What I don’t Like About Apple

Note: Most of this post was written before the death of Steve Jobs, but his demise and the outpouring of admiration for him and Apple was the impetus for me finishing it.

I have had a few people recently ask me why I don’t use my Macbook any more. I have answered those queries when they came up, but I’d like to put a few more of my thoughts and beliefs out there for future reference.

I was (and still am) a Linux user before I used Apple. The spirit of openness, sharing, freedom to use, and freedom from cost of the Linux ecosystem has had a big effect on my technical usage and community participation. I hate licenses – not so much because they cost money (everyone has the right to make a living) – but because they are an artificially-imposed annoyance whenever I have deal with a licensed program. The groups I run and participate in are genrally free of cost and are open for anyone to attend and contribute to.

I don’t actually hate Apple. In fact, I love a lot of their products. I have an old G4 PowerMac, a Macbook Pro, and there are a few iPods scattered around the house. These are some of the nicest computers and devices I’ve ever used. They’re stable, powerful, easy to use, and beautifully designed. I feel a psychological urge to use these things – kind of like an addiction. However I currently don’t use them and won’t buy another Apple product because I feel like a hypocrite when I do.

There are currently two big issues holding me back from buying and supporting Apple:

Software Patents – Apple is very aggressive when it comes to defending their software patents. I have a big problem with software patents and I try not to support companies that are actively making the situation worse. I think their lawsuits un-competitive and a huge waste of money and court resources that should be spent on more useful endeavors.

The Walled Garden of iOS – If you want to develop for the iPhone or iPad, you have to buy an Apple computer. And then you have to pay Apple $99/yr for the privilege of letting people install your app, assuming Apple approves of it. This creates a large barrier to entry for anyone that wants to casually play around with mobile development, especially for the underprivileged. I cannot support this artificially expensive and closed development model when free, open alternatives like Android exist.

There are also a few little things that annoy me about Apple products. These don’t keep me from using Apple, but they do help to keep me on Linux:

  • Inflexible interface – Use your interface the Apple way or you will be annoyed.
  • Half-assed support of open source – (GTK, fink/macports/homebrew, Python)
  • Expensive – You have to pay for pretty much any little add-on or program for OSX. Things that are free for Windows or Linux are often for-pay on OSX (VMWare Fuse vs VMWare Player)

I think software patents and the associated lawsuits are stifling innovation and progress, especially for developers not backed by big companies with a patent war-chest. This is holding all of us back from experiencing better technology and the freedom to use it how we want to.

I also think that the artificially closed and expensive iOS platform is not good for education, especially with regards to the underprivileged. Unless you have money, you can’t play in the iOS walled garden. This is not how we create a level playing field.

So, until these issues are fixed, I’m going to try to fight my Apple urges.

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  • robvs

    Ben, even as a life-long Mac-hugger, I can’t dispute your logic. Fortunately for me, I’m not as dogmatic about open-vs-closed philosophies, which allows me to use the computing devices that work best for me. However, I do want to respond to a few of your points.

    Software Patents: This is a systemic problem that starts with the patent office allowing them, and extends to a majority of the larger technology companies. The list includes Microsoft, Amazon, and many many more. Apple is commonly used as a fall-guy because they get more press, but they’re all “guilty”. I’d love to be able to say that I try not to support companies that ardently defend their software patents, but I’m too selfish to give up so many conveniences.

    Walled Garden: I agree, I wish that Apple didn’t have so many restrictions on developing and distributing iOS apps, but I also really like the relative stability of my iPhone. Fortunately, Droid is a viable alternative to those that don’t like it. And fortunately for me, I already have a Mac (well, several), so my cost of developing for iPhone is only $99 (and a little bit of my soul).

    Conversely, if I were to develop for Windows 7 at home, I’d have to purchase a license for Windows 7 and purchase Visual Studio. Yes, there are valid ways to acquire Visual Studio for free, but those are hoops that would “cost” me more than $99.

    Regarding Half-assed support for open source, Expensive: You forgot to mention Ruby on Rails. Mac OS is probably the best platform for developing RoR web apps, and there’s plenty of open source/free tools and add-ons.

    In conclusion, yes I’m concerned about some of the things that Apple is doing, but they still create products that best fit how I like to work.

    I really don’t get why people are so ticked off about the walled garden. If you don’t want to play their, pick up your toys and go someplace else. There’s no reason to complain about it. iOS isn’t a monopoly (at least not yet).

    • Rob, thanks for the reply. As in all things, there is a balance between ideals and convenience. I can do pretty much everything I need to using Linux, but I have to work around some inconveniences and annoyances. Right now, to me, those workarounds are less painful than the guilt I feel due to compromising my beliefs. There have been times in the past where I had to use Apple so I could get things done more efficiently. It is a trade-off I have to weigh every day.

      In fact, I recently Tweeted about resorting to my Macbook due to a wifi issue I was having with Linux. I ended up working around the problem with the help of some friends.
      I can completely understand companies amassing software patent portfolios to defend themselves from lawsuits. I cannot condone using those patents to attack competition as Apple is doing to Samsung and other Android tablet makers.

      I don’t have a problem with the walled garden per se. I have a problem with there being no side door for me to use my iOS device as I want to. Until recently I was content to just ignore it as you suggest, but now iOS devices are being given to students, and that’s where I start to see problems. Let’s say I’m a Zeeland High School student and my school just gave a wonderful gift – an iPad. How do I program it? How do I share my programming experiments with my schoolmates? I need an Apple computer to program it, and I have to go through the App store to share it. Some of those kids can’t afford to just pick up their toys and go home. I see this as a barrier to underprivileged youths learning about technology.Oh, and Microsoft is right out. I’ve spent more than a decade beating my head against Windows at work (see, more trade-offs). I would prefer not to do it in my free time.

  • Ben Rousch

    A quick follow-up to this since Apple has just released their new iBooks 2 platform.

    This excellent article covers most of my concerns with the new iBooks platform they have come out with. http://goo.gl/oCqjT

    And this one talks about the lock-in and DRM. http://goo.gl/Phnkn

    So it’s more ridiculous lock-in from Apple. I had hoped they would get better about these things without Steve Jobs, but it looks like it’ll be business as usual.