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Brave New World

February 14th, 2010

As people talk more and more about the ups and downs of the Apple ecosystem–the closed nature of the App Store on the iPhone and soon the iPad–one theme always comes about: Apple is being oppressive and controlling. This viewpoint, however, comes from the perspective of what we have had up until now, which is not entirely objective–nor is it without its own ups and downs. It helps to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, trying to understand the forest instead of noting vague shapes beyond the individual trees we’ve come to feel comfortable around.

Think of the current system and then the App Store ecosystem as societies. Our current setup is, to be frank, kind of like a Joss-Whedon style dystopian anarchy with overtones of corporate oligarchy. Competing major corporations (Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc.) offer the only real structure to what’s happening, and the denizens of this society often align themselves with these organizations. However, most of society is independent, trying to live freely on their own in the anarchy that exists outside the immediate corporate structures–but they can’t escape some level of corporate control as they depend on what the corporations produce. They grumble about the prices they have to pay to the oligarchy and they way things are run.

For that reason, many join the pirate culture, stealing from the corporations because they can, and because they feel they have paid enough already and are entitled to. But anarchy means that it’s not just the pirates stealing from the corporations–lawlessness abounds everywhere. Most people are beset by malware and scammer crime, and live amongst mountains of spam littering the streets lined with gaudy neon Flash billboards. They must hire anti-virus bodyguards and yet still watch their wallets and not fall prey to lures. Once in a while you may even be targeted by a professional hacker, god help you. Just as the anarchy allows you to be a pirate without much fear of punishment, the anarchy lets the element aimed at you work just as freely. Some avoid this by living closer to the oligarchy and paying full price for everything, others attempt to inhabit the Apple and Linux islands of relative stability. The Apple island has high rent, but it’s even easier to be a pirate and you’re safer from the anarchy pointed at you–but you get branded as an elitist snob who is a willing slave to Apple. The Linux island is sparsely populated and not well-supplied, but has more independence and is less stigmatized.

At some point, Apple declares that they’re forming a new state, the App Store Federation. It’s a territory pioneered by the iPhone contingent, soon to be joined by the iPad population, and who knows where it will expand to next. This new state has a rather structured form of government, introducing regular but not too excessive taxes–you’d be paying about the same most of the time in the anarchy anyway, unless you were really good at working the system just right. Apple is the government, and the OS is the constitution. They exert a certain amount of control, and they make the laws. It’s not a Democracy, it’s more like a benevolent dictatorship. But it’s clean, safe, and simple to live in. They’re not oppressive–they don’t arrest you or impose fines for misbehavior–but they do try to make you live the way they feel is best. You may not agree with what the government dictates, but most of the time it’s pretty good. There’s a certain amount of censorship to go along with it.

The society is nice, modern, bright. and relatively clean. As with the Apple island in the anarchic oligarchy, the rent is high. However, food, clothing, and entertainment are pretty cheap–mostly cheaper than you paid for before. It’s harder to be a pirate, but there’s also a police force to keep you safe. While there’s still quite a lot of spam litter and some scam artists lurking around, government regulation keeps Flash ads from making things seedy and the police force keeps most of the crime under control. You feel safer walking the streets. It’s a more comfortable life, but those who enjoyed the freedom under the anarchy feel chafed by the level of control exercised here. That’s the trade-off. If you don’t like that level of control by the government, you can always go back to the anarchy–but you lose the benefits of living here. There are some in the anarchy who try to replicate the Ecosystem without having the control, but they tend to be expensive themselves, and as copycats trying to get a quick buck, they tend not to be as stable, with shaky foundations and only superficial wealth. Google is making the best go of it, but is a bit disorganized and split between their Chrome and Android personalities.

But people often want the best of both worlds–they want the nice, clean, safe, and modern lifestyle the Apple ecosystem provides, but they also want the free-wheeling, independent, live-as-you-like and do-what-you-want lifestyle the anarchy afforded. So a splinter group formed the Jailbreak community, setting up in the foothills just outside the Apple ecosystem, living off the controlled lifestyle but at the same time sticking it to the man–who discourages the practice and tries to cut off their supplies from time to time, but otherwise just kind of lets them be. Most people commute, living partly in the Apple Ecosystem and partly out, so the control isn’t so bad even for those whom it chafes. But people can foresee a time when they may have to choose permanent residency, and are wary about what that would be like.

Apple is experimenting with a new computing culture, and computing society is reacting to it, forming new communities around it. The other major corporations are looking on warily, knowing their most of their business is still safe at the moment, but also aware that this could grow into something bigger later on. If enough people are drawn to the Apple ecosystem, it could become the new paradigm, replacing the old anarchic oligarchy with something new. Google is trying to set up its own ecosystem, but they’re less organized. Microsoft, meanwhile, just wants to maintain their current dominance in the oligarchy, but is willing to change systems if they see that things are moving that way–they’re used to watching Apple’s lead and moving in if there’s profit to be had.

Expect Apple to eventually bring the Ecosystem culture from the mobile community to computing at large–either by bringing it to laptop and desktop computers, or by having mobile devices become primary computing machines. I doubt very much that they’ll want to stop with the iPad–this system is too good for them, if they can make it work.

Where would you like to live in this world?

Categories: Computers and the Internet, iPad, iPhone Tags: by
  1. February 20th, 2010 at 16:40 | #1

    Dude. You’re stretching. The fact of the matter is that Apple is easily more monopolistic in their inherent nature than Microsoft or Google are, by far.

    The simple fact of Apple’s ruthless control of their hardware and their insistence on keeping their setup a completely controlled, closed system demonstrates this quite clearly.

    MS is more open and Google even more so than Apple, and that’s just how it is.

    It’s funny that Apple used to run ads about Big Brother with “Think Different” when Apple forces you to think exactly the way THEY want when it comes to hardware (no customization- you gotta buy THEIR stuff, period) or in how you sell your stuff (via their closed system) or how you develop (sorry, if you want to run your software on their gear, it has to work the way THEY want).

    Apple Island might be a pleasant place to live, but it’s also kind of boring.

    I wanna live in the messier place; it’s more exciting.

  2. Luis
    February 20th, 2010 at 18:15 | #2

    The fact of the matter is that Apple is easily more monopolistic in their inherent nature than Microsoft or Google are, by far.

    Well, that’s how I painted it, no? Microsoft dominates in what is essentially an anarchy, whereas Apple built a carefully controlled society. Cleaner, safer, and more comfortable, but still more controlled than the computer world in general. Ironically, Apple is far less harsh and controlling of actual specific content than Microsoft is–Apple is less about serial numbers and activations, and while it works somewhat to defeat the activities of pirates and jailbreakers, they do not go after them as aggressively as Microsoft and others do. (Probably because Apple’s main products are hardware, something that can’t be copied the same way as software.)

    MS is more open and Google even more so than Apple, and that’s just how it is.

    Yes and no. They want to control as much as if not more than Apple, they’re just not as good or as subtle at it. Microsoft because they’re ham-handed and don’t care, Google because it’s their business plan and they’re disorganized.

    I wanna live in the messier place; it’s more exciting.

    More power to you. Me, I always look at what makes life better for me without sacrificing things that matter. Take the new information age–many rail against marketing agencies that collect information about them, as if that info will be used for blackmail or something dark like that–and the same people have those supermarket member cards which have the sole purpose of tracking everything they buy for the same marketing agencies.

    Me, if I feel I’m getting enough of a deal I can’t find elsewhere, I’m willing to accept the price of those agencies knowing how much Coke I drink. I’m similarly OK with Apple controlling my computing environment as I feel the benefits are worth it. I live in the MS environment enough to know that I don’t like it. So I put up with the seamless products with fewer ports because I think it’s a trade-off which is profitable for me. You have different preferences; neither is right or wrong, they are right or wrong for us individually.

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