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Apple Power Corrupts, Absolute Apple Power Corrupts Absolutely

Editorial - Apple Power Corrupts, Absolute Apple Power Corrupts Absolutely

by , 4:55 PM EDT, September 16th, 2008

There has been a lot of discussion about Apple's policies regarding the App Store and what applications are permissible. While some argue that Apple can do as it pleases to insure its revenue stream, that's exactly the argument that got Microsoft into trouble.

Apple is no longer the underdog in many areas. It's not fighting the worthy fight to survive and flourish. Rather, it's fighting to preserve its status quo in a music and phone app market in which it fought hard to be successful and earned a secure spot.

While it's nice to see our favorite company doing well, there are dangers that can and will befall any company consisting of human beings. It's natural. Recognizing that, some companies put explicit barriers in place to make sure that those tendencies remain in check.

When we don't see self-discipline and restraint in a company that can do as it pleases, then we start to worry.

The problem is that it's a very slow process of self-delusions and justification. Apple's frog is in danger of boiling from its own simmering ambitions, and that's exactly when a company has to admit that there are limits. It's very hard to do. Very hard.

An example of a similar human progression is when individuals, movie stars or athletes, come into huge sums of money. The self-delusional progression that they follow goes like this, in three stages:

  1. I can buy whatever thing I please.
  2. I can purchase any adventure or experience that I please.
  3. I can do whatever I please.

It's that third phase, slowly and subtly arrived at, that gets people into trouble because it starts to offend other people, then gets the attention of the law.

Apple is a highly respected company, loved by a few, adored by many. It delivers great products. However, there is a parallel to the above progression with corporations, and Apple has shown no signs of being exempt in the case of App Store decisions.

Both progressions for individuals and corporations end up at the same place. I can do as I please because no one can stop me.

So while Apple has every right in the business world to restrict iPhone apps that compete with its own revenue stream and products, at some point in the process, Apple has to come to the realization that it exists in an ecosphere with other entrepreneurs and, indeed, some fairly ambitious politicians and attorneys. When Apple shows no signs of setting its own ethical standards, others will be all to happy to step in and do it for them.

Blocking porn, malicious or illegal applications can be tolerated. Blocking an app, from one small developer that mildly competes with Apple, doesn't reflect the kind of self-restraint needed for a company in Apple's position.

This is, I believe, the core of the arguments made by opponents of Apple's decision to ban Podcaster. They realize that Apple is not showing the kind of corporate restraint necessary to be a good business partner. When a U.S. company steps over a certain line, limits set by Western culture, law, and civility, then they will start to lose key legal battles or suffer a calamity. It has happened over and over again, and a good recent example is the subprime mortgage lenders.

Worse, the ensuing legal struggle is seen as "we are good, and these people are out to get us." That makes it even harder for a company to put into perspective what it's doing to its customers and partners. We see that "we're the good guys and people who disagree with us are evil" mentality with politicians, and we don't like it in that arena either.

The way to earn and retain people's respect is when a company admits that it can have 95 percent of what it wants while remaining responsible and self-disciplined. Ravenous, destructive hunger, derived from fear, for one hundred percent leads down a dark and dangerous path of self-delusion, arrogance, and entrenchment.


John Martellaro is the afternoon editor of The Mac Observer and a freelance writer. He is a former U.S. Air Force officer and has worked for NASA, White Sands Missile Range, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Apple Computer. During his nearly five years at Apple, he worked as a Senior Marketing Manager for Science and Technology, Federal Account Executive, and High Performance Computing Manager. His interests, in addition to all things Apple, include alpine skiing, science fiction, astronomy and Perl. John lives in Denver, Colorado.

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