Save us! The tyranny of excellence is, even as I write, threatening my well being! Or so the Electronic Freedom Foundation seems to believe. The group issued a manifesto on Tuesday demanding that Apple tear down its “crystal prison,” and to, “to open its platforms for those who wish to tinker, tweak and innovate with their internals.”
Help! I’m Being Oppressed by the Tyranny of Excellence
Please, spare me!
So, caveats: I love the EFF. They are a force for good and have been instrumental in protecting and extending all manner of freedoms in the digital age. More importantly, they have helped to keep a number of truly awful things from happening over the years.
It’s just in this case, I don’t want the world for which they are agitating.
At the heart of the EFF’s letter is a comment from Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak calling on the company to open its devices to tinkering. In the iOS world, Apple exerts extraordinary control over what users have access to, and even what they can do to or install on their iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches.
It’s the whole widget model, where one company—Apple—controls the hardware and the software. That model is directly opposed to the paradigm that has ruled computerdom since Microsoft won the platform wars in the 1980s (or 1990s, depending on how you want to define it, but that’s not the issue).
Apple has used that control to offer us mobile devices that just work. The horror!
But the EFF wants Apple to basically make iOS into something far more similar to Android than the iOS platform we know today. The group wants Apple to allow users to access the file system with root privileges (admittedly, something I think would be nifty), to allow users to install software from other app stores, to install any operating system we’d like on our Apple devices, and to offer hardware warranties that are independent of software warranties.
The latter means that Apple would warranty its hardware regardless of the software or operating system you were using, something that Apple does not currently do.
The EFF is calling these four bullet points a “bill of rights for mobile computing owners,” and it wants those rights to extend to all devices, not just Apple. In fact, the EFF also calls out some restrictions Microsoft is making in Windows 8 and AT&T’s use of restricted versions of Android as other examples of bad restrictions. Apple is merely the poster child for the kinds of control the EFF is opposed to, not the sole recipient of its ire.
To its credit, the EFF also pointed out that it was Apple that saved us from the true tyranny of carriers that existed before iPhone. Before Apple forced its terms on AT&T for the right to be the sole U.S. iPhone carrier, all U.S. carriers did things like routinely crippling phone features in order to charge for carrier services.
Starting with the iPhone (and now most Android devices), we’ve exchanged that carrier tyranny for control by Apple. While some may think of that as just another kind of tyranny, as the EFF clearly does, the difference to me is that Apple has the user’s interests in mind, whereas the carriers did not (and do not).
Apple protects my data, Apple kept the carriers from restricting features on my iPhone, and Apple curates its App Store to keep it free of scams and malware.
In short, Apple has chosen to earn its profits by catering to my wants, rather than the wants of everyone else. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it does so more than any other tech company out there.
Yes, Apple has also needlessly censored political (and not-at-all political) apps, keeps adult material off the App Store, and has made some peculiarly arbitrary App Store rejections. Apple has also kicked a lot of third party purchasing ability out of App Store apps, and made some other decisions I don’t necessarily agree with.
But, and this is my central point, I prefer the overall experience that Apple offers. I like having a one-stop app shopping destination. I love the fact that I don’t even have to think about malware in the App Store. I love having a seamless experience for my apps, for my ebooks (even Kindle ebooks), for my music (even music ripped from CDs). I love my seamless contact syncing, and Apple’s visual voicemail, and more recently, iMessage.
Perhaps most importantly, I love not having Flash on my iPhone and iPad. I could go on, but you either understand my point or completely disagree with me.
I love those things, and they are part and parcel of Apple’s control over the platform. You don’t get all that seamless excellence in an open platform. There are certainly other wonderful benefits of open platforms—everything from more hardware choices and options to…well, I’m sure there’s more, but it’s not what I choose.
It’s somewhat ironic: by advocating for a totally open iOS platform, the EFF is wanting to take away my ability to choose the experience I want.
I am not blind to the core issue behind the EFF’s call for a bill of rights for mobile computer users. I am also extremely leery of Apple extending that total control to my Mac—the restrictions I’m just fine with on my phone and media tablet are not ones I want on my desktop computer.
There’s even a line that Apple can cross on my Mac that will have me waving this particular EFF banner and screaming like a angry five year old. On my iPhone and iPad, however, Apple is offering me the kind of excellence that I want. I don’t want to see that excellence degraded in the name of openness.
Image made with help from Shutterstock.