The Metamorphosis of Apple

In 1984, Apple first aired their Big Brother commercial at half-time in the SuperBowl. Remember it?

The voiceover recites the following monologue:

Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology: where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory... thoughts.
Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on Earth. We are one people: with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!

Apple’s message in this commercial was that they were the antidote to this tyranny of thought purification, that they were the guardians of  free expression, that they could empower the individual.

And, for several years, that was true. Apple did bring the PC to the masses, and served to undermine the dominance of the computing megaliths like IBM.

The problem was that as Apple become more of a corporation, with shareholders and sales forecasts, and not least, competitors, it became increasingly difficult to maintain this ideal, and no where was this more true that with the iPhone.

In the beginning, the iPhone was a technological, and commercial, miracle. It was beautiful to look at and use, and Apple sold millions of things, propelling Apple 2.0 into the stratosphere of corporate IT giants.

While the handsets were flying off the shelves, and no one else was making them, Apple weren’t too concerned with what users did with their phones. Provided they used iTunes to buy music, they could use their hardware, that they owned, to do as they wished. The spirit of 1984 was alive, or at least not dead.

But then, inevitably, the competition arrived, and lots of people started developing software for iPhones, and suddenly Apple released that their users might start using their right to “free expression” to do things that weren’t in sync with the commercial interests of the Apple Corporation.

Apple now faced a choice. They could get on board with the likes of Google, Mozilla, HP, Sun etc and participate freely and enthusiastically in the development of standards based technology, or they could do a Microsoft, and put all their efforts into holding their ground, and hope that clever marketing would make up for the inevitable deficiencies that would result from maintaining a Closed Shop approach to product development.

The crunch came with the release of the Apple iPhone 3GS, the first major revision of the Apple’s flagship product.

Prior to the 3GS, iPhone users were free to load any sort of operating system onto their iPhone they so wished. There were numerous variations out there, which could be loaded via a shortcut in iTunes. This allowed users to do things on their iPhone (that they had bought and paid for) that were not possible with the software loaded by Apple.

This changed with the 3GS. From that point on, it was only possible to load an operating system to your iPhone if that software was signed by Apple. A new version of iTunes was released, which checked the software you were trying to load, and if that was not approved by Apple, iTunes would not complete the installation to your phone.

The significance of this is probably lost on most iPhone users, but it is significant none the less.

For millions of users worldwide, Apple now has complete control of what software they use on their hardware.

Imagine if this were the case with a PC that you bought from PC World. Imagine if you were not allowed to install any software on that PC unless it was approved by a private company like Microsoft?

Now, go back and watch the SuperBowl commercial again.

Which protagonist reminds you more of the Apple Corporation in 2012? The girl with the sledgehammer, or the face on the screen?

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