
programs, such as viruses.
How far we have traveled, in terms of
content. There are more than 200,000 apps in the iPhone/iPad App Store,
many of them free. The “freemium” model – where users get a free limited
version of an application and pay to unlock more functions and features
– seems to be the one most writers of cellphone applications have
adopted. And most of the applications that do cost money are quite
cheap, most costing an average of just a couple of dollars.
would seem that Apple’s long-term philosophical bet – keeping a tight
lid on development to ensure a superior user experience – has paid off.
Ever since the iPhone first came out, developers have been falling over
themselves to come up with apps for the device, and consumers have been
falling over themselves to buy them.
The same holds true for the
After selling about 3 million of the things in barely three
months, Apple expects some 30 million people around the world to have
them by the end of next year. And while many of these untold millions
may not be fully aware of the “Apple Way,” they are surely aware that
their consumption of nearly all content – apps, music, videos, movies –
will be tightly controlled by Apple.
These people are entering
into the deal voluntarily; they have no problem with Apple controlling
what they can and can’t do with their devices.
And while it may
be tempting to advocate for “freedom of choice,” you have to admit that
Apple has a point: The reason iPhones and iPads are in such demand is
because they just work. The UI is simple and elegant, the apps are
available and work as promised, and the danger of getting hit with a
virus is extremely low. In that sense, Apple users have traded in
freedom for security, an apt comparison for our terrorized age.
I mentioned, I, too, am “guilty” of allowing my “freedom to compute” to
be compromised. I haven’t broken into any of my devices (i.e.,
reprogrammed them to install applications not carried in the App Store),
meaning that I am relatively satisfied with the package I am getting
with the Apple family: functionality, reliability and safety.
that’s what the teeming millions are looking for. Despite all the talk
about competing devices, whether phones or e-book readers, Apple has
nothing to worry about.
History has proven that when it comes to
computers and devices, people don’t want freedom, they want to be led by
a “benevolent despot,” a role Apple is more than willing to fulfill.