Gruber And Shipley: One SDK Over The Line.


The old song reference (and showing my age) aside, John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote a comment today about Wil Shipley’s recent post about Apple.

As background, Gruber felt insulted at MWDC 07 when Apple announced that only Web apps would be allowed on the iPhone for starters (I disagreed). Shipley apparently feels the same way; the solution to his complaints are for Apple to “give up on trying to control everything” and “write frameworks” so third-parties can develop iPhone/iPod apps. It’s no surprise Gruber agrees with Shipley, but his comment is really a bizarre statement:

“The best thing that could happen to Apple this year would be for Microsoft’s Zune 2.0 to be a kick-ass product, both technologically and in terms of being designed to make customers happy, not entertainment conglomerates. Apple needs competition.”

This is a pretty silly thing to say anyway you look at it.

First, you don’t think Apple’s products make customers happy? If it were Microsoft or Motorola, they’d still be selling the iPod mini (not the nano, the mini) at $200. Apple killed the most popular player in the world to make it better. And they’ve done this time and again. Further, you think Apple designs to make “entertainment conglomerates” happy? Excuse me, isn’t Microsoft the company paying $1 to Universal for every Zune sold? The “media conglomerates” hate Apple because they won’t make them happy! That’s why those very conglomerates are doing the things mentioned a bit further below.

Second, the Zune is everything the iPod is not, and has a WiFi implementation solely to spread DRM-infected files like a disease that lasts for three days. This is why it did nothing in the market place. The statement would be silly no matter what product was used, but to pick the Zune makes it even worse.

Finally, Zune aside, Apple has plenty of competition. From itself, from content providers who’ll hurt themselves to spite Apple, and from any service that simply chooses to avoid Macs.

Unlike Microsoft, who sat on XP for five years without doing anything, or Motorola, who is rolling out revision 42 of the Razr, Apple continues rapid improvement and refinement of the hardware and software while lowering the price. It’s a shame some have taken this so much for granted they no longer see it.

The new nano is a perfect example of this. Shipley says:

“The point of any company should be to make customers want to give it money, NOT to get money from customers.”

Well, if the new nano doesn’t do that than no product in the history of mankind ever has. Look what $149 gets you in an iPod now! The 2G shuffle is another great example of this, as well as the original mini and nanos. Apple was already miles ahead of anyone else, yet look what they did. It takes a special level of cynicism to look at this as some sort of maneuvering for “lock in” or greed, which is the primary foundation upon which Shipley’s complaint is built.

Microsoft by now should have the price of Office Ultimate down to about $70 instead of the $500 they charge. Is it that hard to see the difference between simply resting on a product to haul in tons of money, and moving it forward? Any suggestion that Apple’s sins even remotely compare to Microsoft’s is hard to take seriously. How short does one’s memory have to be to equate the two?

So why does Apple keep improvements at such a furious pace? Because if they aren’t at least 100 miles ahead of everyone else they’ll get run over. Some may have forgotten the past, but Apple has certainly not. The record labels and movie makers want Microsoft, not Apple, to win this contest. More specifically, they want Microsoft’s much more restrictive DRM, not Apple’s FairPlay, to win.

You think Apple doesn’t have to compete for this stuff? Take a look at what’s going on:

  • The BBC’s named-like-an-Apple-product iPlayer is a Windows only platform. (Public money being used to tie users into a Microsoft OS. What is this? 1996?)
  • Universal ended their agreement with Apple and is set to offer DRM-free music on Wal-Mart, Rhapsody, Best Buy, and Amazon, but not iTunes.
  • NBC ended their agreement with Apple and is offering their content on Amazon, but not iTunes, and it won’t play on the iPod. They’re also developing their own site that will not run on Macs.
  • Universal is offering “free” music via SpiralFrog. Not only is it not on iTunes, it won’t play on an iPod.
  • Wal-Mart’s music site doesn’t work on Macs.
  • News Corp’s president and CEO has stated publicly he’ll have “contentious negotiations” with Apple over showing its television programs on iTunes.

And on and on. In some cases it’s clear these companies need iTunes, yet they either left altogether or are pushing their wares in some manner unavailable on iTunes. It doesn’t matter that we may think they’re crazy, the point is they went somewhere else even though it meant ignoring the largest installed mobile platform for what they’re selling! Think about that. Imagine how difficult it is for Apple when the providers they require are willing to act against their own interests — and their customers’ — just to screw them!

Meanwhile, though the new market these initiatives seek may not include the iPod, it includes the 97% of computers that run Windows. Lest we forget, that’s still a very powerful contingent, and Microsoft’s billions will keep it that way for some time. This is why Apple must stay so far ahead. If you don’t think any of the above is “competition” you’re wrong. It’s far more incentive to keep the iPod out in front than anything the Zune could do.

Regarding the iPod branding program, it’s been around a while so why is it an issue now? According to Shipley it’s greed. Sorry, but you’ll have to explain where business and profits end and greed begins before I give any credence to the “G” word. Sure, it’s a gray area, but as long as Apple keeps improving their products by leaps and bounds while lowering prices you’ll have a hard time selling me on the greed thing. Save that for Microsoft and an Office suite whose price hasn’t changed in 10 years.

The new iPods disable old docks for video out? Yes, it’s outrageous that the new iPods output both component and composite video because… um, well, er… scratch that, I guess it’s actually an improvement. As for ringtones, I already wrote my opinion of Apple’s move here. It’s all very well for Gruber and Shipley (and others) to say that Apple should just do nothing, or tell the labels to stuff it, but luckily Apple realizes that that kind of thinking will get them nowhere. Small steps are all Apple has when it comes to content they do not control.

I’ll say one thing about Gruber and Shipley, they now have a new ally in Paul Thurrott. That’s not all, Digg loves it, too. These ought to be warning signs to both these guys that they’re off base, but perhaps their irritation about being left at the iPhone development altar has clouded their thinking.

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