When it comes to Apple and the FCC, the status quo is king

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Last week, Apple replied to the FCC’s request for information about the iPhone App Store approval process and specifically Apple’s supposed rejection of the Google Voice app. The iPod Observer covered the story in an article posted Friday. If you don’t already know the basics of Apple’s reply, read the iPO article. Then scroll down a bit more and check out the reader comments. The opinions expressed in these comments are quite divided.

On the one side, some welcome the FCC investigation and hope that the result is a more open approval process (or even the elimination of required approval altogether):

“So long as Apple does this approval process, it deserves every ounce of grief it gets from every corner it comes from.”

“I really think Apple should just go to a two level store; one for tested, vetted, and certified apps, and a danger zone where they test for the most basic safety but other than that it’s download at your own risk. Either that or let people install 3rd party apps from another source.”

For the record, I posted my own somewhat critical comment and previously posted an article that expressed a view similar to the “two level” approach.

Others believe that Apple should be largely left alone to do what it wants:

“I cannot believe this is an issue. It is their product. They every right to control it. To the chronic malcontents — if you don’t like the game, don’t play.”

“Those seeking a fundamentally different experience than what Apple’s trademark represents should perhaps consider a different phone.”

To the outside world, this internal squabbling may seem a bit perplexing. After all, aren’t we all part of the “Apple faithful,” the fanboys that believe Apple can do no wrong and that respond with rabid rage whenever a journalist writes anything at all critical of Apple?

No, we are not. This “Apple faithful” business is a myth, which I wish the media would abandon. Not only don’t we always agree with each other, not only do many of us tolerate criticism quite well, not only are we mostly quite civil in our discourse (but admittedly not always), but we are no longer a small minority remaining “faithful” as the tide of fortune turns against us. When it comes to MP3 players, for example, we are the dominant majority. So give it up already.

That said, I confess that, whenever I am critical of Apple and get negative comments in reply, too often my first reflex is to grab at the “Apple faithful” defense. That is, I dismiss the criticisms as coming from the irrational extreme end of Apple supporters, the ones who truly can never see Apple doing anything wrong.

On reflection, I know this is a too simple discount. There are two legitimate sides to most stories. In the App Store approval matter, for example, I understand that some people are perfectly happy with their iPhones as is, have never contemplated jailbreaking their iPhones and wouldn’t want any currently unapproved software. They would rather leave things alone than risk a change that could make things worse. On the other side, I obviously understand why some people might like to see Apple offer an iPhone with the same degree of openness as the Mac. I attempted to find a middle ground here (as described in my article cited above), but I can even understand how people might disagree with my compromise attempt.

On yet more reflection, I am beginning to think that the differences here represent something more fundamental, something political at its core. That is, these different views about Apple may primarily reflect a Republican vs. Democrat or Conservative vs. Liberal distinction.

On the one side, there are the free-market conservatives, who believe that government should leave businesses alone as much as possible, and let market forces have their way. On the liberal side, there are those who believe that substantial government regulation is needed to rein in the excesses of what greedy corporations would otherwise do if left unchecked.

My guess (and this is clearly only untested speculation) is that those supporting the “Apple: love it or leave it” view are from the right end of the political spectrum. Those that believe Apple should be more open in its policies, and perhaps be required to do so if they refuse on their own, are probably from the left side.

It’s the same division that is playing out, with much larger stakes, in our national policy right now — from regulation of Wall Street firms to consumer protection legislation to health care reform. It’s a war where the right wing is still winning many battles, despite the Obama election and the Democratic Congress. As Paul Krugman noted today in his New York Times column: “Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.”

I believe this view holds true for Apple as well. For better or worse, when the dust settles, the App Store approval process will almost certainly remain much the same as it is now. If there is any change, it will be because Apple desires it, not because it was forced to do so. Apple still rules its fiefdom and the status quo is still king of the land.

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5 Comments Leave Your Own

Josh

I think your on to something, but that it is vastly over simplified.  We in the US have this tendancy toward extremes of ideological thought.  We are not the only ones, but within certain arenas we let our temperance get away from ourselves.  (Authoritarian administrations & corporal punishment being replaced with John Dewie’s unproven and ultimately flawed Progressive Education, the Dem/Rep mentality without any real acceptance of more moderate 3rd parties, the Greatest Generation begetting the self-centered “ME ME ME” Baby Boomers, etc.)

Politics should be more like the opinions on this issue: A wide ranging continuum.  However, as with most issues, it’s those on the extreme polls that do the most yelling.  “Give my iPhone Liberty or Give Apple Death!!!!” vs. “Your Either With Apple or Against Apple, choose wisely!!!”  Most i’ve spoken with can see the benefits to both the current model and that espoused by those wanting to jail break the iPhone, but they really don’t care enough to go on and reply to the numerous blogs out there trying to make everyone pick sides. 

Ultimately I’m of the opinion that it is Apple product.  The user experience, including availability and restrictions on software, is part and parcel with the iPhone itself.  If you don’t like their restrictions you are free to use another phone.  At this point, Apples policies can’t be a secret to anyone that bothers doing any research before buying the iPhone.  Therefore there is no real justification for screaming bloody murder that their policies are ruining the platform. 

If at somepoint Apple attains some sort of a MS style monopoly on Smart Phone’s, then I can see regulators stepping in to limit the restrictions Apple and AT&T can place on the phone.  However, until then the Status Quo does deserve to stand

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Ted, why do you have to inject politics into this? Your assumption that I (the guy who wishes Apple all sorts of grief) would like a regulatory solution to this or come from the political left (or right for that matter) couldn’t be further off the mark. Regardless of what one thinks of regulation, the FCC is a fact in this kerfuffle. They asked for responses and we got some interesting information as a result.

In other words, being solidly for free markets does not mean one cannot criticize the free decisions of other market players. While I respect Apple’s absolute right to implement the policy it has, I still think it’s a stupid policy and wish them grief. This doesn’t make me an extremist at all. An Engadget editorial today is in full agreement with my position.

P.S. Republicans and Democrats piss me off wink. Trying to map every conceivable disagreement onto their petty arguments is silly.

adamC

@Bosco

When you get a blogger apologising to MS on behalf of silicon valley it is getting to be insane. Just because of some apps not being approve we a righteous clowns claiming the throne of stupidity to apologise to MS stating that Apple is controlling the iPhone platform better than MS. I don’t know who gave him the right or need to apologise on anyone’s behalf. And it is getting more hilarious by the day thinking that thinking adults who claimed to be intelligent resorting to this kind of stupidity.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

+5 points for adamC for unintentional irony. Thank you Ted for not going back to the tired last millennium anti-Microsoft arguments. OK adamC, here’s a chance to redeem yourself. Without leaving this browser type, please type one argument in favor of Apple having such tight control of the iPhone App Store and anticipate two criticisms of that argument. Then you can call people you disagree with stupid grin.

Ted Landau

An Engadget editorial today is in full agreement with my position.

FWIW,  my prior article that I cited above takes almost the exact same position.

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