A Reply on iPhone “Choice”

Thomas Fitzgerald has written a post responding to my recent column on the email exchange between Steve Jobs and Ryan Tate. Apparently, John Gruber thought there was sufficient merit in Fitzgerald’s column to post a link to it on Daring Fireball. Given this attention, I thought Mr. Fitzgerald merited the courtesy of a reply.

What struck me most about Fitzgerald’s column is how little of what he said had anything to do with what I actually wrote. He clearly had some arguments he wanted to present and intended to do so, even if what I wrote didn’t apply. What follows are some quotes from his column with my response.

• “I’m sorry, but that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” [written in reference to a quoted paragraph from my article.]

If this is so, Mr. Fitzgerald must lead a very sheltered life. Perhaps I’m too biased to judge my own writing fairly, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone would have trouble coming up with at least a few things that are more ridiculous. But why quibble? This is a minor point. 

• “If the car had the problems he’s saying it had (poor visibility and no trunk space) it would never have become so very popular as he describes.”

A car gets 100 MPG and has excellent reliability, and Mr. Fitzgerald wants to assert that the car could never become popular because of too little trunk space? This is a serious assertion?

Both my wife and I have Toyota Camrys. We both complain about the rear vision (especially how hard it is to tell where the car ends, a problem most annoying when backing up). I imagine many others have similarly found this to be the case. Yet, my wife and I remain very happy with our cars overall and (at least until Toyota’s recent troubles) the Camry has been one of the most popular cars in the world. It seems almost too easy to think of numerous other examples like this.

But enough with measuring levels of ridiculousness and car analogies…let’s get to the main topic at hand.

• “On the one hand he’s arguing that the App store should be free and open…”

This is not what I was arguing. If you read my cited article (or any other of my recent writings on this general topic), you will see that what I actually suggested was that there be some option for users to install apps separate from the App Store. This is an significant distinction. The App Store has much to recommend it (I especially appreciate how easy the App Store makes it to find, acquire and update apps). Although I don’t always agree with Apple’s App Store rejections, I’m fine with the App Store remaining largely as is. I just don’t believe it should be the only way to acquire apps — anymore than the iTunes Store is the only way to get music and video into your iTunes Library. 

I understand that there are arguments that can be made against having an App Store alternative. I acknowledged this in my prior article, where I wrote: “I readily admit that this is not a black-or-white matter. There are numerous shades of gray, situations where one could make a reasonable case for either side of a debate.” The problem is that Mr. Fitzgerald never made any case here, because he never brought up the topic at all.

More importantly, the primary point of my column was not to argue about the App Store at all. Rather, it was to take issue with two specific statements that Steve Jobs made in his emails. These were statements that could be (and have been) used to respond to virtually any criticism of anything that Apple does. I believed these statements were inappropriate and tried to explain why.

• “You can’t argue that you want the customer to be able to choose and then not agree with the results.”

I never made any such argument. Quite the opposite. The results are that the iPhone is a great success and the iPad is well on its way to becoming one. And I said so: “Clearly, you don’t achieve such numbers if you aren’t making a lot of people happy.”

Further, I am glad this is the case. In my house right now are two iPhones, two iPod touches and an iPad. I am enthusiastically pleased with all of them. More generally, I have been using Apple products for over 25 years. You don’t do that if you are not fundamentally a satisfied customer.

• [Ted is] “confusing fundamental flaws with not liking something” and is “arguing about what the company is doing wrong as if it was a failing company desperately in need of direction.”

Absolutely not. I have no idea where Mr. Fitzgerald found even a hint of this in what I wrote. I defy anyone to find even a phrase in my article that suggests that I believe Apple is “fundamentally flawed” or is a “failing company.” I don’t believe this is the case. So I would never say it.

Sadly, John Gruber, in his post on this matter, echoed the same misconception when he wrote about critics that see App Store restrictions as “a fatal flaw that will ultimately doom it.” I can’t speak for other critics, but this has never been my position. I have never predicted “doom” for Apple or anything close to it.

• “What I find fascinating about all these anti-apple rants…”

I find it fascinating how some people can describe anything that they disagree with as a “rant.” The definition of “rant” includes words such as “wild,” “tirade,” “shout,” and “complain angrily.” I fail to see how this describes what I wrote. I attempted to express my opinion in as calm and polite and reasoned fashion as I could. I believe I succeeded. If Mr. Fitzgerald is searching for a rant, perhaps he should re-read his own column.

Bottom Line. The point I was trying to make in my prior column is a simple one: Just because something is popular and successful doesn’t mean it’s perfect and cannot be improved. Given this, I believe it is inappropriate to respond to reasoned criticism simply by saying things such as “If you don’t like it, buy something else.” In this particular instance, I believe the iPhone OS platform would be improved by having an alternative to the App Store. You may not agree. That’s fine. I’ll respectfully make my case (as I have tried to do in numerous prior articles which I encourage you to read) and you can make yours.

On the other hand, I am a realist. I understand that Apple has no interest in changing its current policies and is unlikely to do so. I also fully support the notion that Apple is and should be free to pursue whatever legal policies it wants — especially when they are being so successful at it.

Still, I’d like to believe that the iPhone (and even more so the iPad) are still in early enough stages of evolution, that there is at least some chance that advocating for a minor change of direction might produce results. At some point (and perhaps that point is fast approaching), this will no longer be so. Continued argument will be the equivalent of beating a dead horse. At that point, it’s time to move on and let the hand play out. I will gladly do so.

One last observation: The current iPhone debate appears to have become increasingly polarized. It now seems to me much like many political debates, from abortion to gun control. There are strong opinions on both sides, tempers flare too easily, and opinions are rarely shifted. In that regard, I am confident that this column will not produce any more of consensus of agreement than my previous one did. So be it.