Is Apple ruining the internet for all of us? Not yet, but they may be on their way, whether they mean to be or not. Here’s what I’m seeing…
In my opinion, as well in the opinion of many others judging by their revenue, Apple makes some of the best consumer technology products in the world. I am a self proclaimed Apple fan, and while I use everything from Windows XP to Windows 7 on a consistent basis for work, my personal computer is a Macbook, and it will be for the foreseeable future. Its easy, it always works, and frankly its just pleasant to use and to look at. On top of that, the iTunes/iPod/iLife/Mac combo is fantastic. While I’m not an iPhone user at present, I love the look of the next generation, especially its front facing camera, and if it comes to Verizon (Read my Verizon rant here), I’ll absolutely be switching. (While I don’t love the idea of being locked in to an ecosystem, if that ecosystem becomes truly amazing, I think I’ll have to subscribe.)
While there are little issues here that I’ve sort-of, almost brought up, the biggest potential problem remains at large: Apple is putting itself in a fantastic position to control the internet. Houston, we have a problem.
I’m not sure if you’re aware of the current Apple vs. Adobe problem, but you can read more about it here. Tons more if you look through some of that articles links. But here’s the gist of it: Adobe makes Flash, a web plugin that developers can use to make websites do some really cool things. The New York Times uses it, NASDAQ uses it, there are thousands and thousands of games that use it. Quite frankly, 98% of websites on the internet use it in one form of another. Flash can do some incredible things. The problem is that Flash got very popular very fast, and Adobe essentially cornered the market on animation on the web, then rested on its laurels. While Flash is always being updated, its never really been redesigned to make use of the powerful graphics accelerators and other hardware components of modern computers. This means that flash now runs incredibly slow on most PC’s and Macs, let alone on smart phones, even often bringing them to the point of crashing entirely. Thus, Apple has made the executive decision not to include Adobe’s Flash in the browser on essentially any products they make, aside from Mac computers. This means that if you are surfing on the iPhone or the iPad, and you go over to, for example, the New York Times, any Flash components will just show you this:
You can see the problem here, right? Without Flash, you’ll be missing a TON of content on the web.
Making this a real problem though, are two things. First is the fact that Apple is growing so fast in the industry. They are producing amazing products, and people are pre-ordering the crap out of them. Additionally, Apple is great at selling itself. These two facts combine to give them incredible power in not just the computer industry, but the media industry, including movies, music, and basically everything consumable on the internet. With this power, Apple has now said “Hey, we’re not supporting Flash anymore. So if you want your content to show up on this awesome device that will be in the hands of millions of consumers, you’d better redevelop your website in HTML5.” (HTML5 is the newest iteration of HTML, which the whole web is essentially based on. It does include much better media capabilities than previous versions, but its not at the level Flash is at. It is far more secure though, and way less CPU intensive, and thus easier for computers to run with less resources.) Given that ultimatum, sites like the New York Times go ahead and convert everything to HTML5. This hurts the internet in a couple of ways. First of all, it deprives us of things that Flash could have done better than HTML5. Second though, and possibly more importantly, it hurts Adobe’s business…Badly. If people stop paying for Flash, how will Adobe continue to do business in that space? Will Flash continue to become more and more outdated until we are left only with HTML5 and its limited capabilities? Will all the current Flash websites that don’t convert to HTML5 due to cost or capability restrictions also go out of business?
What is to stop them from creating this popular ecosystem, then deciding that no product is good enough for it, unless its made by Apple?
A great example of that is iAds. iAds is a new technique Apple has created for serving up ads. It allows App developers to put ads into their apps in order to not charge for the apps. The problem is though, the ads must be create as essentially apps themselves. These are feature rich, interactive ads that pop up during your game of free Bejeweled. Here we have another problem with the way Apple is approaching the ad revenue problem. Apple’s product and ecosystem popularity is allowing them to strong-arm companies who previously created Flash, Java, or HTML ads in to creating iAds. Essentially saying “Hey, you want to advertise to people that use the iPhone, iPod, and iPad? That’s fine. But don’t use Flash, because it won’t show up in the browser. Use iAds, because it will show up wherever you want, and you can pay us 40%.” This is a serious problem. What they are essentially doing is fundamentally changing the way people use the internet, then exacting extreme control over the internet through that popular use case. And they’re getting paid every step of the way. (App development, app submission, ads in apps, etc.)
Even these business practices and monopolistic tendencies would not be a problem if it were not for one important thing. Of course, everyone has a choice. And if you don’t like how Apple’s doing things, you can take your money elsewhere…For now. But I see computer use changing. I see 20 years from tablets like the iPad being the laptop of today. Will keyboards and laptops and desktops still be used? Absolutely. But to ignore the trend and to not see iPads as an extremely popular way of computing going forward would be naive and frankly, ludicrous.
Using an iPad is an amazing experience. Thanks to Apple’s meticulous control and dominating business practices, its streamlined, fast, and cool. And that is exactly what makes it so dangerous.