Sunday, September 30, 2007

Apple's Complete Control: Some folks still don't get it

Apple likes to market itself as the user-friendly, creativity enabling alternative to Microsoft, and perhaps in some ways it is, but the company's Madison Avenue crafted image has lost a little luster recently. Owners of its latest Savior Machine, the iPhone, have discovered Apple is shortsightedly intent on maintaining strict control of their product rather than allowing users to innovate and customize it the way they want.

A PR flap has erupted over the company's mishandling of a routine software patch that wiped out the third party apps that users had installed to extend the device's functionality (see the New York Times story Altered iPhones Freeze Up). Companies such as Google and FireFox have recognized for quite some time the advantage of giving the geeks of the world the ability to hack the code behind their services and create the mash-ups and add-ons that lead to a more robust product. Apple hasn't quite caught on yet.

I have a friend who has an iPhone and don't get me wrong, it's a very neat little device that can do a lot of cool stuff. One of its main flaws is the AT&T phone network that users have been forced to sign on to when they buy the iPhone. As wonderful a gadget as it is, if you can't reliably make calls on it, the name becomes quite absurd. Adventurous owners have tried to circumvent that problem by tweaking the phone to work on other networks, but Apple's distributed software update has caused these hacked phones to seize up. The company's official position on the deadened phones: "hard cheese."

Infuriating your most tech-savvy customers is never a good idea, especially for a company that tries to appeal to an anti-establishment clientèle. I don't know what kind of pay off they got from AT&T, but restricting iPhoners to a single carrier makes as much sense as hardwiring desktops and laptops to work with only one ISP.

Technology has advanced to the point now that business attempts at complete control will almost always backfire. You don't restrict the uses of a product, but rather make it flexible enough to meet needs you may not have originally imagined. The punk-rock DIY mentality of my youth has become much more common today as the new digital tools have democratized skills once reserved for experts. Businesses with a little vision will learn to encourage and take advantage of this yen to tinker.

Complete Control
by The Clash

They said release 'Remote Control'
But we didn't want it on the label
They said, "Fly to Amsterdam"
The people laughed but the press went mad

Ooh ooh ooh someone's really smart
Ooh ooh ooh complete control, yeah that's a laugh

On the last tour my mates couldn't get in
I'd open up the back door but they'd get run out again
At every hotel we was met by the Law
Come for the party - come to make sure!

Ooh ooh ooh have we done something wrong?
Ooh ooh ooh complete control, even over this song

You're my guitar hero

They said we'd be artistically free
When we signed that bit of paper
They meant we'll make a lotsa mon-ee
An' worry about it later

Ooh ooh ooh I'll never understand
Ooh ooh ooh complete control - lemme see your other hand!

I don't judge you.
So, why do you judge me?

All over the news spread fast
They're dirty, they're filthy
They ain't gonna last!

This is Joe public speakin'
I'm controlled in the body, controlled in the mind
This is punk rockers,
we're controlled by the price of the hard drugs we must find
Freedom is control
C-o-n control - that means you!
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