Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Apple is Finally Evil

In case anyone cares, this is my 800th post. Unfortunately, I'm late with it! There's so much to talk about that I can't even get to all of it, but I guess that means that I'll be covered the real cream of the crop news though.

Note: In retrospeect, I think I should explain my title just a bit better. Apple never came out like Google did and said that it wasn't evil as part of how it explicitly branded itself. However, they always maintained the image that they were the good guy pitted against the monopolistic giant known as Microsoft. See the 1984 ad for proof of how early this image started. Their Mac vs. PC ads indirectly promotes this image with the hip, smug Mac being better than the stodgy, but omnipresent, PC. I don't pretend to believe that there is a single corporation that does not do bad things to increase shareholder value, but I feel like Apple is stabbing its own brand in the back, which doesn't upset me because I'm not a huge Mac geek, but I don't like the side effect.

Apple Pisses On Developers

Ok, the gloves are off. What the fuck, Apple? I know how they solve their problems now, they throw an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) at it. Keeping everything they do top secret: an NDA for each employee with terrible consequences informally implicit for breaking it. Keeping the problems with their iPhone SDK secret: have its users (i.e. the developers) sign NDAs. Choking back the bad press because of their biased, conveniently ambiguous, and insulting iPhone application approval process: slap an NDA on the reasons why they reject iPhone apps. In my last post, I mentioned that a guy who made a podcast application was rejected because it competed with iTunes, but since then another guy had his app rejected because his Gmail application "competed" with Mail! My source on the story has since censored that part because of the stupid NDA, but I don't care. Suck it, Apple, I didn't sign an NDA. Oh, and they're not at all consistent: there are applications in the app store that duplicate other things that Apple has on the iPhone more closely that those two apps.

Usually, I don't get this excited, I know. I've just about had it with this nonsense though. I hate seeing developers treated like crap like this. I am incredulous at how they so freely bitchslap the developers who freely devote time to making the iPhone better. To be honest, I think that their NDA is illegal. I honestly think someone should consider legal action. I'm saying this because of the double standard it imposes: you have to keep quiet about your own application and how you created it but they can talk about it as much as they want and even practically steal it! Are developers really so in love with their applications and iPhones that they're willing to keep developing apps for the iPhone? The sad truth is probably. It would take a large scale boycott to try to effect any change whatsoever, but that still probably wouldn't work. Apple is notoriously stubborn and iPhone users simply wouldn't care as much. What it would really take is an awesome Android phone. A true competitor to the iPhone with the rich platform that Android is. It's just sad that the only way for iPhone users, who pay quite a premium in their cell phone bills every month for their iPhone, to realize the phone's full potential is to jailbreak it (i.e. hack it to run any application developed for it, regardless of whether Apple has approved it). That's as if you have a 50" HD TV and a Blu-ray player and the studio behind your favorite movie has the movie but Sony won't sell it to you so you have to go pirate it instead of being allowed to legally buy it (or, to be more realistic, it's like having to pirate Spore so you can play it without dealing with DRM).

Just to even out the above rant against Apple I'll include one in this section in Apple's favor: they've done a great thing in their hard stance against selling songs that must be bought with an album rather than individually. Some artists are stupid and want to force consumers to buy their whole albums because they thing the songs fit together. These artists need to get over themselves and give the people who support them what they want. I don't understand why you wouldn't want to give your customers what they want in as saturated a market as music. That's like if Amazon told people they could only write positive reviews even though one of the main reasons they may use Amazon is for the mix of good and bad reviews. The main reason people use iTunes is that it's convenient, but in close second is the choice it gives them in buying individual songs when they don't care for the rest of the songs on an album. It's market forces at work. Telling them they can't do that partially defeats the purpose of using iTunes! It makes as much sense as when the government subsidizes local companies who are less efficient at making certain products than foreign competitors: if they were good at what they did they people would buy their stuff so the government is doing a disservice to the market and the people by undercutting a superior company. If artists sell albums because one song is good and the rest suck then they get an inflated ego, people get ripped off and will want to pirate, and it doesn't create the kind of competition that forces artists to record the best quality music they can possible create. Without the idea of competition you likely have an aristocracy or communism, and neither one would sound right for the music industry. These artists need to start whining and start earning their paychecks like many of their peers do.

T-Mobile G1

The HTC Dream has been renamed to the T-Mobile G1, but it is still the first Android phone to hit the market. Engadget has some pretty great close-ups of it, but it looks pretty unremarkable. For a phone that's likely intended to compete with the iPhone, it has much to learn. For example, it has a proprietary headphone jack! The memory leaves something to be desired (1 GB internal, expandable to 7 or 8 GB, I believe), too. I have to admit that the software itself looks pretty slick though. I hope that Android really is as solid as videos like these make it look. I don't think this will be the Android phone to buy, but I imagine that this time next year the G1 will be in better company.

The best news about it though is that it will include an Amazon MP3 application to download music directly to the device directly from Amazon! You can only buy songs over WiFi, mind you, but at least you can browse them and listen to samples where ever you have a signal. At the least, it'll help you note down songs you want to buy later. This is the first phone with a direct interface to Amazon MP3 like this, now all it needs is a normal audio jack and support for stereo bluetooth.

Before I move on I just want to quickly note that Mozilla is promising a mobile Firefox by 2010. I don't understand what platform it'll run on though. Will it be for Android? There's no way that Apple will allow it on iPhones with its stringent app store policies, and I can't imagine it would be better than the Webkit-based creation for Android that comes with the platform. Palm OS is probably a dying OS nowadays, but maybe it'll be for Blackberry and Windows Mobile?

Chrome Hangover

Let me stay on browsers for bit longer. There were reports after Chrome's release of its rapid growth, which still amounted to less than 1% market share of the browser market, though it was nothing to scoff at for a nascent browser. Now the reports show the opposite trend: it looks like people aren't using it as much anymore. Take this with a grain of salt because it's hard to gauge this sort of thing over such a short period of time for a browser with such a tiny piece of the pie, but I think it honestly does show at least a small degree of boredom with the browser. It's like when beanie babies were cool and everyone wanted one, except that "everyone" in this case are computer geeks. I personally stopped using chrome because it didn't make sense to use it for work purposes and it was really unstable on my home machine after waking up from sleep mode. Plus, except for select AJAX applications it really isn't faster than Firefox, but which is faster changes with each performance comparison you look at. I kind of feel like I'm not the only person who has experienced these problems, and I'm sure that enough people didn't see a reason to fully switch that they just stuck to their tried and true browser of choice (likely Firefox because IE users wouldn't be ones to dip their feet in the Chrome pool). We'll have to see if Chrome can really hold its own in such a competitive market.

Does Obama Really Support Net Neutrality?

EDIT: Thanks to Ian for pointing out the Obama fact sheet that still features the explanation of net neutrality on page 2. Either they were careless and didn't update that, too, or (more likely) they wanted to focus the short form on the website more on education and other issues.

I almost made this into a rant, but reconsidered and decided that I was overreacting. The issue at hand is that he (i.e. the people representing him who manage the site) changed some content on his website regarding his platform for science and technology to remove a good chunk about net neutrality (watch my video if you don't know what net neutrality is). I was at first upset, but realized that he didn't remove the sentence saying that he supports net neutrality, but rather the portion explaining what a tiered internet is and why net neutrality is important. Granted, this is still terrible and very likely on purpose given that Joe Biden has definitely not been one to support net neutrality, but I really hope and don't think that he now is all for the telcos.

This is a big issue for me though, and would cast doubt on who I vote for if it turns out that he has changed his stance. For one thing, I'd be severely disappointed in him, but for another I'd be scared for our future when two candidates both have the wrong stance on one of the most important, but least understood, issues facing this country. I know what you're going to say, don't we have a war and a mortgage crisis and the biggest bank failure ever right now? Yes, we do, and I do not at all want to downplay those issues, but rather I want to highlight the severity of not keeping the Internet neutral. It is one thing to not support legislation and another thing to give the telcos what they want. Aside from putting a lot of people out of jobs it will severely limit the American dream when it comes to the wild west that is now the Internet and put us farther behind in the world economy. When you look at the Internet, American companies are putting out better companies and products online than any other country, and that's important. It creates a very valuable portion of our economy for our long term growth when you think long and hard about it. It's something that we have a competitive advantage in and it's one of the few things that can be a reliably positive part of our economy if we let it. The dot com boom sucked, but it created some great, enduring companies and inspired the creation of many more in its aftermath.

The bottom line is that any candidate that does not support net neutrality does not support the forward progression of technology one of its most important pursuits. He wouldn't believe in people being able to purchase cheap computers like Netbooks that are dependent on online content and give consumers more disposable income and spread computers to more people to help them improve their lives and improve e-Commerce (which supports big companies like Amazon and average people through sites like Amazon and Etsy). Just please, think about this the next time you take a shower.

The Xbox 360 Debacle

This is kind of old news, but I just have to plug it: VentureBeat has an incredible article detailing the problems with the inception of the Xbox 360 that has led to the now infamous red ring of death problem (i.e. its high defect rate). If you bought a launch console then your odds were better than flipping a coin and getting heads that your console would break: 68%. It's a long but fascinating read, and what it boils down is that Microsoft made several compromises in creating the console in being the first to market. Was it worth it? We don't really know. We know that the $1 billion they had to pay to replace defective consoles was more than a couple of things, like the savings in creating their own GPU rather than buying it from someone else and in turn causing some issues. It's kind of a hidden scandal when you really think about it, but did it strategically give Microsoft a foothold that they would've been screwed without? After all, they were facing off a technologically superior console in the PS3, and its launch kind of flopped compared to the Xbox 360 launch. To date there are more Xbox 360s in households than PS3s, but which console is really better and who will go down in the books as getting second place compared to the Wii? I don't think we really know yet, but I imagine that it'll be the Xbox 360 (though I personally like the PS3 better for the Blu-ray player, LittleBigPlanet, and Metal Gear Solid 4). Of course, the Blu-ray market isn't looking too great. I'm happy with my Kill Bill on Blu-ray! I agree that the higher prices for Blu-ray movies aren't always warranted though.

Quick Last Notes

Ok, it's past 1 and I have to get up in like 6 hours, I have to wrap things up here:

Gizmodo has a funny list of great gadgets to have for shady hotel rooms. It's just fun to look at.

eBay is no longer going to accept any forms of payment except for PayPal, aside from big ticket items like cars. There has been a lot of doubt over the years cast over the security of PayPal, and it eBay's roots are in taking money order and checks. I think people really just aren't going to be happy with this level of control being taken away from them, ultimately, rather than the fact that it's PayPal that they have to use. So much for eBay being a big rival to Amazon! This is just one part of a laundry list of things not going well for them in the past few months.

Popular Science has a surprisingly terse article about how computers will get faster via electron spin, graphene sheets, and a better form of memory storage known as memristors. It's a neat read.

I finally got a LittleBigPlanet beta code so I'll likely be posting my thoughts on the game later this week. For your chance to win a code, you may want to tune into X-play tomorrow night. Until then, stay out of trouble everyone!


Doug said...

Seriously? You don't see the difference between Podcasts and a calculator? Think people......Do you think there is any technical reason apple didn't allow you to subscribe to podcasts directly on the iphone? Come on? This is about their relationship with the carrier. So why would they allow another application to do what they obviously were contractually kept from doing? Do you think they can't figure out teathering?

The mail application was the first application that didn't just make perfect sense that they would stop and any developer thinking about doing something like this should have had the common sense to ask for permission (as the documentation states).

Just wait for Android to see how limiting things can be. They have already lost the first fight, no purchasing songs over the cell network. I'm betting that teathering is going to be restricted too. Then who will you say is evil?

Elton said...

I don't hold a double standard for Google, I just am hoping that they're not as ridiculous. I have no problem calling them evil as well, but Apple always pitted themselves against Microsoft as if they were the good guys. That has been their enduring brand image for a number of years.

If it's true that they rejected the podcaster application due to contractual obligations, then why didn't they come out and say that? Why the obvious lack of transparency?

Ian said...

Hi there. Re: Obama's plan, it's true the diff has removed the 'net neutrality stuff, however, it's still in the PDF that lays out the complete plan, instead of summarising it:


My bet is that they decided that writing about education & competitiveness is more likely to be important to the average voter surfing his site, who probably doesn't understand the issues behind 'net neutrality. But it's still there in the plan and he's still for it, so far... (let's hope AT&T doesn't sponsor his presidency as well as the Democratic National Convention...)

Elton said...

Thanks, Ian! I hope you're right!

Elton said...

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