EFF Wants to Save Apple Users from the Tyranny of Excellence

| The Back Page

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

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.

Pullout QuoteStarting 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.

Popular TMO Stories



Jumping the Shark
It happened to Greenpeace.
It’s happened to a lot of companies when they lose focus.
I worry that this might be a sign of it happening to the EFF.

Yes they’ve done a lot of good over the years, but this is a silly request. It would be different if Apple was the only game in town. It isn’t. There is Android. There soon will be a viable Windows portable platform, There WERE many others. The marketplace has said that most consumers like the way things are. If there is a backlash there are alternatives consumers can choose. Even more other companies seem to be increasingly trying to emu;late Apple’s walled garden because that seems to be what the customers want. Yet the EFF seems to be wanting to pressure Apple to switch to a model that they people buying portable devices don’t want.

What’s next, demanding that vegetarians eat liver because it’s good for them and would reflect true choice?

EDIT: Just noticed the new pic. Looking good.

Ross Edwards

Yeah… and what’s more, by the time you’re competent to do anything under the hood of an Apple product, you’re competent enough to run the exploit and/or process that gets you that access.  In fact, that’s as much as a “must be this tall to ride” sign as Apple really needs.  If you’re capable of getting yourself into trouble with your iOSX gear, you know enough not to blame Apple for “them glitches in the magical window of light” as it were

Lee Dronick

Just noticed the new pic. Looking good.

He needs to run the Poster Edges filter so that it looks like Ken’s smile

Getting on topic. In this matter I disagree with the EFF.


If I really wanted an open platform to tinker, install other OS’s, worry about spyware, or any of the other “wonderful” advantages of Android, I’d buy an Android device.

iOS runs an app with access to the most deranged and sick pornography human-kind has to offer…it’s called “Safari”.

Bottom line, if I wanted Android I’d buy Android.  I’ve chosen Apple.


Yeah? and what?s more, by the time you?re competent to do anything under the hood of an Apple product, you?re competent enough to run the exploit and/or process that gets you that access.? In fact, that?s as much as a ?must be this tall to ride? sign as Apple really needs.? If you?re capable of getting yourself into trouble with your iOSX gear, you know enough not to blame Apple for ?them glitches in the magical window of light? as it were

You expressed my sentiments exactly. I have a 3GS I’ve been jailbreaking since 3.1 or 3.2, and have jailbroken other phones. But right now, among a few iPhones in the house, I don’t bother with it, except for that 3GS that needs it for the Ultrasn0w unlock. I _like_ Apple’s approach.



A couple of (semi) rhetorical questions:

Can you hack the software in your car?
Can you tinker with the systems in your microwave?
Can you customize your TV?

Computers and devices are beyond the tinkerer/experimenter/hot-rodder phase. We are in the era of computers as end consumer products. End consumer products are produced as is and they fit the needs of 99% of users. This isn’t the DOS era any more. Yes there are some that want to hack the system and fiddle with the guts. I installed Linux on the second iPod I owned just to see if I could. But I don’t do that any more. Apple’s success has been built on the idea that the vast majority of users just want their system to work. In face I’d say that even in the Windows and Android world the vast majority of systems never get more customization than changing the desktop picture.

The EFF is utterly wrong on this one. You want to customize your device? Go install Ubuntu and have fun. Go jailbreak your device and deal with the consequences. The rest of us will get on with more productive things.

EDIT: I’d go so far to say that the Raspberry Pi project is a direct response to the concern that most users of computers and devices have utterly no interest in hacking the system to figure out how it works. The EFF is asking for something that few others are interested in.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

“You don?t get all that seamless excellence in an open platform.”

Two years ago, excellence was defined as not having turn by turn navigation built into a phone. Isn’t that still the case for two of the three models of phone Apple currently sells?


I’m ok with Apple locking down their app store however they want - well, to be clear, I don’t like it on a personal level, which is why I don’t want an iPhone, but I think Apple should be allowed to do whatever they wish with the store. However, the problem that I think worries the EFF is that Apple wants jailbreaking to be illegal under the DMCA. The claim that this is to prevent piracy is clearly nonsense: piracy is already illegal; a person not deterred by anti-piracy laws would also not be deterred by anti-jailbreaking laws, thus forbidding jailbreaking could not possibly stop a single instance of piracy. The government should not be criminalizing something completely harmless just to protect Apple’s business model.

To summarize, users who want to rely on Apple’s store and its relatively strict policies should remain free to do so, but those who wish to install apps from outside the store should be made criminals for an action which is harming no one (if they go on to pirate software, that should be dealt with separately).

Bryan Chaffin

I’m with you on jailbreaking Jbs. Consumers should absolutely be allowed to jailbreak, just as Apple shouldn’t be required to support them under warranty if they do.

Fortunately, jailbreaking is legal for now, and I’d be surprised if any legislation could pass that would change this.

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account